Education Through Music

Education through Music:

Reclaiming An Indigenous Voice in Buganda

By Martin Klabunde

Uganda 2002



Music has been a catalyst of growth in my life. As I began to learn the jenbe, a percussion instrument from Mali, West Africa, I noticed the process was presenting me with many personal challenges outside the actual learning of the instrument’s playing technique. I soon realized that in learning the jenbe I was also learning about myself and how to navigate through life. My character developed integrity, while my participation in the local community became more significant and the people in my life became close as I was able to trust and settle firmly into my own world. When I began teaching jenbe music I found many of my students in the same position. In learning how to play the jenbe my students are pushed beyond perceived limits of their reality. They gain an expanded awareness of themselves and others. By being in a state of active participation with others they expose regions of themselves to the classroom community in vulnerability. They learn to listen and respond when appropriate or necessary and they develop skills that aid them in navigating their own lives outside the class. Participation in music gives them a feeling of empowerment, so that, in their own lives, they become aware of opportunities that empower and thus become more effective participants in society.


I went to Uganda to study the music and experience the cultural reality of the Ugandan people. I had hoped to gain insight into how it is that the people of Uganda are experiencing the world today and also in the past. In doing so I expanded my own awareness, perceptions, and possibilities of this world. Now that I have returned to the U.S. I have found myself in a good position to reflect and respond to my experiences. My personal goals are to grow, change and develop in healthy and positive ways; this development will be seen in the way I handle all aspects of my life.


This research will provide a fresh perspective on the placement, purpose and value of music in the pre and post-colonial Ugandan culture. Music has always played an important role in the cultures of Uganda. Ethnic groups in Uganda use music for purposes ranging from ritual to entertainment. In pre colonial times music was used to convey messages to the King from the common people and visa-versa, while priests used music to give messages from the gods. Music is used to educate, to empower and instill discipline, patience, kindness, generosity and love. My primary research interest investigates how education through musical apprenticeship teaches values such as moral character, community solidarity and community ethics. My research proposal is to study the process and results of experiential education through musical apprenticeship in Kampala, Uganda.


kinobe290908-0037This paper presents a case study based of the role of music in the life of a young muganda[1] man named Kinobe Herbert, who lives just outside of Kampala, Uganda. Music has provided him with an empowered perspective in navigating the world around him. This paper investigates how Kinobe’s identity as a musician has enabled him to become an effective member of society in a post colonial environment characterized by religious hegemony, poverty and political and economic corruption. Kinobe’s relationship with music helps us redefine our concept of education outside the public classroom and gives power to the utilization of music as an important educational tool.


This paper is divided into five sections. The first section begins with a brief historical background of the Buganda[2] Kingdom and continues with the culture of music within the Buganda society. I use the example of the Buganda Kingdom here because Kinobe is a muganda and also because the colonial administrators used the Baganda[3] governmental organization to dispense colonial rule. It is important to give an historical perspective in order to illustrate the atmosphere of the post colonial era.


The second section is dedicated to the culture of music within the Baganda society. In this section I discuss the value and functions of music in pre colonial Buganda. Music is used as an education tool. It is often accompanied by songs that contain messages regarding how one ought to act within society. Music embodies the valuess of society and creates social cohesion between the government and the people. Here, I present music as a key ingrediant that holds people together within social onstructs.


The third section presents a dialogue regarding the colonial period from 1840 – 1900. In this section I discuss how colonialism was exercised and enforced through the use of technology and religious ideology. Islam and Christianity introduced new ways of thinking about themselves and the world. Through this the Baganda identity, traditions and values began to change


The fourth section discusses the post colonial environment. Here I write about the effects of the colonial experinece as seen today Kampala, Uganda. Colonialization produced a dislocation in many people; a kind of disconnection from their culture. The post colonial dualism has produced generations of Baganda that are struggling to participate in modern society, and also to reclaim their identity as Bagandans.


kinobe290908-0045The fifth section is entitled Reclaiming an Indigenous Voice. Here, I am interested in how, through music, people in Kampala and specifically Kinobe, are reclaiming their identity as Bagandans. How has music been used to give agency to alternate modes of perception that empower traditional ideology and identities? This section will embody a discourse regarding the case study of my music mentor, Kinobe Herbert. Music has been a tool for his life education and shaped his perspectives. In this section I also will discus why music is an effective tool in transmitting knowledge and thus being a valuable mode of education.


Finally, I discuss my personal experience as a musician and music educator. I give details as to how this experience has, for one, enriched my experience here as well as provided insight as to how apprenticeship has shaped my perspectives on music education. Using the anthropological technique of participation-observation I participated in a musical apprenticeship to experience the traditional teaching techniques of the Baganda ethnic group.


Historical Background of the Buganda Kingdom and the Culture of Music


The modern day borders of Uganda contain more than 48 ethnic groups, who speak more then 50 languages. Here, I focus on the largest ethnic group, the Baganda. The common language among the Baganda is Luganda, and Buganda is the region they inhabit. The Buganda Kingdom is located 3000 ft. above sea level, near the equator. It occupies the south-central region of the country, near and around the northern end and western shores of Lake Victoria to include the capital city of Kampala.


