Day 8: Entebbe to Nairobi and Ketebul Studios

A busy day.   A final breakfast with our friends at the Airport Guest House in Entebbe followed by a 2 hour queue boarding our flight to Nairobi.  We didn’t mind the wait as it was all security related, but the steps are worth recounting:

  1. Drove 8 minutes to Airport.  About 600 meters outside airport we had to stop and all get out of van and go through a metal detector.  There was a large sign telling us not to bring in pistols and rifles.  The van was then searched.
  2. At airport, we had to unload bags at departures, take them by trolly to bottom of stairs.  Take all bags up the stairs.  Find new trolly and proceed to next stage.  All this would be fairly straightforward except we had 34 bags.
  3. There was then a line waiting to go into airport.  The security guard monitored how many people could enter at one time.  While waiting we read the warning signs that pointed out what different kinds of bombs look like. We eyed each other more warily…
  4. Once in airport we queued up to put all 34 bags through a detector and walk through another detector ourselves (#2)
  5. Once through this line we lined up for Kenya airlines.  We are our own queue and it took a while to check in our 23 bags and convince them to let us carry our 11 carry on bags…
  6. Once checked in we then waited in visa line.  No issues.
  7. By this time the flight is calling for boarding… There’s another line at the gate to go through Kenya security.  Big queue and one very angry mzungu who was fed up.  We all had to take off our very dirty boots which was unpleasant.
  8. Final line up to go through boarding gate which was a walk down stares on to tarmac and up to our very nice and pleasant Kenya Airways flight.

We left and landed on time and all bags were waiting.   We felt pretty sure that no baddies could have gotten through those 8 steps and were quite relaxed flying.   After some chores we all then gather at the Go Down Arts Centre for recording.    In the early afternoon, we had a chance to interview Tabu about the Uganda trip:

 Q:  What did you want to get out of the trip?.

A:  In each of our trips I’m trying to focus on the one or two things the region is know for.   In the coastal regions of Kenya, I wanted to make sure we recorded their shakers, the Kayamba (hand shaken idiophones with dried seeds inside), the Lungo (broken glass moved in a big bowl) and Ndema (2 brass rings played in ringing and muted tones).   In the Rift Valley, where the people are more pastoral, we really focused on their voices and I wanted some one to play the burkandit (a handmade guitar).   In Nyanza, we focused on the Orutu, the Nyatiti  and the Ohangla (drums).  In Kisoro I didn’t know what to expect from the Batwa and was schocked by how musical they were – amazing vocal harmonies.   In Nortern Uganda, I wanted to make sure we did three things:  1) the likembe (thumb piano, called Kalimba in Kenya) which they borrowed from the Congo but make their own, 2) adungu (stringed instrument) and 3q) certain vocal harmonies that are very unique.

Q:  And how did we do?

A:  I think we did very well on the likembe with Macadonia and Rubanga Kingom.  We also recorded a great adungu group (Adungu Cultural Troupe).  And we really captured wonderful, traditional vocal harmonies with Anyim Lac, the beautiful old ladies who sang so softly.  And there were some real positive surprises.  We were very lucky to record the Nanga with the Watmon Cultural Troupe and we had two great examples of the Ndara.   But we were also able to recording amazing dancing… this is by far the best dancing we’ve seen.

Q:  Any observations as you compare this trip to others?

A:  For musicality, this trip rivals our trip to record the Batwa.    In terms of the ‘health’ of traditional music, I think it is mixed, but frankly the traditional music scene feels healthier in Uganda than Kenya.   On the negative side, clearly there is not enough money going into supporting music. Uganda music is known for its elaborate costumes and yet in every village, hide-covered shields aren’t even wood, they are made of plastic.   Beautiful ostrich feathers have been replaced by chicken feathers.  Traditional axesa are now cheap wooden replicas.  This is not the performers fault – the traditional costumes are expensive and hard to access sustainably.  This requires government intervention and while we say committed performers it is clear they are struggling.  On the positive side, I was incredibly impressed with how well the village elders have engaged the next generation.   Every village had a group of young musicians and dancers.  Some the best percussionists were 12-15 years old.   Most of the best dancers were teenagers.   You felt the next generation is passionate about the music and it is not just ‘a thing your grandparents did.’  This is really important.  The key is that the traditional songs are taught to the children in the villages and then that the traditional music permiates into popular music.     Northern Uganda is doing a great job at the former at least.

