Training Ugandan musicians for the global stage

Thursday May 31 2018

Cheick Tidiane Seck

Above: Cheick Tidiane Seck during one of his concerts and below, while speaking to this newspaper recently. Courtesy Photos. 

By Denis Bbosa

The love for quick monetary gains and fame has inadvertently contributed to most East African musicians, particularly Ugandans, producing ‘bubblegum’ music which obviously trails on the continent - acknowledges Malian music icon Cheick Tidiane Seck.
The 65-year-old legendary keyboardist, composer and performer jetted into Kampala recently to breathe new life into a budding social project—the Sounds of the Nile festival due to take place in November at Karuma.

Everything about Cheick Tidiane is musical, and as he settles for the interview at Roots Village Restaurant in Kakungulu-Wakiso, he poses to pay attention to instrumental sound coming from beneath the wooden makeshift flat (where his class awaits), instantly stating its origin.
“I’m a Pan Africanist who enjoys different types of African music. I have heard of Uganda and East African music and I want to try and bridge the wide gap with West African music that is booming currently,” reveals Cheick Tidiane, who has written for and played with global icons such as Fela Kuti, Mory Kanté, Salif Keita, Youssou N’Dour, Hank Jones plus bands such as Dee Dee Bridgewater, Damon Albarn (Gorillaz and Rocket Juice & the Moon.

His mission
His two-week assignment here primarily includes lecturing a 25-member ground of village-based rookie musicians into an assemblage that will thrill festival goers in November.
Cheick-Tidiane, formerly a visiting professor at Los Angeles University, has taught music in Paris, Azerbaijan, Mexico, South Africa and North Africa and leaves room of trying to realign Ugandan music to fit the continental demands.
“I studied music and art and my many years of working around the world with big stars such as Carlos Santana and Salif Keita informs me that even Ugandans can adapt to the trending music globalisation,” he says.

He has been part of numerous musical projects since 1977, mostly nurturing talent, producing big name musicians and coordinating bands which will perceptibly make his latest task in Ugandan a stroll in the park.
“I grew up with Keita in Mali. I helped him develop and was once his music director. I worked with Hugh Masekela (RIP) and Mariam Makeba (RIP) during my time in South Africa and Guinea,” Cheick-Tidiane proudly reminisces.

About Ugandan music
“This is my first time to come to East Africa to share my experience. I do not know of any particular singer but I have heard Ugandan and Kenyan music but it still lacks that punch to make it on the continent and global stage,” he adds.
Cheick Tidiane says the most apparent difference between Ugandan and West African music is in the coherent movement, yet it is the very reason Ugandan audiences crave for artistes such as Davido, P Square and exotic music rules the airwaves. “P-Square (Nigerian singing twin duet) just made their traditional music look modern and simple and that got them instant appeal worldwide,” he stresses with a cappella of their ‘Ifunanya’ hit.

His emphasis with the group he is currently training in Kakungulu, and with established Ugandan musicians he intends to meet during the course of his two weeks stay, is teaching how to repair their movement, make music simpler and palatable to global audiences, the value of having international promoters, who to package their musical pieces, having a set message to send out and avoid outing complex music videos.
“The likes of Fally Ipupa (Congolese singer-songwriter) have benefited greatly by having their music videos played on channels such as Trace TV,” he says adding, “I’m friends with Kofi Olomidde and Papa Wemba promoter and if by chance I see a capable Ugandan musician, I will not hesitate to recommend him for global promotion.”

Cultivating festival culture
Ours is country where festivals are yet to be the in-thing. Cheick Tidiane arrived not only to enlighten local musicians how to earn handsomely from their talent but also to encourage Ugandans embrace festivals.
According to Flora Veuger, the director of the Source of the Nile Festival, they expect the Malian musical genius to teach the 25-man group how to play all musical instruments, blend their music and make profits out of their talent. He will come back thrice before the November 16 to 18 main event at Nogetec Heritage Gardens (Karuma) that is expected to attract international artistes such as Oliver Mtukudzi.

Veuger says: “We want to grow into an annual event, promote tourism and also give Kampala party goers entertainment outside the capital. In Mali, they started very small but right now their annual festival is one of the best attended festivals in the world. A tourist will come to see the elephants, culture and music because many Europeans are on the lookout for African festivals.”

Cheick Tidiane at a glance
The afro jazz maestro is an admirer of Louis Armstrong, James Brown, and Marvin Gaye music. The instrumentist has worked on bestselling albums with bands such as Ambassadeurs, Mory Kanté, Thione Seck, Touré Kunda, Salif Keita (“Soro”, “Amen”