The social-political organization of the Buganda Kingdom can be described as a centralized government with foundations in a hierarchal leadership. The social and political structures have their separate hierarchies, but work together to provide leadership to the people. The King, called the Kabaka, is placed at the top of the political heirarchy. He is assisted by a team of political and cultural chiefs, called Bakungu, who are appointed by the Kabaka and head five different government departments or Bitongole. The five departments are The Justice Department or Kitongole Ekiramuzi, The Treasury Department or Ggwanika, The Department of Health or Eky’Obusawo, The Department of Natural Resources or Eky’Ettaka and The Department of Education or Eky’Ebyenjigiriza. Within the traditional structure there are five territorial chieftainships that include administrators (baami) for the counties (masaza), sub counties (magombolola), parishes and sub-parishes (miluka), and villages called ebgalo. The top administrator to the king is called the katikkiro and he is head of the cabinet officials; a liaison between the cabinet officials and the king.


The social organization is comprised of a clan system, called ebika. It consists of 48 clans, called kika[4]. Each clan can trace its heritage to one ancestor and therefore aligns itself to a particular totem or muziro that serves as a unifying and symbolic logo. Clans are situated along family blood lines and therefore do not inter-marry. Each has a clan leader, an elder or set of elders called the Bataka. The Bataka are considered cultural chiefs, they are not political and are appointed by inheritance. The King assigns each clan specific functions to perform for the Kingdom. Clan representatives take great pride in being chosen for these tasks, for they are contributing to the kingdom. Tasks include those of a warrior, doctor, musician, blacksmith, wood-worker and cloth-maker. The roles of the clan elders, leaders and chiefs are three-fold. Their primary function is to serve as administrative subordinates, aiding the king in whatever way they can. Secondly, they are to provide administrative and cultural council to the king and finally, they are to serve as spokesmen to the community for the king and to the king for the people.


The Baganda cultural organization consists of spiritual practices that are manisfested though the traditional arts. It is through music, song and dance that the spritual practices come to life. Baganda spiritual beliefs and practices are centered around cults of the gods, called the Balubaare. For the Baganda there are four areas of worship; they are: the Balubaare or gods, the Amayenbe or fetishes, the Ensiriba or amulets, and the Mizimu or spirits. Mediums (Emmandwa) are serve as spokesmen for the gods. They mediate between the gods and people and their main function is to interpret messages from the gods. The Baganda built temples (amasabo) in which they worship the gods. Within these temples the principle form of worship is spirit possession, which is utilized to bring about change in a person’s life (Breitinger, 2000).


The Culture of Music


The culture of music in Buganda encompasses music, song, dance and performance. It incorporates interrelated disciplines into a single production. These arts are not separated, as often seen in the West. The functions of music in Buganda society are vast; they are used for initiations, funeral rites, weddings, war, hunting, manual work, worshipping, healing rituals and entertainment. Musical instruments include idiophones such as xylophones, aerophones such as trumpets and horns, membrane instruments such as drums, and chordophones such as harps and lyres.


In Buganda music is an educational tool. Before classroom education was introduced to Buganda in the year 1862, teaching often consisted of people gathering around a fire in the middle of the village (Mukubya, 1999, pg. 144). Through music, the Baganda brought moral, social and ethical values to the people. Morality and social and ethical values are critical foundations of the Baganda Kingdom. The social constructs of the Baganda empahsize the well being of the community as well as the individual. Effective citizenship, or participation, in Baganda society promotes the idea of community development, where the needs of the community often take precedence over those of the individual. This ideology produces a moral and ethical code that give agency to what we commonly refer to as character development and relationship building.


Music is usually accompanied by songs that often contained messages. Master musician sing songs that discourage cheating, selfishness, lack of cooperation, violence and laziness. They also teach respect of elders, hard work, reliability, patience, discipline, honesty, love and cooperation.


Music is also played in the palace of the Kabaka and is used as a means of communication. Music is often used to relay messages from the people to the Kabaka and from the Kabaka to the people. It is very difficult for the common folk, or those who do not have royal blood or lineage in them, to reach the Kabaka and therefore it is common for someone to hire a musician to create a song for the Kabaka. The musician will develop a song around the message to be communicated to the Kabaka. When there is a function at the palace, the musician will go and play the song for the Kabaka. Often times at these festivities the Kabaka will take this time for entertainment and will not really be listening to the message of the song. It is up to the chiefs to get this message and tell the Kabaka after the festivities. The Kabaka too, will use the musicians to get messages to the chiefs or common people. If there is a drought predicted by a wise man, the clan leaders will communicate to the Kabaka and he will give orders to sound the palace drums in a particular rhythmic pattern to alert the community of the danger and to tell them to prepare and store extra food for the coming drought.  In another circumstance a drum pattern called “Ssagalagalawidde” tells people that it is time to get up from sleeping. It literally translates to: “I don’t want anybody lying down”. This pattern is used to tell the community that something urgent is happening and that they should forget about sleeping and prepare for the coming messages. The musicians play a vital role in the community, for they are one of the only ways a person may communicate with the Kabaka (Interview, Kinobe Herbert, 11/10/02).


