There is a village called Iganga in rural Uganda where, along with a handful of other villages, you can find an instrument known as the Embaire Xylophone. It’s made of various sized slabs of wood, from the huge low notes to smaller high end pieces – 32 notes in all. A pit is dug into the ground which acts as a resonator, adding yet more depth and tonality to the sound. It needs up to 9 people to play it, and when you hear it, it’s hard to forget. At first, to the untrained outsider, the individual players seem to be working in unconnected rhythms and time signatures, a riot of noise and energy. After a while you stop trying to figure it out and feel the unique richness of the whole – a trance inducing, mesmeric noise that binds the community together around various ceremonies and gatherings.
Our project has two strands – firstly to work with the musicians and the villages to develop an outdoor performance area, so more people from outside the community can join in the experience. Keeping these traditions alive can be difficult as global influences and aspirations creep into the village psyche. Having a commercial space with which to showcase performances will have a beneficial effect on the village and on maintaining the culture of the Embaire as a community resource.
We want to help share this amazing instrument with the world – outside of the stuffy world of ethnomusicology / academia. We plan to support, promote and assist in the release of material from the community and put it in the hands and ears of music lovers globally. Part of this will be achieved by engaging contemporary producers to utilise recordings of the Embaire and make their own interpretations – spurred on by the encouragement of the community during the recording process. We are also looking at possibilities for touring the Mugwisa International Xylophone Group at festivals and concert spaces though Europe and the UK.