Over the years, the WOMAD foundation, has worked with many talented musicians world wide. In addition to running workshops and summer schools the foundation are developing an invaluable new initiative.
Annie Menter a foundation executive told me, "We intend to create an archive of ‘musical elders’ who have shaped our musical landscape and who’s music may well be lost once they have gone".
In July, whilst in England to perform at the WOMAD festival, Madosini Maqina, became the first elder to be documented, making the most of her time here, which in itself was a fortuitous booking that followed on from an invitation to participate at the La Reve de L’Aborigene, a mouth bow festival in France.
Madosini has been making her own style of music and imparting social commentary for eighty years. Revered for her skills with three instruments, the isitolotolo ( jew’s harp), the uhadi ( bow with calabash ) and the umrumbhe ( mouth bow), it is the latter instrument that invokes the most passion.
Madosini’s name means pride and this is evident in the way she talks to me about the umrumbhe, the instrument her mother taught her to play in a darkened house. With no TV or radio it became her sole source of entertainment as she recovered from a leg injury. To this day, Madosini continues to make the mouth bow herself, fashioned from a particular type of wood she finds lying in the bush near her home in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. There is equal delight in recounting the times as young girls they would play the umrumbhe, to announce fights over love interests. As we chat, the highlights of her stories are punctuated with excited flicks on my knee from her bow.
Decades on, listening to her recent WOMAD UK performance, she announces, "there is no-one playing this instrument now except for me and my friend" , in reference to Mantombi Matotiyana. Perceived as an achievement and applauded by the audience, a frustrated Madosini tells me later, " I want the instrument to live, not to die with me. Children are too busy with school, they love to listen to the umrhubhe, I wish they would teach it in the schools" .
If the children of the schools in the Eastern Cape are too busy with their academic studies to spare time for music, they may well be able to benefit from Musical Elders Archives which will be curated by the WOMAD foundation the and made available on line for educational purposes around the world.
Madosini was the first elder to be documented in a series of films and interviews but Annie is keen to stress that it was because she happened to be in England this summer and "this project will be as much about the little known musicians who have brought music into communities around the world, as about those who have reached an international audience" as she also recounts the music of Bernard Kabanda, for whom the project has come too late. He was discovered in the bars of Kampala performing "kadongo kamu", delivering a mix of social comment and humor whilst accompanying himself on a hand made guitar built from scrap with brake cables for strings. He recorded his first and only album Olugendo, on the WOMAD select label and with their help was on the brink of an international career, for many he was the highlight of the 1999 WOMAD festivals in England and the US. He wasn’t in the best of health on the tour and after returning to Uganda his health deteriorated he died two months later from an AIDS related illness.
………..it’s a cliché to say the music lives on but it will if it is researched and documented. "This is a subject close to my heart, says Outerglobe’s DJ Debbie Golt, "I’m pleased someone is making it happen".
At the time of writing, the WOMAD Foundation are actively seeking the resources to ensure their Musical Elders Archive achieves its aims.
Jill Turner for World Music Central
Madosini has released an album in 1998 Power to the Women on the M.E.L.T. 2000 label.
Madosini playing the uhadi can be seen here:
Bernard Kabanda released an album in 1999 Olugendo, on the WOMAD Select label in 1999. Three of his tracks also appear on, Music from Uganda, Vol. 2 – Modern Traditional from the Swedish Caprice label.
Author: Jill Turner
Jill Turner contributes to Songlines Magazine, World Music Central and is on the fRoots critics albums of the year panel. Her radio show GondwanaSound broadcasts on Sheffield Live! 93.2FM to the fourth largest city in the UK and is carried on both Radio Groovalizacion and African Internet Radio.