Music accompanies the traditional dances of the Baganda. There are four major types of dances that are danced in the palace. They are: 1) Bakisimba, 2) Nankasa, 3) Mbaga, and 4) Maggunju. The Bakisimba dance is the oldest and most common. It is danced by both men and women for entertainment on almost any occasion when a celebration is not contrary to the purpose. Musical accompaniment for Bakisimba includes the nseege (gourd rattles), engombe (trumpets made of cow horns), and four drums: Mbuutu, Nankasa, Mpuunyi and the Ngalabi. The Bakisimba dance emphasizes waist movements and intricate footwork. Dancers wear animal skins around their waists to exaggerate these movements, while ankle bells are attached to emphasize the foot work. The choreography is divided in to two parts. The first part is slow and graceful, while the second part, referred to as Muwogola, is fast and builds to a climax. Nankasa is the cousin to Bakisimba and is purely used for entertainment as well. The attire and musical are the same as Bakisimba. The only difference is the speed and form, Nankasa is done at a very fast speed from beginning to end and is either played before Bakisimba or after Muwogola.


Mbaga is a ceremonial dance. It is sometimes, more often in the past, called Endongo[5]. Mbaga is performed within wedding ceremonies at dusk. The technique emphasizes sexually explicit movements and is danced by women. The purpose and main objective is to teach the newlywed bride how to perform tasks such as intercourse and breastfeeding as well as to stimulate the couple’s desires toward their first sexual act as a married couple (Mukubya, 1999 & Interivews with Kinobe Herbert). Mbaga is accompanied by a musical ensemble led by the ndongo[6] (bowl lyre) player and assisted by two ndingidi (tube fiddle) players, one mbuutu player, one ngalabi player and one nseege musician.


Maggunju is a ceremonial dance and at one time was performed only by male members of the Butiko (mushroom clan) in the royal palace court for the Kabaka. Now it is performed throughout Buganda. Traditionally it was accompanied by two low pitched drums, similar to the Mbuutu. Nowadays it is accompanied by two Nankasa’s and one Mbuutu played with sticks. Its purpose is to show physical strength as well as allegiance to the King. Today, this dance is rarely seen in a modern context. I have not seen it performed even once in the 10 months I spent in Uganda.


Music in Buganda is derived from the local language, Luganda. It is a tonal language and melodic patterns of music are derived from the intonation of the spoken language. Rhythmic patterns are guided by the verbal flow and accents of the language. Most traditional music in Buganda is in either 3/8 or 6/8 rhythmic patterns. These time signatures produce music that can be described as circular or revolving, with patterns repeating every 3 or 6 bars. Musical variations, called ebisoko, are common and are also created from the Luganda language.


The aesthetic of call and response are also present in Baganda music. Call and response can be defined as the melodic or rhythmical arrangement in which a musical theme is performed in two sections. The first section is most often sung or played by the leader, while the second section is “responded” by others. This is seen in all vocal and instrumental music.


The culture of music in the Baganda embodies the values of the society. It dictates social order and creates social cohesion between the government and the people (Kanguire, 1980). As we will see later, the culture of music is a valuable tool of the Baganda in forming the identity of its people. The purpose of music within Baganda society illustrates the nature of the community as being inter-related and inter-dependent. Music informs the society of community ethics and expectations. It teaches individuals how to effectively participate in society. An individual learns of participation in a communal context and ultimately presents himself as a representative of the values of that community. John Miller Chernoff, author of African Rhythm and African Sensibility states, “Africans use music and the other arts to articulate and objectify their philosophical and moral systems, systems which they do not abstract but which they build into the music-making situation itself, systems which we can understand if we make an effort” (1979, Pg. 37).  We should make an effort, for apprenticeship and active participation encourages personal development, creates solid connections to the community and embodies indigenous ideas regarding the self and the position of the self in relation to the world.  The relationship between the student and an elder offers opportunities to pass on knowledge and values down through the generations (McNaughton, 1998).


