This June we were contacted by long time Singing Wells partner Prof. James Isabirye about an exciting new project he was hoping to undertake – the revival of the naizungwe drums of the Basoga people in Uganda.
James led our revival of the entenga royal drums of the Buganda kingdom starting in 2015 and contacted Singing Wells with the hope that we would support him with funding for his new project. We are excited to announce that we have agreed to support James in his endeavours and will be posting about the project’s development, which has been under way for a month now.
James gives some background about his inspiration for starting this project:
“I led the revival of entenga royal drum music of Buganda kingdom. At the time of doing this, I received an audio recording from Peter Cooke, telling me of his recording on his first field trip in Uganda in 1967. The multi-rhythmic texture of the drumming, Basoga traditional yodeling and humming plus the poetic recitations can no longer be heard anywhere. As a child I heard the likes of Kamu Kasata and Ndhote singing like that and that is no more. Although I had never seen these drums, the recording spoke to me profoundly. I listened to the recording very many times and every time I listened it sounded ‘sweeter’ and attractive. I kept on asking myself what would happen if there is a function in Busoga and these drums emerge. I have seen how people are excited about Bigwala. We need to create opportunities for our people to believe in themselves and their values. Our history has weakened our minds and what is left is for man to eat man. No values! No identity! No humans! Just creatures moving the path of God’s gift called life and breathing the air meant for humans.”
Below are excepts from Peter Cooke’s recordings of the drums that James talks about:
What makes this project particularly exciting, is the difference of approach required compared to the entenga drums. With the entenga we found a surviving old master player (Musisi) who was able to teach a younger generation of musicians about the music and the performances. In the case of the naizungwe, however, despite his best efforts, James has been unable to locate any surviving old players who can facilitate a similar education. As a result, he is hoping to work alongside Haruna Walusimbi of Nile Beat Artists to reconstruct the performances directly from the recording he received from Peter Cooke. James tells us:
“Nile Beat Artists is a semiprofessional group of musicians that include highly talented musicians. We will also add other musicians selected on the basis of high skill to avoid wastage of time. We will listen to the recordings together with the youths. Then we make sense of what is played in the recordings. After that, we will play the rhythms slowly until we can reproduce them. Then we will add the singing. This can be done by any musician who is hard working. We hope the final performance will be a reflection of our musicality and what we hear in the recording.”
We will be documenting the progress of these drums with pictures and videos here, and more details about the project and the instruments themselves are to follow soon so you can stay updated.