By Bamuturaki Musinguzi
Published July 4, 2016
He came on stage shortly before 9:00 PM. Plucking a 21-stringed west African traditional music instrument called the Kora, the young Afro-fusion Ugandan musician who performed Africa Express, Bulungi, Lusejera, Empale Ya Kadde and Nakato off his latest 2015 album, I Speak Luganda, serenaded his fans with his trademark soulful vocals for 82 minutes.
Accompanied by two Congolese guitarists–Charmant Mushaga and Musenge Mwatshy–and a drummer–Roy Kasika–Joel Sebunjo also performed Afro, Jarabi, Toumaranke and Amina off his earlier two albums–Ganda Mande Crossroads and Heart of a Griot–to the delight of the audience who demanded two encores before he finally bowed out at 10:15 PM during a Joel Sebunjo Live in Concert performance.
The fans had waited for this concert that took place June 9, 2016 at Sheraton Hotel in Kampala for 36 months; and it turned out to be a memorable event.
The concert featured Malian musician Aly Keita, one of the best balafon players in the world, as a special guest. Playing the magical West African balafon with virtuosity, Keita performed his 2010 song, Farafinko, with spectacular and enchanting African polyphonies.
The curtain raisers were: guitarist and crooner Kenneth Mugabi with Naki and Kibun’omu; Giovanni Kremer Kiyingi with Mandela, Buddu and Nkwesunga; and vocalist Sandra Nankoma alias Sandy Soul with Ssemusajja and Balibabambuza.
As to the importance of holding this concert, Sebunjo told ArtMatters.info: “I had not announced a concert in Kampala since 2013. I have been playing elsewhere in the world but not Kampala. It was just timely as this is also the tenth year of my music career.”
Sebunjo is one of Uganda’s most recognised young music exports. He is a singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, specialising in the kora and an eight-stringed traditional Ugandan bow lyre known as endongo. He blends African and Ugandan music with jazz, R&B, funk and other modern musical influences and rhythms.
Sebunjo’s instrument repertoire also includes the akogo thumb piano, endingidi tube fiddle, amadinda xylophone, engoma and kalimba.
Sebunjo, who appears obsessed with West African sounds–even his band is called Sundiata–unleashes a repertoire that has been described as a Ganda-Mande Music crossroads. He delivers the sound with instruments such as the kora, endongo, kalimba, calabasse, djembe, guitar and bass, fusing the sounds of Africa with folk, jazz, blues and pop from around the world.
Sebunjo has already performed in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Kigali (Rwanda) and Goma (Congo-Kinshasa) in the first half of 2016. He says he is in July 2016 headed to the Czech Republic to play at Colours of Ostrava Festival that is billed as being one of Europe’s biggest music events.
Born on August 20, 1984 in Kampala, Sebunjo has played Ugandan Ganda music since the age of six. He later went into apprenticeship under Busulwa Katambula, a renowned folk musician, poet and arts master at Makerere College School in Kampala.
Between 2006 and 2008, Sebunjo performed at the annual Lola Kenya Screen movie festival for children and youth in eastern Africa. It was while here that he met Antonia Ringbom, an animation instructor for children with whom he worked in Nairobi, Europe and West Africa.
Sebunjo studied the kora with Manding greats such as Alagi Mbye and Jalibah Kouyateh in the Gambia. At the moment, he is said to be one of the very few exponents of Djeli music cultures, particularly, kora in sub-Saharan Africa.
Sebunjo says he has performed alongside legendary African musicians like Salif Keita, Miriam Makeba, Yossou N’Dour and Oliver Mtukudzi, among others.
Malian balafonist Keita was born in 1969 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast in a musical family. From an early age, he was initiated in the playing of this musical ancestor of the xylophone and the marimba, by his father, himself a balafon player. Since generations, the Keitas continue the traditions of the griots.
While growing up in Abidjan, he met jazz musicians like Georges Makinto. This led him to a fusion of his traditional style and jazz.
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Keïta makes his own balafons and plays them continually in order to excel alongside the very best. Now living in Germany, he has played with jazz masters like Omar Sosa, Rhoda Scott, Paco Sery, Etienne M’Bappé, Paolo Fresu, Joe Zawinul, Tiken Jah Fakoly, Amadou and Mariam.
Keita’s passion for the balafon catapulted him into the spotlight in the 2009 film called ALLY KEITA AND THE MAGIC BALAFON. His two music albums are Akwaba Inese (2006) and Farafinko (2010).
“I want my music to be alive and energetic, full of hope and love, music that I can share with the public and through which the public and I can share our joy,” Keita says at the end of the concert at which revelers have parted with US$30 and US$59 for for ordinary and VIP ticket, respectively.