The Colonial Period: 1840-1900


The Baganda have a rich history dating back to the 16th century. Life in Buganda can be described as generally stable until the mid-nineteenth century. Granted, the Baganda had their fair share of civil unrest and corruption among the Kabaka, but in comparison to the events that took place after the first foreigners set foot in Buganda, this time period can be described as stable. The political history of Buganda around the mid 1800’s is interlaced with the introduction of foreign religions, specifically Islam and Christianity. The Kabaka at that time was named Suna. He was introduced to Islam with the arrival of trading merchants from the East African coast around 1843. Kabaka Suna is believed to have resigned around the 1830’s to 1850’s. In 1862, the first Europeans, John Speke and James Grant, reached Buganda and introduced Christianity. It is after this time that politics in Buganda were increasingly aligned with Islam or Christianity (Reid, 2002). Kabaka Mutesa, who had been appointed Kabaka after Kabaka Suna had resigned, aligned himself with Islam. Mutesa kept his allegiance with Islam due to the fact that the coastal traders who brought it were doing a lucrative business with the Baganda via Mutesa in trading cloth and guns among other items (Reid, 2002, pg.6). But as more Protestant and Catholic missionaries came to Buganda it became increasingly difficult to maintain that position. In the meantime Catholicism and Protestantism were gaining strength in the Baganda capital. Many of the chiefs were converting and in doing do they encouraged the masses to convert as well. By 1888 political camps that were identifying themselves with one or the other new religions had developed in the capital. Between 1888 and 1900 the political atmosphere in Buganda had become entangled with foreign religions so that internal conflicts broke out among chiefs. The British intervened with a mixture of military force and negotiation. By 1900 the British had initiated the Uganda Agreement of 1900, which set into place a pattern of relations between the British and the native council, and dealt with questions of law, taxation and land tenure. By the beginning of the 19th century the Baganda had developed an efficient governmental structure that the British admired and therefore used to implement colonial rule (Reid, 2002). The basic framework of the Baganda’s political structure was used as the model of government for the entire Uganda Agreement of 1900.


The Europeans brought three powerful weapons the Buganda could not defend against. They were guns, the bible and the ‘anthropologist’. Guns were seen as a useful in defending the Kingdom and so it was that the chiefs and Kabaka agreed to continue relations often times based on the trading of these items.  The bible became a source of redemption from “savagery”. Missionary work became the way the Europeans changed the character of indigenous thought and the missionaries became the most effective agents of colonialism (Karugire, 1980, pg. 63). Protestant and Catholic religious sects were more than religious factions. They were political actors concerned with influencing colonial policies relating to their own interests and the interests of state-building (Mudoola, 1993, pg.4).


The Post Colonial Environment


In the years during and after the formation of the Uganda Agreement of 1900 the Baganda experienced a cultural and spiritual dislocation resulting in the loss of the traditional ways. Colonialism mandated the destruction and/or modification of traditional institutions. The Buganda governmental structure was used to allocate British rule over the Buganda and eventually all of Uganda. At the height of the British occupation there were only five Britons in Uganda (Mudoola, 1993, pg. 12). This is evidence to the fact that the British planned the effort very systematically, using the traditional Buganda governmental structure to their own benefit. With the acceptance of the new religions of Islam and the different factions of Christianity came the acceptance of a foreign life perspective. Many Baganda traded traditional ways for the hope of a better tomorrow. This idea of “betterness” was constructed through the indoctrination in these new religious philosophies. This can still be seen in Kampala today.


The manifestation if this foreign ideology rests in the need to participate n the global economy. Kampala is a city on the margine of this world economy. The gap bewteen the rich and the poor is extreme with over 95% of the wealth being controlled by less than 5% of the population in Uganda. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have consistanly been involved in Uganda’s economy since 1986. Outstanding loans and interest have prevented Uganda from truly freeing itself from the un-ending poverty cycle.


For the people of Kampala there is a sense of helplessness regarding opportunities for participation in local and global economic systems. Many people are striving for those opportunities. This reality of economic deprivation is real for many people. The result is a state of mind that places a person between two worlds; a space in which a person does not feel a part of his own culture and yet does not feel a part of the foreign life perspective that has been placed all around him.


This kind of cultural un-ease has got many Ugandans straddling a reality somewhere between the ancient and modern post-colonial ideologies; a place where daily existence is filled with the act of navigating life through two different lenses. I have seen this struggle in numerous people here in Kampala, but especially those people involved in the traditional arts. These people have a dual perspective. Most of them view life through traditional music, song and dance. They embody the perspectives of the traditional ideologies as felt in the performance of these arts, yet they live in the modern city of Kampala. How is it that they have been able to reconcile or at least come to terms with their own existence or purpose in world where the traditional life perspectives and practices are outside of the basic framework of existence?


Reclaiming an Indigenous Voice


kinobe290908-0095Renewed participation in music, song, and dance of the Buganda culture is a way that people have begun to return to their cultural roots. In the 1990’s many groups using theatre, or the combination of music, song, dance as performace art, emerged using messages to encourage grass roots social action. Theatre in Uganda has become a way for people to take back what is theirs and to recreate a cultural identity that is their own. By using theatre, people have created new narratives about themselves and revitalized old ones. By reclaiming indigenous values and identities people empower themselves and encourage others to re-engage in the process of social change. Music brings people together in harmony and forms foundations of communication. It educates people about the world they live in. It generates motivation to be involved in grass roots efforts to raise awareness regarding current socio-political issues. This revitalization of traditional values and ideology is seen in my music mentor, Kinobe Herbert. Kinobe navigates life with knowledge based in traditional ways and experience based in modernity. His unique perspectives are formed by his identity as a musician and humanist.


