Samite, a Ugandan singer, songwriter, flautist, and master of the kalimba (thumb piano) performed a special concert on the campus of Missouri Southern State College at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 9, 1998, in Webster Auditorium. The program was sponsored by the College's Institute of International Studies. The concert was a prelude to the Harry and Berniece Gockel International Symposium in April.
A Samite performance is an engaging musical dialogue between performers and audience. Samite coaxes his audience to sing along in Luganda, his native language, while explainingthe mechanics of his traditional instruments. Whether performing solo or with his small group, Samite extends a warm and confident presence to old and young alike, as even the most reserved audiences find themselves up, dancing to Samite's rhythms by concert's end.
Pete Seeger has called Samite "A superb musician!" Joseph Shabalala, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, says, "When you hear the music of Samite, the soul of Africa is revealed." Jon Pareles in the New York Times said Samite is a musician of almost transcendent quiet strength. . . ."the serenity seems almost miraculous."
Samite (pronounced SAH mee tay) was born and raised in Uganda, where his grandfather taught him to play the traditional flute. His primary schooling was within the King's Courtyard, where the royal musicians played for the king. That daily influence permanently instilled within the young boy the rhythms and patterns of the traditional music of his people, the Baganda. Recognizing his talents, a teacher at his high school in Kampala put a western flute in his hands and helped him to become one of the most highly acclaimed flutists in East Africa.
In 1982 he fled to Kenya as a political refugee, where he played with the Bacchus Club Jazz Band and the renowned African Heritage Band. Increasingly drawn to instruments and rhythms from the traditional Ugandan music scene, he began playing his own music at the Mount Kenya Safari Club in Nairobi. Delivering his mellifluous vocals in his mother tongue, Luganda, he mesmerized audiences with original compositions played on the kalimba, the marimba (wooden xylophone), litungu (seven-stringed Kenyan instrument), and various flutes (traditional and western).
Emigrating to the United States in 1987, Samite made his home in Ithaca, New York, where he recorded his first tour de force Shanachie release, "Abaana Bakesa" (Dance, My Children, Dance). A second release, "Pearl of Africa Reborn," was recorded at the Hit Factory in New York City. Both contain new compositions which retain the essence of African tradition. Songs are sung in two Ugandan languages and relate images conjured while dreaming, and folk tales and stories passed on to him by his grandfather.
Samite's third U.S. album, "Silina Musango," released by Xenophile, is a joyful collection of melodic transcultural songs featuring kalimba, flute, percussion, and other African and western instruments. Kalimba melodies are the heartbeat of Samite's music, with other instruments and his own tranquil voice giving texture and shape to the songs. "Silina Musango" reached No. 2 on the CMJ New World Music Charts in the summer of 1996.
For the past ten years, Samite has made his living as Uganda's unofficial musical ambassador to the U.S. One of his goals is to open people's minds and hearts to the common threads of human concerns, conveying optimism through stories and song.
"I am convinced that we are all moved by the same desires, needs, and emotions, regardless of the language in which those feelings are expressed," says Samite.
Samite has appeared in recent months in an amazing concert with the Cornell University choruses; as headliner at UNICEF's Day of the African Child in New York City; the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival; the Houston International Festival, and performed at the University of Iowa prior to his Joplin appearance.
For detailed information on Samite, his music, his instruments, and his history visit his web site here. See below for pictures and an article of the performance on MSSU campus.
By Aaron Deslatte
Associate Editor, The Chart
In the beginning of a dream, there is nothing. Darkness and unfamiliarity engulf the cognitive realm. Then the conscious and unconscious greet each other as one clocks out, the other in. Their conversation stokes the fire of recollection and the dreamscape begins to form.
To communicate the message of a dream, a common language must be established. A bridge between the unconscious and conscious must be built.
Samite, the "Ugandan dream weaver," chose long ago that music would be the embodiment of his unconscious thoughts and the vessel in which to share his dreams.
Much like a dream's origin, Monday's performance (March 9, 1998) began in darkness. The crowd of Missouri Southern State College students, staff, faculty, and others assembled in Webster Hall auditorium awaited the onset in curiosity and uncertainty, many of whom were unfamiliar with Samite's music or origin.
But, much as it must have sounded years ago in the Ugandan King's Courtyard, the concert's opening melodies come shrouded in the guise of nature's own song - the call of a bird, the rustle of the bushes.
Then, Samite's song emerged. The kalimba carried the melody. Congas leaped into percussive support. The flute lent harmony to the mix.
Samite was awake, alert, and dreaming.
A passive crowd looked on in dumbfounded stagnancy. They clapped when the overture was complete, but they weren't getting the message.
Samite continued to sing his life's story. Song after song, his thoughts and emotions poured out in harmony and lyric. Their message began to paint a portrait for the crowd of a land separated from their own by sea and thousands of miles. Separated by languages and diplomatic policies, and yet somehow similar, and in some respect yet undetected, both places were the same.
As the music continued, Samite's audience became more acutely aware of the mood, and more obtusely unaware of the surroundings. A slight transformation had begun. Feet begin to tap. Hands begin to clap.
The Ugandan begins to sing "Silina Musango."
"Homeless is not my name," Samite says. "My mother calls me baby."
And like a hand reaching out taking hold, a link between the entertainer and the entertained is established.
The native tongue of Luganda does nothing to impair the change. Communication has begun, transcending clumsy verbal expressions.
Mothers and children are dancing in the isles and in front of the stage. But the bulk of the audience lingers in hesitation. Children, the least inhibited by the possible social repercussions of spontaneous improvisational behavior, lead the wave of defecting Joplinites given their first taste of a new treat.
At Samite's urging in between pieces, the crowd unites in uniform, non-verbal communication. As if Samite's soliciting serves as some sort of socially applicable get-out-of-jail-free card, the audience suddenly becomes engulfed in the song. Samite, like a gardener planting wild flowers, smiles as his creation grows beyond his control. The crowd is awake, alert, and dreaming.
The message is a simple one. It is a message Samite learned while in a refugee camp in Kenya.
"I learned that despite class or education, we all share the same feelings," he says. "There are many differences and complexities, but in the end we all share our common humanity."
"It's a brilliant way to spring into another culture," said Dr. Karl Schmidt, assistant professor of history at Southern. "If you live in Joplin, you might never see this."
And almost as soon as it had begun, the performance is over.
The crowd that left Webster Hall might not have been any more capable of locating Uganda on a map, but they felt closer just the same. Despite social, economic, and physical barriers separating Uganda from America, both lands share the same horizon when viewed from the heart