We spent the afternoon working with Mwenzele-Nyerere wa Konde Music Club, who we first met during our March 2011 Pilot.    We recorded the lead singer and group leader Nyerere wa Konde, backed by some basic percussion and Bishop and Johnnie on bass and guitar respectively.   The singer and percussion were in the main studio and bass and guitar were in the control booth.    Macadem was in the control booth and helped Johnnie and Bishop find the right rhythms.   After these core tracks were done we then added the shaker (in this case broken glass shaken in a straw bowl) and backing vocals.     We focused on getting good studio recordings on five core songs:

  • Ukiamini Mkaza Mutu:    This is a song about adultery, written in the 1970’s by Nyerere wa Konde, the band leader.   It is based on a real story in a village when a man cheated with another man’s wife.  The song explores the consequences to the lovers.  The wife will be sent alone, without possessions or children, back to her village in shame.  She is unlikely to find a new partner again unless she finds someone who hasn’t heard the story.  The man will be forced to pay whatever sum of money demanded by the offended husband and will even be expected to give up his shamba – the small plot of land upon which his family depends.   As late as the 70’s, the other consequence is the offending husband would kill the adulterer.    Whenever the song is sung today in the villages, some audience believes the song is pointing at them, accusing them…
  • Kirori:  This is the band leader’s song and is a song in three verses about a girl he met in early days.   In verse one, he tries to flatter her but she dismisses him as a little man of no consequence.  In verse 2, they meet years later and our hero has a little money.  He’s able to buy the young woman some perfume and she essentially says, ‘I’m yours.’  In the third verse he is singing to the village that the girl is now ready, in love with him, and about to visit the village.   He’s won.
  • Agiriama Anging:    This song needs a little back ground.  In the Coastal areas there are huge rivalries between villages and there are always, what the band calls, “haters.”  These are folks that hate your village and pray for terrible things to happen.  One of the songs by this group is about the Band Leader’s wife – she was going into an operation and the ‘haters’ from another village were praying she would die.   With that background, the song is about the band leader in 1991 when his older brother and the original leader of the band died.   The ‘haters’ accused him of living in his brother’s shadow, not singing well and stealing lyrics.  In 1991 they were then predicting his downfall.  This song basically says, ‘I’m here, I’m still singing, I’m writing my own songs and the prediction of my demise is greatly exaggerated.”   The band leader then talked to us about the 1970’s during the ‘band wars.’  There would be big concerts where the competing bands of each village would meet and sing ‘hate songs’ to the others.    He would arrive earlier than the others and sing the other bands hate songs that were meant for him first.  That way when the opposing band showed up and tried to sing their song the crowd would shout that they had cheated and stolen his hate songs.   Bado reported that his dad was at a ‘hate song’ concert on the day Bado was born and missed the birth…
  • Hiyoyo Bua:     This is a funeral song to the family of Kumni who died.  The band leader sings that he has gone and left grieving family and he wants to pass on his condolences.   The words Hiyoyou Bua simply mean ‘Listen up and gather round, I have something to say.
  • Mudamu Ariyemoy:  This song is a funeral song about a very famous mwenzele musician, named Binihare, who taught the band leader the music.  Binihare died in 2010.   The song is titled ‘whoever is alive’ i.e., you must remember this great musician and remember that next time it might be you we sing about.   Binihare had made the band leader promise to sing in his funeral.

Thanks to Bado, the son, for working with his father to give the background; here’s Bado, with Patrick,  who we’ve known since the founding of Singing Wells:


At about 1900, Tabu broke away with Hannah and Andy to go to a concert while Jimmy remained with the core group to continue recording.    The recording group stayed until about 2130 at night, long after hotel restaurants closed, so Pato and Steve hosted the band to a dinner out.   Hannah and Andy will report on the concert separately.


(Ketebul Studios. Nairobi)

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