|Guitarist Israel Nsereko Kalungi, ndong�o player Joel Sebunjo and Ronald Kibirige Omulanda do the healing effect of music in the ArtMatters.Info office in Nairobi
Few youth in East Africa are interested in folk music today and this, reports STEVEN TENDO, comes out frequently when the Peace Africa Youth Ensemble goes out to perform.
They are usually met with inquiring and confused stares. This is what makes them unique, though. They are a group that has looked beyond the lure of pop culture and its fleeting gratification and gone for the jugular of African music.
It is a group of young people (their ages range from 10 to 25 years) and they are a sight to watch when they play. It is rare to find such young people with such dedication to their craft. They remind one of Percussion Discussion Africa, Uganda’s premier folk music group, only that this time, what you see is a much younger version of the former.
They play a variety of instruments including the Ndongo (the eight-stringed lyre from Buganda), the madinda (the xylophone), the ndere (flute), the ngalabi (long drum from Buganda) and many others.
Peace Africa Youth Ensemble appears to be taking the concept of ‘World Music’ to another level. They play with a passion that can be felt as one sits in the audience; the flutist plays a soulful note as the xylophonist provides tone. One cannot leave without being touched.
The group was started by Ronald Kibirige Omulanda, Joel Sebunjo and Israel Nsereko Kalungi. Kibirige was playing for a folk cultural group called Akadinda at that time while his two compatriots played for other groups like Ndere Troupe. They saw the kindred spirits within one another and decided to come together as a group.
“We were lucky because at about that time, we were noticed by Gordon Nicole, an American producer from Dallas, USA. After contacting us, he went on to fund our maiden project, Mama Africa,” Omulanda, director of the group, says.
Mama Africa is an 11 track album with nine of the songs done in purely folk styles. The instruments are African and the chanting and rhythms are from the various cultures around Uganda. Two tracks, fused with western instruments, sound like token songs. It was recorded in 2004 in Dallas. Nicole has become the group’s agent and he foots all their bills.
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“He travels to Uganda twice a year and he sends whatever we need,” says 20-year-old Sebunjo, the group’s coordinator and all round instrumentalist.
He says almost all the members of the Peace Africa Youth Ensemble have something in common in that they are either from broken families or are orphaned.
“There are AIDS orphans and children who cannot take care of themselves in the group’s care,” he tells me. The sales from the CDs are used to cater for these children. We pay for their school and any other need they may have.
The group targets talented youth who have the heart for music and train them to perfect their skills.
Sebunjo is a music student at Makerere University, Kampala. He is now in his second year. His experience is growing as he spends more time with Peace Africa Youth Ensemble. Other groups have called him to provide his expertise and he can be seen a number of times on television playing any instrument, as back up to another artiste. Such is the power of these young people’s zeal. All the other members are curving a niche for themselves on the local scene as those who love the music from their motherland sit up and take note of this new development within their midst.
Many of these artistes started as boys and their craft has grown over time.
“I stated doing folk music way back in primary school,” Sebunjo says. “Back then, we had a fierce rivalry with Buganda Road Primary School where the likes of Kinobe [Herbert Kinobe is a member of Percussion Discussion Africa and he has got a lot of recognition as a force in world music. He was the only African at the annual Africa Oyee festival in Liverpool in June 2005] and we were always trying to show them that even if they had teachers from the revered Ndere Troupe, we were better than they. The good thing is that we grew to learn from each other and became brothers and sisters.”
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|Israel Kalungi (l) and Ronald Omulanda
After Mama Africa, Peace Africa Youth Ensemble have been contracted to do a soundtrack to a Ugandan documentary about a girl. It is called Sara. Juliet MaKoen, a representative of Shoreline Films in the United Kingdom heard the group’s work and she immediately got in touch with them. The group contributed six songs for that particular project.
The group has not sat on their laurels. They are immersing themselves in community work.
“At the moment, we are working with Nyumabani Children’s Home in Nairobi. We are planning to produce an album on which we shall employ Ugandan music instruments while they use Kenyan instruments,” Kalungi says.
In addition to that, the group organises lectures for young people, especially as this is a high risk age group as far as HIV/AIDS is concerned. They get speaker on various days to provide counseling and from the results, it is a very good idea. They get services from groups as diverse as local elders to the American Balm in Gilead.
Oh, why are they almost unknown in Uganda yet they are known abroad? (In fact, for me to interview the trio, publisher Ogova Ondego had to put the group in touch with me from the ArtMatters.Info office in Nairobi!)
“Radio stations in Uganda have not changed,” Sebunjo says. “They are so engrossed with western music they just don’t want to hear anything else. Apparently, the market wants to listen to foreign pop music than Ugandan folk.”
So even with these fledgling artistes, the same old complaint of radio DJs sidelining them still comes up.
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The group is planning to tour the United States of America in December 2005. They will be going with an as yet untitled album and they will be gone for two months. The group will be cut into half as ten of them will have examinations about that time.