Kinobe Herbert is a young of 19 years, but, by Baganda standards, has the knowledge and wisdom of a man many years his senior. Kinobe was born on July 19, 1983 to his father, Fred Serumkuma and his mother, Ruth Nakyaagaba. His birthplace is located in Bugerere; a village situated about 50km from Kampala, in the eastern region of Uganda. At the age of five he came to Kampala and began his primary education at Buganda Road Primary School, which is situated in the central region of Kampala city. Although he began playing music in his village prior to this time, it was then that his formal music lessons began under the direction of Mr. Frank Katoola. Kinobe began learning a few of the traditional instruments including the Madinda (xylophone), Endingidi (tube fiddle), and the Ngoma’s (traditional drums).


Kinobe’s story is quite extraordinary. Since childhood he has experienced apprenticeship and guidance on the path of musicianship. Kinobe’s story begins before his birth with a legacy of prophecy. His uncle, a spiritual leader of his clan, came to his parents and told them a very talented musician would be born to them. His family’s clan, the sheep clan, is not of royal blood and in Buganda only royal families are supposed to play music in the King’s palace and a musician of high caliber may only play music for the gods.


Kinobe was born in a family where most of his clan relatives participate in the traditional religions and the traditional spiritual ways. Although his extended family rejected Christianity, his immediate family unit did not. Kinobe’s parents, who are Christian, do not participate in traditional spiritual culture and decided to do nothing about the prophecy.  Despite this, his parents always encouraged him to play music in the church. He began singing in the church at the age of 9 years, while at the same time he played traditional music at school. From a very young age he was actively engaged in two worlds.


Kinobe’s parents nurtured his musical talents and encouraged him to excel. To see him play is a spiritual experience in itself. His hands and fingers float effortlessly across the strings of the Ndongo. When Kinobe was 10 years old his uncles came to his parents and suggested that he come to the royal court and only play music for the gods, for to play music for any other reason was unacceptable in their belief system. Because his parents did not follow the traditional ways, they declined but continued to foster Kinobe’s skills. Kinobe states:


“When my uncles realized that I was indeed playing music, and especially in church, they wanted to take me to play music for the gods. And because my parents were not really supporting that, they would not let me. But then, being born as a Christian and having started playing music in the church, it was hard to divert; it was easy for me, but I was not allowed to do that by my parents. They said ‘No, you should keep playing music for god, the almighty god, not the spiritual world outside the church.’”


Because his parents did not allow Kinobe to leave home and live at the palace, his uncles’, the elders of his clan, are said to have put a curse on Kinobe so that he could play only for the gods. When he does not play for more than one day or so his hands tighten and curl up as if they were unusable and it takes much stretching to get them normal again. Spirits often come to him and haunt him with nightmares and headaches. In November of 2002 Kinobe came down with an illness, which to this date has not been diagnosed in Western medical terms. He complained of internal pains “like thorns pricking me inside”. His body produced hot sweats and then cold shivers. His mother suggested it was malaria and saw to it that he got a malaria test done to confirm. The test was negative. In one of his dreams an elder from his clan told him to seek advice from a clan leader. He did so the next day. The clan leader said that he was sick because he had not visited his grandfather’s grave since his death five years ago. It is tradition that the entire family visit the grave of a relative, especially an elder, every year to appease the spirit of that relative. The consequences of neglect is illness for those who don’t. Kinobe was instructed to visit the funeral site and perform certain rituals and told that after he would be well. He was also given some local herbs to help with the symptoms of the illness. Kinobe did as he was instructed and the illness left him. His gift of musicianship has come with a price, one that he calls a “spiritual disease”, literally a spiritual dis-ease.


kinobe290908-0001Kinobe’s life is a prime example of the kind of internal conflict a muganda living in a modern world may experience. He is well endowed with musical talents, which from a traditional perspective must be used in gratitude for the ancestors who gave him this gift. His parents encourage him to thank the Christian god. Nevertheless, Kinobe has managed to live in both worlds. He continues to go to church and also makes trips to the village to pay homage to his ancestors. He is in a position that offers insight as to how music can empower and educate.


I feel it is important to understand, from Kinobe’s perspective, the definition of a few words; “education”; “identity”; and, “culture”. Education in the west brings to mind images of the classroom, while within traditional Baganda society education takes place around a fire in the center of the village. Identity is often based around one’s standing in society; a doctor with a PhD, while culture is often “seen” in museums or on stage. Kinobe has different definitions on education:


“It is both in the traditional sense and the modern sense. The education in the traditional sense involves one’s participation and experience. In the traditional sense education involves the passing of knowledge to one another. Through the knowledge you are teaching songs, teaching legends, you’re telling stories. That is poetry. That is literature. That is in theatre. Those who are teaching take part with you, they sing with you and they dance with you. You will find that they are really experiencing and participating in this. Later, they will compose their own songs and write their own stories. In the modern sense, education doesn’t require the same kind of participation. People go; they are taught something really specific; this plus this is equal to this. The difference among the two is this: The traditional education was there before, while the modern education was made by people, on a particular syllabus. There are no specific schools for the traditional education. People learn traditions though clans and their communities. Everyone participates in that. You have a child and you sing him lullabies, you are passing on knowledge already! In the schools you have something very different. So for me I would say education is participation in the community. In different aspects, let it be theatre, let it be initiation, let it be playing with others. If you participate you are educating yourself.”

