Before we bring you our next update on the progress of the Naizungwe drums, James Isabirye, who is co-ordinating the project gives us some background information about the drums and the traditions from which they come:
Where do they originally come from and who played them?
Uganda has about 65 ethnic societies according to the 1995 constitution. Each ethnic society had a way it was organized socially before the advent of colonialism. Most of the societies were and still are organized on clan system. One ethnic society has a number of clans where each clan has a leader – clan leader. Each of those clans had identifying regalia and one of them are drum rhythms that symbolize the general belief of that clan. The Basoga ethnic society from the Eastern region of the country is organized according to clans. Eleven clans are royal; they are the leaders and the rest are not. One of the clans is the baise muwaya. Their regalia is naizungwe drums.
Is there any particular reason they no longer have any players (like with the entenga drums)?
The clans organized themselves into bigger administrative units that culminated into the eleven chiefdoms that later united to form Busoga [kingdom]. When the central government abolished kingdoms in 1967, the bigger administrative structures were weakened. Clans remained because they represent people’s birth, life and death. The larger more political structures [ie. the eleven chiefdoms] were demonized by the central government and all meetings at that level stopped. When the top structures died, the clan structures also weakened because clan leaders did not answer to anybody higher. Eventually clans and their values weakened. As a result, clan regalia such as naizungwe became extinct because clan meetings ceased to take place in the original manner. Other factors that eroded traditional value systems that had come with foreign civilization also took their toll, causing erosion of the traditions.
Can you describe the style of this tradition?
It is percussive. The central concept is polyrhythms interlocking. Drums play loudly. The louder the better because loud is power, strength. People who have a healthy life are energetic and they often express that through music and dance and more.
How are the drums played?
The largest drum is the leader and it comes in once in a while, to assert its position. Medium drums play a continuous pattern over which the other drums paint their syncopations both in lower and higher pitches. Then vocalists yodel, hum and recite poetic passages than compete with the loud drumming. Nobody needs loud speakers; the natural amplifiers are sufficient for the audience that is here. Everything comes out naturally and meaningfully to the people. That is what I see in the recording.
How are these Basoga drums different from the Baganda ones?
Athough Basoga and Baganda conical drums are similar in many ways, they have differences. They are differently woven and this causes them to differ in appearance. Also Basoga drums are mainly played with sticks while only the namunjoloba (the smallest drum in the Baakisimba drum set), and in some cases nankasa (the smallest drum in the nankasa set) is played with sticks. Also, the drums in mujaguzo regalia which also include entenga are played with sticks. Generally, there are overlaps but the manner of playing differs and the Baganda and Basoga people can recognize the differences.