Joel Ssebunjo is a World Music Artist and pan African advocate. He has travelled globally, met and performed alongside legendary artistes like Youssou N’dour, Salif Keita, Miriam Makeba, Oliver Mtukudzi, Didier Awadi, and many more. He spoke to Beatrice Lamwaka about the influence of books on his music.
What kind of books do you read?
I read books whose content circulates around arts and culture of Africa: ideologies, philosophies, among others. I read books that centre on contemporary Africa.
Which books have influenced your music?
My music is influenced by West African music. The first books that I read were African Music from the Source of the Nile by Joseph Kyagambiddwa and The Soul of Mbira: Music and Traditions of the Shona People of Zimbabwe by Paul F. Berliner. I have also read Mande Music: Traditional and Modern Music of the Maninka and Mandinka of Western Africa by Eric Charry. In this book, Charry writes about the music cultures in Mali, Guinea, Senegal, and the Gambia. He focuses on the Mande music and how each evolved, the types of instruments used, and the major artists.
Which books have you received as gifts?
The Koran. I am interested in Islam as an aspect of life; the lifestyle, brotherhood, praying five times a day. One can discover the beauty of Islam when one lives in a Muslim country like Djibouti. Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali by D. T. Niane in French. I read French books to practice my French. The Challenge for Africa by Wangari Maathai which points at the challenges Africa faces and directions Africans should take for a better Africa.
You travel a lot to perform your music, which books were you glad you read before you reached your destination?
I was glad that I had read Mande Music: Traditional and Modern Music of the Maninka and Mandinka of Western Africa by Eric Charry when I lived in Dakar, Senegal. The book initiated me to working with West African musicians. I had prior knowledge of West African music and musicians. It was my user guide when I lived in Dakar.
What lessons have you learnt in the books that you have read?
There is a lot that has been written in books, it is only when you read them that you will gain the experience, have a wider view of the world, enrich yourself with that information and learn to appreciate the world better. Otherwise your world will always be small. I am who I am today because of the books that I have read. I have learned to appreciate Africa and music better from reading.