Kinobe’s definition of education embodies full participation in communal activities. In an environment laced with traditions, theatre is education. Music in Buganda is an integral part of theatre. It employs teaching strategies that empower learners as well as teach others what it means to be a meaningful citizen of society.

When I asked Kinobe about the definition of identity he was quick to respond. It appeared to be obvious to him what this was and he seemed eager to define it. He said:


“Identity is a way one shows himself in society. When you find me playing the Ndongo you will know that I am a musician. I won’t have to come and tell you this. If you find me with a pen, writing, you will know I am a scholar. So, with what I am doing I am identifying myself. This is identity in reality. This is different than in the modern situation where one has to show a passport or identity card with his picture, signature and official stamp. In Buganda, identity is in participation. You participate to identify yourself.”


Kinobe for flyerAgain Kinobe refers to participation as the means by which a muganda is identified in the society. He aims to differentiate this from the modern sense by insinuating that an identity card or passport says nothing about the identity of a person when that identity is based in community participation.

When I asked Kinobe about his definition of the term “culture”, again, he related it to community participation by stating that culture is a “relationship”. He said:


“It is the way you are in relationship to other people in society; the way you are related to people in the community. For example, when I play music you will come; others will come and we will be together. Music brings us together. I call that a culture in us, a relationship within our community.”


He suggests that culture is something alive, a living entity that must be supported by participation. In addition, Kinobe often referred to music as being in his blood and something that just came to him naturally. He stated many times that he didn’t understand how he had learned to be a musician, but that it was his culture and passed on to him from his ancestors. This suggests that culture is something inherent within him, something intuitive, something abstract enough for him not to comprehend on an intellectual level, yet something concrete enough so that it requires his utmost attention in navigating daily life.


Music and other traditional arts inform realities that resist the consciousness of the mainstream. They allow people to form perceptions that are outside the fixed social framework. They give people the option to view the world from alternate perspectives and encourage imaginative creations, which enable growth and change. People engaging in the traditional arts will be less likely to conform to the mainstream ideology and thus form foundations in alternate possibilities for the future that place the value of humans, flora, fauna and the earth ahead of desire and greed for economic and political power.


The development of musical awareness in Kinobe embodies a process of life education. When asked how music has taught him about life Kinobe responded by stating:


“Music has made my relationships and the community really close. When I am playing people come and watch. I make new friends in playing music. I learn more about my culture. Some of the songs are really educative. They teach me about the history of my people; about the history of my customs and why I should strengthen them. Music is helping me strengthen my culture.”


On a more personal level he said,

“I have been able to develop a sense of discipline within me, a sense of kindness and a sense of patience. The music is really played from the heart. It is a love and a will to play this music. It is developing my natural sense like discipline, kindness and patience.”


The culture of music strengthens cultural beliefs and fortifies identity. Kinobe’s statements are a reflection of the fact that informed encounters with these arts can provide a more holistic living environment that places people in relationship with the local community. I believe that if we are to resist the fixed framework of mainstream thinking we must begin at a local level. Our communities should become our classrooms, places where we have informed encounters with issues surrounding our well being and the well being of our children. In Buganda, this kind of meaningful participation and effective citizenship can be accomplished through participation in music, song and dance.


Music not only teaches values such as discipline and patience, it is often accompanied by songs that inform people about the society and culture in which they live and teach about the social constructs and expectations. I asked Kinobe how he thought that music is used to teach others about life. He responded:

“In music the songs are composed and contain messages. I will play a song on the Ndongo as entertainment, but I will be educating you. The song ‘Enguli[7]’ teaches people about the effects of drinking. It tells people not to drink too much. Other songs teach about love or the effects of stealing or being greedy. Basically, they teach about love, relationships and how one can associate him or herself with the community and with society. So the message is in the songs and if you understand the language, then beyond enjoying the music, you will understand the message. The songs that are played on the traditional instruments have messages that are supposed to be passed on to the community.”


In learning the songs, people learn the rules of engagement regarding social constructs. They learn expectations regarding behavior and they gain awareness about the struggles and rewards of life. Beyond this, they are automatically “in relationship” to the community when dancing, playing music or singing songs. Often times it is obligatory to participate when the singing begins. It is being “in relationship” that fosters a deep sense of belonging and self worth, thus leading to a productive social membership, which contributes to the community.


The character of a person is transparent when playing music, singing or dancing. In context of the Baganda, character is understood as one’s relationship to others. It is the process in which a person interacts with the world around him and thus provides a focus for moral judgments. Moreover, learning involves the whole person, and while it implies a relationship to specific activities, it also connects individuals to social communities.  This perspective produces learning environments that provide a foundation to become involved in new activities, to learn new skills and to master new understandings.  In effect, this kind of learning involves the construction of new identities or what we call personal development, personal growth or character development (Klabunde, 2001).


