Wabash Blogs Immersion 2008: Ugandan Madinda Masters -

June 04, 2008

Heaven for a Mathematician and Musician

Friday, May 23—For breakfast today we had fried lumonde (sweet potatoes) and fried muwogo (cassava). I also had African tea again (chai tea with hot milk instead of hot water)

Today we went to Kyambogo again and learned from the ingenious Ssebuwufu. To meet him, you would never think that this was one of the true masters of the madinda, and he had performed all around the world in every venue imaginable!

We practiced the madinda songs we had learned yesterday, and then we did something amazing. We played enyana ekutudde on the giant 22-key kadinda! The style is very different, and for me considerably more difficult. I can only do it when I am at full attention, never when I am tired, but I was able to do it. It was incredible, the way that the rhythms interlock is mind boggling. As a mathematician and a musician, I was in heaven. The kadinda itself is an amazing instrument. I learned later that it was brought out especially for our visit.

Here are all the words for Enyana ekutudde:

Enyana ekutudde
Ekusamba n’etekulinya


Today the weather was cloudy for the first time since I have been here.

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May 28, 2008

Touring the national Museum

Tuesday, May 27 - Today was amazing.†I went back to the Uganda national museum to learn from Mr. Sekitooleko. I learned three new kadinda style songs and progressed a little further with the kadinda style, which is fiercely difficult and intricate.

Click here to see photos from the past few days of our trip!

Then we learned a few new madinda songs including Ssematimba, a song Mr. Ssebuwufu had mentioned but Dr. Makubuya would not let me do because he thought it was too difficult. 

I was able to do it! They were very impressed and we even played as an ensemble for other tourists coming through! I cannot wait to meet with this teacher again, he is very fun and interesting and things progressed greatly today.

We also toured the museum some more and even saw some of the traditional houses of eastern Africa. Here I got a lot of really good pictures.Admittedly, the most architecturally complex and impressive house of all of them was the house of the Baganda people, the people who the music I was studying belonged to. The architecture was incredible! Then we went and toured the Uganda national theatre and saw some incredible dancing!

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Building My Own Madinda

Monday, May 26 - I had an amazing idea for a creative project related to what I am studying here last night so I didn’t get very much sleep because I was thinking about that all night.  

Today we are going back to Kyombogo to study with Ssebuwufu again.  We learned about the miko or octaves of the madinda and the kadinda, and how to variate between the different starting notes of the songs.  It is very different between madinda and the kadinda.  The madinda variations of this kind are very difficult and take me some time to figure out but I think I am finally getting the hang of it. We also learned about other kinds of bbisoko or variation, mainly in the omukonezi part. Then we took a break to learn about the construction of the madinda and start the construction of my very own madinda!  This will prove very useful in my future studies.

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Sunday Was a Day of Rest

Sunday, May 25 - Today I didn’t do much. I spent the day with our host Steven Nnawuba’s kids. They are incredibly cute, but energetic. We had a lot of fun, and they totally wore me out by the end of it. I think they had fun. For everything that he does for us it was the very least I could do, but it was pretty fun for me too! I also got to do a bit of exploring on my own though I didn’t go very far, it was starting to get dark and the city isn’t always the nicest at nighttime. 

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Visiting One of Uganda's Leading Colleges

May 25—Today we zipped off to Makerere University, the equivalent of Harvard for Uganda. We met with Dr. Makubuya’s former student, and a professor at the university Dr. Nnanyonga. She had a lot of really incredible stories mostly about the numerous projects she had taken up at the school. She had been working so hard to branch out the department to many different places around the world and even build a music archive for the school. What fascinated me the most though was her stories about the traditional Buganda shrines where she was doing research on dances. It was an amazing tale about how the researcher almost became the subject.

We also met Mr. Bisaso, the son of the late Mr. Ssempeke, a famous endere and royal palace musician. As we walked into the music building he was playing the ndingidi (Buganda fiddle) with an ensemble. It was truly amazing!

Then we went to the Uganda National Museum and met up with two teachers that I will be working with starting next Tuesday. The first was called Mr. Ssekitooleko another son of the late Ssempeke, and the second was called Mr. Sserwanga, the brother of the late Ssempeke. Mr. Sserwanga is one of the last living masters of the Buganda reed flute! After that we went sight-seeing at the Lukiiko building (Buganda Parliament), and learned a bit of the history of Uganda. The interesting thing about the building was that it had pictures of the animals depicting the image of each one of the clans that unified to form Buganda.

But it didn’t stop there. After that we went to the lake of the king of Uganda. Nearby where we were walking there was a slum. I was greeted formally (kneeling) by a kid. It was an amazing gesture, that took me greatly by surprise. I gave him some coins afterwards for performing such a humbling gesture. Here even the poorest of people here have a sense of manners and dignity, it seems. I think that is one thing that differs greatly between the United States and Uganda, and one thing I will miss.

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Meeting My Teacher and My First Lesson

Thursday May 22 - Dr. Makubuya tells me that the hotel we have is really nice for Uganda. I can see what he is saying. While the room is just barely big enough for me to move around in, the bed is very large (a double), it has mosquito netting and the shower is hot—all things that are somewhat uncommon. And even though there is just one electrical plug in, there is always power, Im guessing the hotel has a power inverter. All these go to say the hotel is pretty nice. I had a hot shower this morning, then we zipped off to Kyambogo University to meet my first teacher.

Mr. Ssebuwufu has the air of a true muse. He is probably the happiest and nicest man I have ever met in my life. I started off playing a tune for him so that he knew my skill level and then immediately we started learning madinda style songs. The first was called Twamusanga, and was very simple. I will not do this very often because it makes for a very long blog, but I want to give the notation I have written in my notes for the madinda song so you have an idea of what it is I am studying.

First, you have to know, that for the madinda style of playing there are three musicians on one instrument. The first is called the omunazi. or "the starter". He starts by playing a simple melody in octaves on the xylphone. The second player is called the omwawuzi or the “mixer.” He starts the real music by playing (also in octaves) a different tune in between the first players' notes. When the two players tunes mix, suddenly you have the madinda melody.† The the final player is the omukoonezi, or the “hitter.” This player only plays two notes at the top of the madinda, and in doing so he emphasizes the main part of the melody.

Here is the song as I have written it in my notes:

Omw: 1 1 2 3 1 1 4 4

Omn:   1 5 1 5 1  5 1 4

Omk: 12221   12221

Be twamusanga la sera be twamusanga-“A sleepwalking person”

I will provide the sound recording for this piece later so you can here how it sounds.

We also learned song Enyana ekutudde which means, “the calf has broken loose.”


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Arriving in Dubai

Wednesday May 21 - We arrived at Dubai today. It is truly an amazing city. The flight we took to Dubai was called Emirates Airline, an airline based out of Dubai. It was an incredible flight—the plasma wide screen television in front of each seat had options to listen to just about every radio broadcast, podcast, cd, or watch any movie you could possibly want.

The meals were spectacular and frequent and the staff was ridiculously nice. All this and the flight was at a discount to other airlines! This airline was just a taste of the riches and prestige Dubai had to offer.

While at Dubai we happened to meet up with three other professors of African music/culture, which led to a very interesting discussion that night over dinner. The focus of the discussion was on the negative impacts of colonialism on Africa. On the way out of Dubai I was able to snap a picture of the Burj Dubai, currently the tallest building in the world. I wish I could have stayed longer to see more of what Dubai is about.

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