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Wanderlust #42: Memorias Vol.1 – Bugandan Sacred Places – Adapted Sound Collage

1 July 2019

Memorias Vol.1 – Bugandan Sacred Places – Adapted Sound Collage by Ross Alexander

In 2016 I travelled to Uganda to play at the Nyege Nyege music festival, then in it’s 2nd year. After the festival I stayed for a month at the Nyege Nyege artist residence and travelled extensively in the region around Kampala. I researched and visited a series of sites considered to be of historical and sacred importance to the Baganda people who had founded the first settlements close to the source of the Nile river which would go on to become the heart of the Baganda kingdom. With the help of my awesome guides Richie T and Vincent I was privileged to be able to visit lots of different sites from giant waterfalls and caves to tombs, temples and sacred gateways. In some places these sites stood in a natural or ‘preserved’ condition and in some a mall had been built where once was a ancient site. At most of these different sites I made recordings using a simple tascam handheld recorder. At the beginning of the trip I had used more advanced equipment and professional microphones but found this larger set-up was obtrusive and distracting in most situations and would often attract attention so that the natural feeling of just travelling around and recording sounds would be lost. With this in mind I decided to sacrifice deep quality in recording for ease, swiftness and mobility. I feel like this was the best single decision I made in the whole month long recording process as it gave me access to sounds and recordings I never would have captured with the bulky, high-end tackle. At some point into the trip I was lucky enough to be introduced to Albert Sempeke, a musician and proud Bagandan with whom I listened to experimental and improvised music from my collection and discussed parallel forms of sound creation within the Baganda tradition. Albert described a ritual undertaking he called a ‘summoning’ where sounds and music are used to call upon spirits and connect to other realms of existence. Without any encouragement whatsoever Albert said he would be happy to perform a summoning for me and would be happy for me to record the whole thing. So a few days later I set up a host of traditioanl Ugandan instrumenets with some recording equipment on the flat rooftop of our residence and as a full moon rose over Lake Victoria Albert conducted his hour long ‘summoning’ in which time he took himself into a kind of trance state and intermittently played the instruments or made sounds with his voice. Sometimes ‘playing’ the instruments would consist of running them against the railings on the roof or just moving them about, and at one point he lay on his back and simply laid making gutteral gurgling sounds. It was a fantastic and moving experience. The final phase of the recordings was made at the communal living compound of the Nilotika Collective. There the great figurehead of the collective ‘Jaja’ was playing drums and steel pans in the garden with young children from the local area, he allowed me to record and join in on a djembe. We recorded some drumming and chanting on a beautifully warm evening as the sun set then ate some dinner together. Anyone who has had the pleasure to spend some time with Jaja will know what an incredible presence and human being he is, it was an honour to hang out with him and his crew at their yard.

After the month in Uganda was up I shed a tear and returned to the Berlin winter. Over the space of the next 9 months or so I processed the recordings and used them to inspire layers of original composition which could blend with the environmental sounds and the recordings I had from Albert and the Nilotikas. I compiled these sounds and synth recordings into a project format which could be performed live as a form of re-representation of my experience on my recording travels in Uganda. In this form I could continue to create improvisations and soundscapes with the recordings I had and re-present my sonic experiences in the form of a performance piece. After performing the piece at the Wisp Art and Performance Festival in Leipzig I identified a natural pattern of individual pieces within the set of recordings and went on to develop the pieces into the format of an album. The basic idea behind the work was to create a sort of abstract travelogue piece in which the soundscapes would create a virtual space in which I would recount my memories via original composition alongside Albert, Jaja and all the rich tapestry of sound I had recorded at the places around the Bugandan Kingdom. The initial idea was to release this work via the Nyege Nyege imprint Nyege tapes but after Arlen from the festival put me into contact with the Discrepant label the album found a natural home there and was released in September 2017.

For this sound collage I pieced together tracks from the album with layers of unused recordings from the trip to create a soundscape which (I hope) can transport the listener to a calming and meditative space evocative of the beautiful country of Uganda and the sonic memories I was so blessed to have made there.

Find the album on Bandcamp: https://discrepant.bandcamp.com/album/memorias-vol-1-bugandan-sacred-places

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