|Article by Bamuturaki Musinguzi
Pictures by Morgan Mbabazi
Published August 25, 2007
Percussion Discussion Africa, the Ugandan band that engages percussive musical instruments in debating issues in Africa, is back home from London where they performed at the Silent Music Film Festival at the Royal Festival Hall in July 2007. PDA, Uganda’s award-winning traditional music outfit set to entertain Queen Elizabeth II and other dignitaries at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kampala in November 2007, is also about to release its fifth album. BAMUTURAKI MUSINGUZI reports.
PDA, that has sold its music across the world through tours in Lebanon, Malawi, Rwanda, Kenya, Burundi, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Zanzibar, Djibouti, Zimbabwe and Congo-Kinshasa , have recently taqken to playing music to classical films without sound since the beginning of the annual Amakula Kampala International Film Festival in 2004.
“When we were in London for the Silent Music Film Festival,” PDA leader Herman Ssewanyana (aka Omwana we Nsenene or The Son of the Grasshopper), told ArtMatters.Info in Kampala,”we recorded our fifth album at the King Studios titled Percussion Discussion Africa with seven tracks.”
PDA, that was formed in 1997, specialses in music made by traditional African percussive instruments like the Adungu, Ndingidi, lukembe, shakers, dourbouka, xylophones and rattles that they at times use alongside modern instruments like the guitar, saxophones, trumpets and accostic drums to produce unique Afro-fusion music that has won them a large following around the world.
Ssewanyana says their music was hardly understood let alone appreciated by their patrons when the band began as it was new and almost experimental.
“Besides finding the right equipment to record our music in the beginning, our first challenge was to make the people understand what our music was. And within a short time our efforts began bearing fruit as our song,Twabalamusa, off the Omubala album, was ranked first between 1998 and 1999 on the MP3.com African Chart. The other eleven tracks on the same album were always in the the top 20 ranking, meaning that our music was highly regarded in the world.”
The Uganda National Theatre-based PDA that performs at Club Obligatto every Wednesday evening, released their debut 12-track album, Omubala, under the Far and Wide Music label, in 1998. Mulamu followed in 2000. Four years later, in 2004, the 8-track Kitafe Ali mu Ggulu (Our Father Who Art in Heaven) was released followed closely by Nakayima in 2005.
Mulamu won PDA a Pearl of Africa Music (PAM) Award in 2003 as the Best Cultural Group in Uganda. The following year, Mu’Afrika (Troubles in Africa) song enabled them to bag another PAM as Best Folk Pop Music. As if they now owned PAM, Nakayima won them another PAM Award in 2006.
But this success appeared to have inspired PDA to do even better in their career. Come 2004, they were runners-up in the Best African Traditional Group at the disgraced and now suspended KORA All Africa Music Awards in South Africa.
PDA was the only African music group among the best ten in the world to be nominated to perform at the Temecula International Film and Music Festival in Los Angeles, California, USA, in 2004. The groups produced a compilation album, to which PDA’s contribution was Mulamu.
Ssewanyana, a former seminarian who also plays the congas for Afrigo Band of Kampala had his song, Nakawunde off the Nakayima album, featured as the introductory soundtrack in the film, The Last King of Scotland. Nakawunde is part of the eighteen-song soundtrack on the film that premiered in Kampala in 2007 at which function PDA also performed.
“I feel privileged to have been part of this film that has won an Academy Award,” Sewanyana says of The Last King of Scotland whose lead actor, Forest Whitaker who plays former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, the Best Actor Oscar at the 79th Annual Academy Awards in February 2007.
“I founded Percussion Discussion Africa in an attempt to develop a Ugandan identity and avoid being asked all the time whether I come from Congo,” Ssewanyana says. “Whenever I toured with Afrigo I was always asked if I was Congolese, which I did not like at all.”
Ssewanyana says he has been inspired by musicians like Senegalese Youssou N’Dour and Baaba Maal, Malian Salif Keita, and Zimbabwean Thomas Mapfumo whose traditional-based music is well respected by ‘the people.
There is no doubt Ssewanyana is the king pin of the group mainly because of his talent on the drums. When he gets down beating the drums one may think he has been attacked by the ‘gods of the drums.’ His ability to beat eight drums that include the Nankasa, Namunjoloba, Engalabi and Mpuunyi at any given performance lives him standing out of a crowd symbolizing the country’s living heritage.
“I picked on the drums because I am a drummer, having started playing them at an early age,” Sewanyana says.
Though not adverse to soukous, rumba or rap, Ssewanyana is uncomfortable with this situation. “In spite of the changes that take place,” he says, “one must seek to preserve one’s culture and traditions to be respected as one with roots.”
“Exchanging Latin American congas for the drums of his childhood, Ssewanyana has encouraged the group to develop music in which traditional and contemporary styles are combined in order to breath new life into their disappearing culture,” Far and Wide Music Company notes.
PDA has indeed sold its music across the world. They toured Lebanon in 2000, Malawi, Rwanda, Kenya, Burundi, Ghana and Burkina Faso and performed at Zanzibar International Film Festival in 2003 and at the Festhorn Festival in Djibouti in 2005. They also performed at the Hifa Festival in Zimbabwe in 2005 and at the DR Congo Cauri Festival in March 2007. They have been lined up to perform silent music before the Queen of England during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) set for November this year in Uganda.
So what do PDA sing about?
PDA comprises lead vocalist Mike Musoke,saxophonist Saidi Kasule, drummer Sewanyana, trumpeter Cornanelieus Isabirye, bow harpist Wilfred Okello, and Sebastian Kalule on the long drum. While Alex Okello plays the tube fiddle, Juliet Nabukalu and Shifa Kyomuhendo double up as vocalists and dancers.