It is often the elders who excel at demonstrating good character through playing music. They are the ones who are able to let the other instruments speak, they are able to be free without dominating or ignoring the other rhythms and they are able to use their insight to instigate interactions that produce meaningful communication and participation. They demonstrate character by knowing the limitations of participation; they have mastered the art of mediation and control their participation in relationship to an organized structure of relationships. They are masters of responsible involvement and communication.


kinobe290908-0060Music is effective in the passing of knowledge from one generation to another. Education through music presents the information in easily digested packets of songs and melody, which make learning easy and pleasurable. It is as if people are learning as a result of being entertained. Learning done though music and song fortifies a solid foundation in the whole body. When I asked Kinobe how music is effective in passing on knowledge, he replied by stating:


“Everyone can easily get involved in music. In playing music we only think about harmony. We only think about singing and everyone is a singer. If I want to bring two enemies together I will teach them a song and they will sing the same song. Because music involves harmony you can bring all kinds of people together. People from Ghana come to Uganda to learn a song. They do not need to know the language first. No! They will sing and after singing they will ask, ‘what did the song mean?’, but they will have sung with the Baganda people. So, it is because music is a language in which everyone can speak in this world. It is one of the basic tools used to bring everyone together.”


He goes on to state:

“Music is one of the main tools that can educate people about things they cannot see, but that are happening. When I sit down and play a song, you won’t think about what I am saying right away. First you will sit and join me in singing. At the end of the song I will ask you what the song was meaning. Then you will be able to think about the meaning of the song.”


Music presents information in such a way that everyone participates. Knowledge is embodied in the participation. Participants receive knowledge and messages while singing and listening to music.


Music and song can also be used for specific purposes in specific situations. There are many lessons in the folk songs[8] of the Baganda, lessons about love, greed, responsibility, etc. Often times these songs will be used at specific times to teach specific lessons regarding specific circumstances. Kinobe said:

“You sing each folksong in situations that fit the purpose. You sing them to the person that you think they are really touching. If that person is wise enough then he/she will get the message. Other times in Buganda somebody will be teaching you indirectly, but you should be having the brain and paying attention to figure it out. If the person is wise enough, then he will be educated; he will know the meaning of the song and how it applies to his situation in life.”


This statement implies a certain awareness that must be present in the listener. The listener ought to have the insight into his/her life to be able to make the connections between the message of the song and the circumstances of his/her life. This is exactly the kind of awareness that has been severed by the colonial rule in Kampala, the heart of the Buganda kingdom. Kinobe implys this as well:

“Alongside being entertained, you should make sure you learn from these songs. This is not there today. Today people sing and dance for entertainment only. It is happening, where the Baganda who know the language and meaning of the songs, but they don’t want this. They are just after the rhythm for dancing and getting entertained.”


The desire to be entertained without the added value of being responsible for the message contained within is a product of the modern environment as seen around the globe. Even music in modern pop culture contains a message, but to often that message is overlooked for the much sought after “beat”.  It is people like Kinobe who are bringing the awareness of themselves and their communities back into focus through the use of music and the traditional arts.


kinobe290908-0114Kinobe’s perspectives are valuable if we are interested in finding a empowered position in our lives. For Kinobe, empowerment comes by way of music and song. His words illustrate the power of music to inform, educate and empower life into meaning and fulfillment. Music has been an effective tool for Kinobe to transform his existence into one of meaningful participation and effective citizenship. He currently is still living and participating in numerous musical activities in Kampala, Uganda. He is a member of the internationally renouned group Percussion Disscussion Afrika, for which he is the primary musical composer and arranger. With Percussion Discussion he has traveled to the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, England, the Lebbanon and again to London this December. He finds work teaching teachers traditional music, folksongs and dances at national conferences such as the one held in December of 2002 for the Primary Teachers College in Kampala. He also volunteers to teach young people for the yearly compitions sponsored by the various school districts in Uganda. He has generously taught me various instruments over the last year. His ability to balance his studies and musical endevors has given him the opportunity to build and maintain friendships around the globe. His unique position in his community gives agency to education through music is a valuable asset to anyone looking to give back to the society they live in, to create meaningful and effective citizenship, to affect other’s lives in positive ways and to uplift one’s self to a higher level of existence.


What I have learned as a musician and music educator.


In learning the Ndongo from Kinobe I have again become familiar with how I can use music to enrich my perspectives and create imaginative possibilities in my own life. Through learning and playing the traditional music of the Baganda I have found a sense of belonging and community in a land that felt foreign upon my arrival. After 9 months of learning the Ndongo I was able to perform a piece at the National Theatre in Kampala to an audience of Ugandans. This was a pivotal moment in my experiences here in Uganda, for at that moment the audience made it clear to me that I was now a part of them, that I had achieved something meaningful and significant within their culture.


