West African music is popular all over the world because it has been able to adapt and fuse traditional and modern music without losing their authenticity. Some of the notable instruments that have propelled their artistry are the kora and djembe.
“In 1992, I went to the Netherlands and we found that foreigners knew African music to be West African music, and djembe as the main instrument. We discovered we had not sold East African art,” Sam Okello-Kelo, a performing artiste, recounts.
He had led a Mizizi ensemble on a music sojourn. They carried endingidi (bowed string), xylophone, oseke (detached flute).
He says revellers thought Mizizi were from South America.
Mizizi is Swahili word for roots. Okello-Kelo felt challenged.
On return, he started thinking of how to make Ugandan music popular.
He then decided to use West African music as a benchmark.
Mentor one another
He realised that musicians from that part of the world were smart and created platforms to expose their arts on international avenues as well as carrying out workshops through which they mentor one another.
“They pursue music academically to the extent that the only arts market is in Abidjan. We decided to look for talent out there, work with them and professionalise them through a three-year mentorship programme. Every after a year, we bring in an international artiste to mentor them,” he explains.
The Mizizi Sounds of the Nile mentorship programme seeks to professionalise and popularise Ugandan indigenous music.
Mubako Local Group has learnt better cooperation and how to play music using solo sounds.
“We have been mentored on the need to harness our music talent through improvement on our musical instrument called adungu (arched harp) by designing it in order to look smart. We have been trained on better dance choreography. We have also been taught about the need for artistic discipline,” Julius Oromi, a member of Mubako Local Group, a popular cultural troupe in Murchison Falls National Park’s lodges and docking area, says.
Mubako gets its name after a village near the park.
There are Ugandan and foreign mentors to guide the artistes on how to produce quality music. Deejays are also part of the mentorship as a conduit to popularise mentees’ music around the country and Africa. Maliam musician Cheick Tidiane Seck is one of the mentors. He has been to Uganda four times.
“I am glad to share my humble experience with many talents from Uganda. In my country, Mali, music is the first vehicle for tourism. All cultural promoters of Africa should work together and share experiences. Mizizi festival is a window for United Africa, emanating from Uganda,” Tidiane Seck observes.
“If we link Tidiane to play with Bogere from Mayuge or Ekuka from Lira, their thinking will change, as well as style of presentation,” Okello-Kelo argues.
Mentors and mentees will share the stage at the Mizizi Sounds of the Nile Festival slated for between November 22 and 24 at Katurikire in Kiryandongo District.
Okello-Kello argues that they chose Kiryandongo given its central location in Uganda, and as the most fertile part of Uganda.
“It has every single ethnic group in Africa. We call it the Mizizi Sounds of the Nile, a river that starts in Nalubaale (Lake Victoria) and spreads to the rest of the world. All types of people have interacted with the river, be it cattle keepers, bushmen and hunters. What is more is that you find different aspects and music in an expression of life,” the veteran performer further explains.
Some of the headlining acts include Habib Koite, Cindy Sanyu and Romeo Odongo, as well as mentees and other invited cultural performers, in tandem with the festival objective of promoting and developing indigenous art and culture of Uganda to a level that people from across the globe can access and enjoy, both in the real as well as in the virtual world.
Okello-Kello’s other conviction in fostering a showcase of indigenous music and art is what he defines as a degenerating musicality.
“Uganda has been defined as a photocopier machine, which has failed to develop its own music style, modern and acceptable. Our musicians are taking us back by copying foreign music. They try to sing in Jamaican patois and they sound so fake. It is so annoying,” he observes.
He adds that local musicians seek to sound foreign because of lack of self-confidence.
“We left art to the low esteemed component of society. They are always seeking endorsement. That is why we think that to have good music, we have to sound like a Jamaican or Nigerian,” he adds.
To him, the need to invest and embrace technology will help promote improved music through mentorship programmes such as Mizizi, which fuse culture, creativity and humanity, and in effect, build bridges within Africa and then the world at large.
Mizizi Ensemble’s director further observes that the nanga from the north is different from that of the south.
The djembe of the Karamojong is different from other parts of the country.
Okello-Kello joined Ndere Troupe in 1986 and from then on, became a pro-Ugandan art and sound advocate.
“With time, I started feeling that there was a need to push our art and create our space in the art space,” he says.