Samite’s Embalasasa, Ugandan Roots

Bloomington (Indiana), USA –

is the name of
’s new CD released by Triloka Records on March
14, 2006. “On the title song, I call my grandpa to come with his walking cane
and kill the modern embalasasa, AIDS, a deadly disease transmitted through the
most beautiful, vibrant and natural act
,” explains
. The album’s songs
draw upon Ugandan folklore, geography, and struggle to express words of
allegory, healing, and hope. In addition to AIDS, his curative songs address
war, intolerance, the death of a loved one, and survival.
is a survivor.“When I was twelve years old, I moved to the countryside to live with my
s,” says

. “While I was there, a
purple, red, blue, and yellow lizard called embalasasa surfaced all over the
country. It was so beautiful it begged to be touched, but it was poisonous.
Whenever an embalasasa came into the house, we all climbed on top of a table and
called my grandfather to come and kill it. We knew we were safe as long as
grandpa was around; he used his walking cane to protect us

In 1982 after his brother was slain due to his political views,
Uganda—a place where “the fruit is sweeter than any other place in the
”—and spent a period in a Kenyan refugee camp and traveling around Africa
before making his way to Ithaca, New York, where he lives now. “My music has
allowed me to express myself during difficult times and happy times through the
,” says the exiled musician.

Samite is committed to sharing the medicinal power of music with children in
need in Africa. On his return voyage to Uganda in 1997, with a documentary team
filming the PBS documentary Song of a Refugee, he stopped in Liberia, Ivory
Coast and Rwanda to see for himself if the dismal picture of these countries
painted by the western media was accurate. He found that in spite of staggering
losses of human life and devastation, the survivors of Liberia’s civil war,
Rwanda’s genocide, and decades of civil strife in Uganda were full of hope and
caring for themselves and each other with great resourcefulness and dignity.
Inspired by this experience, he founded Musicians for World Harmony (MWH), a
non-profit organization dedicated to promoting peace through the healing power
of music. MWH’s mission is to enable musicians to share their music to promote
peace, understanding, and harmony among peoples, with a special emphasis on
helping the displaced.

Samite brings his music to refugee camps and to orphanages for children with
AIDS and children whose parents have died of AIDS. He works with organizations
that are helping child soldiers get back on their feet after escaping warlords.
Every minute I spend with these children brings me energy and joy,” he says.
These are kids who have been pushed all the way down, yet somewhere deep down
they still have dreams and hope. When I go there and play music with them, I see
their spirits uplifted and am able to show them that things can get better

When it comes to the healing power of music, it becomes a personal thing for
,” says
, who lost his wife of twenty years to cancer. “When my wife was
sick and she could not talk, I was able to reach her soul and soothe it with
just a song from the kalimba. She would relax without having to take a sleeping
pill or a pain killer

The kalimba, or “thumb piano,” is the soul of
’s music. He collects
kalimbas, which have different names in different regions, but are found all
over the African continent. The kalimba functions as a soothing heartbeat that
transcends language and cuts straight to the core. But
has picked up many
other elements along the path. The soundtrack of his life has ranged from the
songs of the musicians entertaining the King in his Mengo palace near
would stop every afternoon on his way home from school to
eavesdrop—to traditional Ugandan music, as well as Motown, Barry White, and the
Beatles. But his earliest musical influence comes from his mother, who played
music literally connected to his homeland.

My mother played an instrument that she would build,” remembers
. “In
order to make the instrument, she dug a hole in the ground and covered it with a
metal plate. We tied a string to the plate and ran it along a branch of a tree.
As my mother plucked the string, the ground sang

Since I was young, I always paid attention to how songs always started with one
instrument playing a part that others would build on
,” he explains. On

the kalimba is joined by madinda (xylophone) and flute, an instrument common
across Ugandan musical traditions. “It cuts through the drums and the singing
and it soars on top like a bird making sure there is peace in the area

explains. “For me, the flute is an instrument of peace. I play it in areas where
people don’t understand my language and I immediately make friends
.” Piano,
guitar, and percussion round out the foundation over which
’s vocals dance
and play.

Samite’s latest album,

, returns him to his homeland, to
his roots, to the very ground that shook with his mother’s plucking, and to the
vivid memories of his childhood, connecting the past to the present. “At times I
feel I was chosen by the creator to bring this music to people. I don’t own it,
I just share it
,” concludes
. “Embalasasa is a reflection of where I am in
my life right now. It is warm, happy, and adventurous. If this were a painting,
the colors would be bold

Author: World Music Central News Department

World music news from the editors at World Music Central