In playing Ndongo music I have discovered a musicianship that embodies a sense of subtle accuracy and a feather touch. One of the most challenging aspects has been the amount of patience the instrument requires of me. The separation of the left and right hands has required me to let go of what the left hand is doing so that I could focus on what the right hand is doing. It is very difficult to intellectually follow what each hand is doing and it is virtually impossible to play when I am thinking about it all. Moreover, the Ndongo requires a keen sense of intuition and has me feeling like I am existing in between two worlds while I am playing it. On one level I am here in the present, in the material world, and on another level I am accessing an invisible world inside my being, one that utilizes trust, faith and the intuitive. This combination really encourages me to develop those facilities of trust, faith and my intuitive capabilities. In this way learning the Ndongo has helped me continue to develop a deeper and meaningful sense of who I am and what I, as a human being, am capable of. I believe that the development of these before mentioned facilities will help me in the way that I navigate my life. Like Kinobe, they enable me to create creative and imaginative ways of perceiving and dealing with the world around me.


As a music educator I have become aware that knowing is activity in participation and that by participating the individual is in a process of “becoming”. Learning involves the whole person, and while it implies a relationship to specific activities, it also connects individuals to social communities.  This perspective produces learning environments that provide a foundation to become involved in new activities, to learn new skills and to master new understandings.  In effect, this kind of learning involves the construction of new identities or what we call personal development, personal growth or character development.


The revival of learning through music, song and dance in Uganda is thriving and giving the youth a  renewed position within the society. Education through apprenticeship and in regards to music is an important aspect of learning to the live in the world. I have learned that the arts, and specifically music, should be utilized as means to give people the option to view the world from alternate perspectives. Informed encounters with music encourage imaginative creations, which enable people to grow and change outside the mainstream. Participants will be less likely to conform to the mainstream ideology.


kinobe290908-0106Education should be conceived as a practice of opening the world to critical thinking by the student, a world in which students use their imagination to produce transformative actions that embody a process of becoming. Imagination allows us to perceive alternate realities and to break from the things we take for granted. It encourages us to make critical judgments and gives us the opportunity to “see” beyond the mainstream ideology of the society (Greene, 1995, pg. 56). The classroom ought to be constructed around the use of the imagination to release the student from the mundane and obvious, to encourage critical judgments regarding the “fixed framework”.


Informed encounters with the music can provide a more holistic educational environment, placing people in a social relationship with the local community. Music provides an excellent example of how people become engaged in meaningful participation. In looking at music as a paradigm for social-intercourse, we find that through the act of music making one experiences a sense of togetherness, a connection with others that is at the center of all possible communication. Thus, music making provides students with an experience from which he/she forms foundations in responsible participation (Greene, 1995,pg. 166). Thus the learning experience ought to reflect an atmosphere of ingenuity, creativity and imagination that participation in music can so readily provide.


My research in Uganda has been an amazing experience. I am grateful to have had this opportunity and I wish to thank the committee members of the Mary Beigel Scholarship, the SBSRI Undergraduate Research Grant, the Honors Undergraduate Research Grant, the Gillman Research Grant for choosing to help fund my research here in Uganda. I am very pleased that others believe in my mission and purpose here in Uganda and honored that you have had faith in my abilities to carry out this research.




[1] a muganda is the singular form; one person belonging to the Baganda ethnic group


[2] Buganda refers to the land that currently occupies central Uganda, the Kingdom of Buganda.


[3] In the language of Luganda, Baganda refers to the people who inhabit the Kingdom of Buganda.


[4] “Ki” in Luganda is pronounced “Chi”, therefore, kika is pronounced “Chi-ka”.


[5] In Luganda, the prefix “e” is equivient to “the” in English. Thus, “endongo” refers to “the ndongo”


[6] The Ndongo is an 8-string bowl-lyre played by the Buganda and the Basoga ethnic groups in central Uganda


[7] See Apendix A for a more in-depth description of “Enguli”. I have included lyrics as well.


[8] Please refer to Appendix A for a brief discussion of the term “folksongs”.





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Appendix A

Terminology: Folksongs

In doing this ethnography I have come across a dilemma regarding the use of the term folksongs. Initially I was using it very loosely to refer to any song that is sung by a community, but later it was brought to my attention that in the traditional anthropological sense that this was incorrect. Beyond this, even the teachers as the school are making a distinction between folksongs and contemporary compositions. In asking one of them I found that the difference was in the content. If the song was written outside of the school and had been in circulation for many years, then it is defined as a folksong. If the song was written by the instructor to educate the young people about current issues, then it is defined as a contemporary composition.  Another interesting perspective I have gotten is from my mentor, Kinobe Herbert. He stated that there are two categories of songs, songs regarding people and songs regarding spirits or ancestors. He stated that a folksong can be defined as one that contains lyrics regarding people or “folks”, with this definition, many contemporary compositions would be defined as folksongs. Any other song containing content regarding spiritual contexts are not folksongs, but rather spiritual invocations and are used for that purpose only.  However one chooses to define or categorize these songs, it must be remembered that language, music and song are dynamic and always changing. It may be said that the contemporary compositions of today may often become the folksongs of tomorrow.