Talking to Mpambara

He keeps on his black winter jacket, zipped chin-high, throughout the interview.
Even after 24 years of living in Minnesota, he still likes to wrap himself up in
the remembered heat of his native Uganda, where he lived in Mbarara, bordering
Tanzania and Rwanda. Mpambara, a jazzman, also likes to wrap his American based
music with the flavor of African rhythms and instruments, and the engaging
melodies and rich variety of languages of his homeland.

Arriving in Platteville, Wisconsin in 1978, MP attended the University of
Wisconsin, pursuing a degree in mineral engineering. “[The move was]
challenging in that I had to make adjustments that I had not anticipated. Of
course there was the initial and unavoidable culture shock. Things were done
differently, from driving on the right, people actually did not drink tea,
weddings without dowry–I could go on forever. In all though, the freedom that
prevails here made all those differences not so important. Because, after all,
freedom means you can adopt or ignore anything
.”About this time, MP decided to pursue his dream of being a musician and played with the band, Sweet Taste Of Africa. After performing for a couple of years, he joined Shangoya, also as a bass player. MP contributed to the recording of their album, Red Pants Jam.

He met and married his wife, Dr. Blanche Mpambara, in 1982. “After having
a new baby, I really determined I could not travel as much anymore, with the
added responsibilities of fatherhood, I decided instead to study music at the
University of Minnesota
.” Twenty years later, their son, Kaita, sits in on
my interview with MP, inserting praise and accolades whenever MP falls silent
about his many accomplishments.

MP dips his fingers into a variety of concoctions, turning out an eclectic
mishmash of musical products. In addition to playing with a variety of bands,
Mpambara composed the music for two aerobic videos produced by Maria Nhambu Bergh, an aerobics guru, originally from Tanzania. He also composed the tunes used in an advertisement jingle for a major local grocery chain.

For six years, MP was involved as a bass player for Sounds of Hope. This last venture
brings children from developing countries together to form a single choir and
perform throughout Minnesota. “We sometimes had to learn and perform music
from all over the world, depending on how many countries were represented

says MP. Though creative differences compelled MP to move on, “I will always
maintain it was a great experience,
” he says.

MP also had the opportunity to work and tour with Kanda Bongo Man, an
international music icon. Bongo Man is originally from Congo, now living in

MP’s sole CD, Hail To The Chief, (BINA, 1996), features ten songs
either written or co-written by MP. With titles such as Ngali, and Nawuliranga
and Elongi Ya Fifi, the essence of the album is rooted in traditional folk music
indigenous to Uganda and surrounding countries. Songs are sung in Kinyankole,
MP’s first language, as well as Lingala and Swahili. Some of the instruments
used are native to Africa, others are more universal, such as guitar, flute,
keyboard, and MP’s instrument of choice, his Fender bass. The title song, Hail
To The Chief, includes a spoken word refrain in English, with a definite hip hop
influence reflected in the call and response and pounding drive throughout.

This coming summer, MP will travel to Zanzibar to once again participate in a
music festival. Usually held the first week in July, this recently launched
event includes traditional music such as taraab and ngoma. The music of the
countries Africa, Arabia, and Asia are also included. “Zanzibar has an annual
cultural festival that celebrates music from the Island and also other types of
music. I am hoping it will happen this summer, but again, until I actually sign
a contract, it is in the making,
” MP told me. At this festival, MP plans to
release his next CD, Errade.

By Susan Budig, originally written for Mshale,
the African Community Newspaper