Uganda: Grammy Glory in Country’s Reach?

THEY sang for life, so they got a lifetime achievement – a nomination for the Best Traditional World Music Album (Vocal or Instrumental) in the Grammy Awards, 2008! Singing for Life: Songs of Hope, Healing and HIV/AIDS in Uganda, a 14-track CD featuring various Ugandan musicians has earned a nomination in the world’s greatest, biggest and most glamourous music awards.

But what remains to be seen is whether Uganda gets its first Grammy Award on February 10, 2008, at Staples Centre in Los Angeles.

The Grammy Awards are presented annually by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences of the US for outstanding achievements in the record industry. The Grammys are considered the highest music honour, equivalent to the Academy Awards (Oscars) for motion pictures.

If these artistes win, they will get every musician’s dream – worldwide fame. They will also probably become best sellers in this particular genre (World music), which implies that they will earn more money through royalties collected from album sales.

In addition, their victory will bring Ugandan music into the global spotlight, meaning that more record companies will be looking to Uganda for world-selling talent.

Ugandans will be able to catch the action live on DStv’s MNet Channel at 4:00am or at 9:00pm when the channel airs a repeat of the awards.

First to put Uganda on the world map as far as the music industry is concerned, were the Abayudaaya – a community of Ugandan Jews living near Mbale – who were nominated in this same category in 2005. They did not win, but at least the world took notice.

Three years later, here is yet another bunch of artistes doing us proud! Interestingly, just like Abayudaaya, most artistes featuring on this CD are unheard of in Ugandan music circles.

They include: Bakuseka Majja Group – Olumbe Lubiibi (death is bad); Kibaale Village Embaire Ensemble – Olumbe Lwamala Abantu (death killed all the people); Jumbo Theatre Group – Struggle Against AIDS; MUDINET Drama Group – Such Painful, Merciless Diseases; Kanihiro Group – Silimu Yaheeza Abantu (AIDS has finished our people); Mzee Mata Nasani/Akadongo – Emagombe Newaife (the graveyard is our home); and Meeting Point Kampala – Abange Ab’eno? (is someone there?

Others are NACWOLA Iganga – Guno Gwe Mulembe Gwe Tulimu Kati (this period of time that we are in); Bright Woman Actresses – Bannange Twajjirwa (we have been invaded); Negro Angels Bamalayika – Gampisi (hyena); Bukona Woman’s Group – Silimu Okutumala! (AIDS finished us); Centurio Balikoowa – Abalugana (those who have not settled); and Walya Sulaiman/PADA – What Is In The Luggage.

The Grammy-nominated CD was produced by Gregory Barz, an associate professor of ethnomusicology at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music in Nashville, US. It was officially released on February 20, 2007 on a Smithsonian Folkways Recordings label in the US.

This same label released the Abayudaaya’s Grammy-nominated CD, Music From The Jewish People Of Uganda. The album was accompanied by a book Barz wrote in 2006 about the role music and storytelling play in an effort to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings is a non-profit record label of the Smithsonian Institution – the national museum of the US.

Upon its release, Singing for Life: Songs of Hope, Healing and HIV/AIDS in Uganda received rave reviews from leading US music critiques.

Amazon.com wrote: “With the release of Singing For Life: Songs of Hope, Healing, and HIV/AIDS in Uganda, Ugandans demonstrate how they have triumphantly tapped the power of their traditional music to battle the AIDS pandemic.

“This unique blend of music and public health has helped make Uganda’s record of success against HIV/AIDS one of the best in Africa. In turn, the traditional music of Uganda is revitalised and made contemporary.

This CD affirms the profound strength of people’s music in promoting hope and positive change.”

On this CD, Uganda’s traditional music sounds are used to deal with a serious contemporary issue – HIV/AIDS. The music draws on a wide range of musical instruments. The flutes, panpipes, string tube fiddles, harps, lyres, drums, plucked thumb pianos and the xylophones, all conspire to produce interesting music.

“Sonically, it’s a luxurious experience,” Barz said in the American press. “When I listen to the CD, I can picture the people dancing. I’m hearing communities. Some people will just put it in their CD players and groove to really great African music.

“But I think the majority of people will be suspicious, in a good way.

They’ll be compelled to put the story together with the music, which we’ve made easy with the artwork and liner notes. When you get the broader perspective, the experience is elevated to a powerful understanding of the healing potential that can be unleashed when the arts and medicine combine efforts,” Barz says.

So, even if they do not win, they have at least manoeuvred their way into our history books as the second Ugandans to get a Grammy Awards nod.

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