Abubilla Music in Africa
Written by Jimmy
- Project Overview: The Abubilla Music Foundation sponsors music projects in the developing world; the largest of these is the Singing Wells Project which we run with our partners from Ketebul Music. We designed the Project in Phase I, conducted a Pilot Phase in Malindi in Phase II, tested further at the Lake Turkana Festival in Phase III and launched the project in full in Phase IV. Our goals is to capture the musical heritage of East Africa make it relevant to today’s artists. We do this by a) taking mobile recording studios to the field, recording performances in the villages where the music was born, and b) bringing artists with us to record modern music with the tribes. In some cases, as we did this time, we also invite the tribes back to Nairobi to record with Ketebul musicians.
- Phase IV Overview: Phase IV was focused on two major projects. The first, which was partially sponsored by Institute of International Education, was to record the music of the Ugandan Batwa tribes (see below). To do this, we flew from Nairobi to Kigali Rwanda and then drove to Kisoro Uganda. The second project was to record the music of the Luo tribes of north-west Kenya; we drove from Nairobi to Lake Victoria and used Homa Bay and Kisumu as ‘bases’ to head to the villages. We took with us sufficient equipment to set up two recording studios with 6 mics and set up 3 digital movie cameras for the performances. There were eleven of us, 3 from Abubilla Music and 8 from Ketebul in Uganda and 10 of us in Kenya. To meet the team, click here. Throughout the trip we were greeeted by massive rainstorms but only lost about 3 hours of recording. In Uganda, we had a friendly encounter with a billion locusts that weighted down our mosquito nets – the good news is with the power failure you couldn’t really see the occuption. You just felt them crawling all over and heard an awful racket. In Kenya, we mostly just faced pot holes the size of the Grand Canyon. The good news here is they were mostly filled with mud so we sort of squished our way through.
- The Batwa: The Botwa tribes are often called, incorrectly, the old Pygmy tribes. They are related to the Pygmies, but as we learned they are not technically pygmies. They live mostly in the mountains of Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo, with a fairly large group in Kisoro Uganda, which was our ‘base.’ The Batwa have suffered horribly in the last thirty years ago as all of their forest homeland was seized in order to free up an area to protect the mountain gorillas. In most cases the displaced families were given no land – in the best of cases they were given the worst land. Like all displaced peoples, their resulting poverty has been used to stigmitise them as lazy outcasts. Despite of all this, the Batwa culture is all about the celebration of life through music and dance. The ‘bird dances’ of the Batwa are legendary throughout Africa. Our goal was to record their music and dance and help bring the story of the Batwa to the attention of others. What we recorded amazed us; so much so, that we invited the best musicians back to Nairobi to record further (see below). Here are some samplers of the music – but to find out more about Francis, about Tiny Moses or Jovah, please click on their names.
- Kigali: Travelling between Kisoro and Nairobi, we flew in and out of Kigali Rwanda. On the return leg, we took the opportunity to stop by the Genocide Memorial, which is built on the site of a mass burial of 250,000 victims who were murdered in the capital alone. While all of us thought we knew a little about this, we all learned we didn’t know a lot and wrote about some of the lessons here: click here.
- Luo Music:From Uganda, we ultimately travelled to the Lake Victoria area of Kisumu and Homa bay to record the Luo tribes. There was so much good music, built in part off the Nytati and ….. Here’s some fun ‘magic moments’ we created to give you a sense of what the instruments were like:
We had a great time recording the Ocacho Young Stars, Jose Okelo, etc.. and are working on the CD’s now.
6. Terrorists and Luo Phrases: We had an interesting time on the issue of terrorism in Homa Bay. The Ketebul Boys went to a local bar, where a local Luo was working hard to impress the crowd with his financial success. Through crowd noise and a DJ’s music, the Luo shouted to the crowd: An gi pesa!!! (I have money!!!!). The Ketebul team find this amusing the first 20 times, and then began to get slightly annoyed. Eventually, our intern leaned over to him, showed him a $20 (actual US bill). The proud Luo at this point shouted at the top of his lungs in the bar, “Al sabab ni tie ka!!!” (Al shabab is here!!!). In the US, this wouldn’t have gone down very well, but in Homa Bay this led to quite a bit of laughter. Our Luo hero was now very upset, as the only voice of reason in the bar and shouted: Bomb biro muoch!!! ( The bonb will explode!!!). He was at this point so upset that he was the midst of a terrorist organisation that he left in a huff to another bar. Well, you sort of had to be there. But, the little incident led to a lot of shouting amongst the Ketebul and Abubilla team about An gi pesa and Al sabab ni tie ka… We avoided shouting this too loud at the Israeli Embassy which stood directly opposite the Fairview hotel in Nairobi.
7. The Batwa in Nairobi: On our return to Nairobi we were met by our Batwa friends from Kisoro. We spent the weekend recording Francis, Tiny Moses (and Challenger and DJ) and what we named the Kisoro Women’s Group, which ended up being the best female singers of three villages. We think we’ll be able to produce a full CD of the Batwa and potentially a separate one of Tiny Moses.
8. Living for Music: Watching the Batwa over the weekend made us realise what it means to live for music. We think we do, at Abubilla. We love listening and we love creating. But we don’t know what we’re talking about. The Batwa truly live for music. Whether they were in the studio or not, they were spending their whole time singing. They sang to the children to put them to sleep, they sang to the children to encourange them to run around. They sang at the end of the evening to celebrate the day. We would bring them into the studio until 930PM or so, and then suggest they head back to the hotel. While we would start to clean up they’d be outside starting a new song and singing the most beautiful harmonies. Because they hadn’t sung together (this was four different tribes), each would start a song and the others would join in with new versions, new harmonies … We would ask if they wanted to go back in the studio and they’d say yes and we’d do another couple songs. And this went on until near midnight, Saturday and Sunday. And we only heard later that they went back to the hotel and entertained the guests over late drinks and early breakfast the next morning – with continual song. We talked to them about this and they said in the villages they sing non-stop. There are songs for morning, for evening, for chores, for lullabies, for joy, for surrow, for telling their history… If we had recorded them five weeks we would have not recorded all their songs. Amazing. To live for Music.
9. Next Steps…We now have albums and videos to produce and to extend our map of East Africa to include the Luo and the Batwa tribes. And we’ll do a better job with the pictures – there are about a thousand. Next year, we are going to the Massai, to northern Uganda and Tanzania. Watch this space.
Jimmy and Andy and Vicki