Tom Herriman's Journal
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News and Views
October 11, 2007-John Kabuye

Thurday October 11

A few days ago I was up on Hoima Road looking for the internet café and I met John Kabuye. When I wandered into his stationery shop to ask directions, he was playing a little hand made one string fiddle I later learned is called an endigidi. I asked him a bout it and then asked if he would play for me and let me record some of the music. He offered to invite one of his friends Joseph Lukoda over to play too, so we made a date for two days later at 4. When I came back, we set up a make shift recording studio in the back of the shop where he could still keep an eye on the front door. The music is on a five note scale, and most of the songs are stories or narratives, Everything is oral tradition, there are no written words or music. John learned to play music as a child, and said his relatives often at around playing music together. He learned all the songs by word of mouth. I expected to be there just for an hour, but once they started playing, they couldn’t stop and song after song poured out of them. I ended up staying there for over three hours which got e into trouble back at the school. When didn’t show up for lunch, they decided I was lost and sent out search parties looking for me.

As I looked around the shop, I noticed there were several drums stacked up on the shelves along with stationery supplies, and cases of soda pop. Eventually I asked John about the drums and he took one down and played it while Joseph continued singing. It was an ngalabi or long drum. It’s about 4 ½ feet tall and about 16” diameter, and tapers down from its widest point. It has a deep rich bass, and lots of higher notes created by pressure on the skin. I also noticed a big rough-hewn wooden contraption on the shelves which I suspected was a musical instrument…indeed it was a madinda 12 or 14 note marimba r xylophone, and john eventually dragged that down and set it up and played alomg with the endigidi. An hour or so later another musician , Charles Lwanga, walked in to the store and sat down at the madinda while John went back to playing drums.
The music itself is based on simple repetitive melodies, sort of similar to a group of folkies jamming on old joe clark over and over again. Some of the songs are old, but some of the songs were more contemporary, a referred to the wars that wracked the country in the 80’s and 90’s…not political…but the war as seen from the point of refugees. John said a lot of the older songs were obscene.

We were constantly interrupted by customers wandering in to have copies made, students with their school papers, or to by pens or soft drinks. John sells a wonderful banana drink that he buys in bulk from somebody else and rebottles in 12 oz capless bottles…but he keeps it cold. He has generator power to run his copier and cooler when the regular power goes off. Fortunately the power stayed on the whole time I was there so he didn’t have to turn on the generator. All three musicians were devoted Christians…catholics I gather. Joseph is an organist and John sings in the choir. It was a wonderful afternoon. I’m going to see if they will come over to the school one day and give a concert for the kids. And I’m going to put together a program of the music for KBCS.