16 October 2008
Archival Sound Recordings in Action - Reviving the Lost Music of Bunyoro-Kitara
In 1967, the central government of Uganda abolished the historic Bantu kingdoms that had for centuries formed the regional administrations of the country. Out went the kingdoms, out went the kings, and out with them went generations of musical and cultural lore.
In 1993, the government restored the kingdoms, and the reinstated King of Bunyoro-Kitara is now tackling the daunting task of recreating the institutions, articles and music of the regional heritage.
Samuel Kahunde, a PhD student in ethnomusicology at the University of Sheffield, began studying the royal music of Uganda through the Klaus Wachsmann collection on Archival Sound Recordings. In a fieldwork trip last June, Samuel visited the royal court to discuss the recovery of this music with the King of Bunyoro-Kitara.
He found that many kinds of music are now extinct - the instruments may be preserved, but nobody knows how to play them any more. Other musical forms are still alive, but have suffered greatly from the 26 year gap, with only a few elderly practitioners left, trying to teach young musicians who have never experienced what the music should sound like.
The Wachsmann recordings are providing a pathway to reviving the music.
“I get information through listening to the music recorded from different regions of Uganda, allowing me to compare the music across diverse cultures," says Samuel. "They are also useful in making comparisons between traditional music in the 1940s and later periods. This has provided me with new leads for my research.”
Samuel also worked with a group of young Amakondere trumpet players, who were learning under the tutelage of Wachsmann recordings; being allowed to hear the music as it used to be played for the first time. You can see a video of one of their performances here.
On his next trip to Uganda Samuel will continue to work closely with the Royal Court. It’s a huge job, and one that looks set to continue well beyond the confines of a PhD.