Sebunjo takes fans into future of Africa’s music

Sebunjo playing his favourite instrument, the Kora

Sebunjo playing his favourite instrument, the Kora

There was more than one reason why music enthusiasts had to attend Joel Sebunjo’s concert at the National Theatre last Friday.

He is a world music winner of the prestigious Visas Pour La Creation award. He is one of the few East African artistes that have mastered the art of playing the western African renowned musical instrument, the kora, which has earned him the name ‘The Griot from the East’.

He is one of Uganda’s three representative acts on African music show Coke Studio, which by default puts him on our TV screens every weekend. And above all, this was his first performance on a Ugandan stage this year, probably the last too. But knowing the Ugandan attitude towards arts and culture, even with such a rich CV, I was sceptical they would turn up.

My scepticism was right; Ugandans shunned yet another production that exhibited pure African music genius. Instead, Sebunjo’s “Africa is the Future” concert was attended by many whites who filled up the theatre’s lower section.

For a moment, you could easily mistake the concert for a French festival since they were the majority. French took over the theatre, with Sebunjo himself turning to the language to ask the crowd to sing and dance, and they responded.

The show officially kicked off at 7:30pm with a display of art, photography and fashion. The range of creations included original Egyptian papyrus art and celebrity photography of Hollywood greats including Alicia Keys, Richard Gere and Heidi Klum.

The musical journey started at 8pm with a jazz session by up and coming female artiste Sandy Soul. Sandy Soul, who was the only curtain raiser, set the mood for the night with her soothing vocals on songs like Stay and Superstar.

Her performance was followed by speeches from the executive director of Uzima Initiative, Sambia Nadege, with whom Sebunjo was partnering to create malaria awareness, and the MP for Ndorwa East David Bahati. They urged Ugandans to join the fight against the killer disease.

Then it was Sebunjo’s time to take to the stage. Wearing khaki trousers and a white shirt complete with an African jacket, Sebunjo armed with his kora took to the stage in company of his Sundiata band.

He started with a spirited performance of Semusajja Agenda, raising the bar even higher for the rest of the night. Sebunjo’s music is highly inspired by the African concept of storytelling at fireplaces. With songs like Nsenene, Musso, Papa and Maimouna, the concert became a journey into who we are.

A section of Sebunjo's fans enjoy the show

A section of Sebunjo’s fans enjoy the show

Later, Sebunjo invited friends Joe Kahirimbanyi of Qwela band, guitarist Myko Ouma, and sensational saxophonist Brian Mugenyi to do songs such as Mulungi, Gwendowooza and Tunga.

We had anticipated Jamal to come for their Nakato duet but he didn’t. Unlike his other concerts where most of the performances are in the Mandigue dialect, most of his performances this time were in Luganda, perhaps a pointer to his upcoming album, I Speak Luganda.

But the problem with Sebunjo’s craft is that even when he sings in clear-cut Luganda, it finds a way of sounding foreign. He had officially closed the concert by 10pm, but when fans screamed for more, he returned to do two more highly-interactive and energetic songs before closing the show at 10:30pm.

As Sebunjo walked off the stage one last time, it was clear that way before the invasion of computer software and auto tune, Africa was jamming.

Source: Andrew Kaggwa|

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