DAY 4: We continued our recording of the Birara Dancers when we invited four of the performers (Francis and the three lead female vocalists) back to the Traveller’s Rest Hotel in Kisoro. Jennifer who manages the hotel is brilliant. She allowed us to set up a recording studio, under the verandah of her hotel, just outside the bar. We were able to record there over the next three days, rain or shine, night or day. Which was good, because it rained a lot.
We continued to use this ‘hotel studio’ to record our ‘Influences’ sessions. A word on what we mean. We have multiple goals at Singing Wells. The first is to preserve the vast musical heritage of East Africa, capturing the diversity of music and dance throughout the region. Most of the music is ‘trapped’ in remote villages – everyday in 100’s of villages across East Africa wonderful performances occur as the community celebrates, mourns and remembers through music. But few peopele are there to listen and each performance runs the risks of being forever lost. With our mobile studios, we are able to take the studio to them, working in their environment to capture as best we can the music and dance of their community. It is important to note that these sessions are incredibly important to these communities. It is no exaggeration to say that most of them live to dance, live to sing. When we come to record them, we come to honour them, to listen to them as they tell their stories.
But that is not enough. We said when we started this project that we weren’t fossile collectors. Our goal wasn’t to shove the music on to hard drives and store them in some museum. Our goal was to also bring that music to the next generation of artists and encourage them to incorporate the music traditions of East Africa into modern music. Winyo, one of Ketebul’s key artists, does this everyday with his music, which is why he is such an inspiration:
But too many (most) East African musicians want to sound like 50 Cent or Justin Timberlake and too many East African radio stations sound like they are competing on Los Angeles air waves. So the second major goal of Singing Wells is to inspire current artists to pick up on the traditions of these tribal artists. One way we do this is to record ‘Influences’ sessions, where Winyo and other artists work with a sub-set of the tribe to create a new song. This is an altogether different way of recording and something very new and often scary to the tribal artists. They have to wear headphones to hear other instruments we recorded earlier. They have to sing into a mic. Often they are asked not to clap. Often they are asked not to dance while they sing. We do it to focus on sound quality, but we are fully aware that we are putting these fantastic musicians into an alien environment. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. With the Birara Dancers over the three days we worked with them it worked very well.
Here they are on the first night. One thing to remember, which will become clear on subsequent videos – every time you see them singing, there is a baby on their back. 90% of the Batwa women we met had a baby on their back. They would sing and dance through a song with the baby sleeping and if they baby woke they would slide the baby around to nurse. These babies quite literally ate and slept music. So here are the three lead female vocalists, recording one of their songs in our ‘hotel studio:’