Santuri’s Embaire Umeme – Mugwisa International Xylophone Group
This latest release from On the Corner is the first release in a series of collaborations between Santuri, Soundthread and OtC. This record features electronic constructs and remixes of the acoustic recording sessions that will appear later in 2016, accompanied by more “Umeme’ ( ‘ electric’ and the name of the main electricity company in Uganda) reworks.
The Soundthread and Santuri collaboration led to Iganga, about 4 hours drive from the Ugandan capital Kampala. Iganga is a small village found just off one of the main roads running through the country. These roads act as the main archeries of life where the power lines keep the hustle and bustle of business and social activity close to the noisy, dusty highways. Iganga is where, along with a handful of other villages, you can find the Embaire Xylophone instrument. 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 that acts as a resonator, adding yet more depth and tonality to the sound. It needs up to 9 people to play, and once heard, it’s hard to forget. The first impression 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. The sessions go on for hours and the acoustic pieces will be concentrated into a form suitable for vinyl release at the end of 2016.
The Embaire Recording sessions away from grid power are scenarios, which might warrant a sharp exit for the majority of wise music producers. However those willing to take on the ambiguous route of sessions of an unconventional identity find that such pursuits often give way to fruitful outcomes.
Mugwisa International Xylophone Group (M.I.X.G) is led by the village chief called Mugwisa, and or these recordings he worked closely with a producer from Kampala called Jude Mugwera. Jude and Sam Jones from SoundThread worked hard at condensing their music in to shorter assemblies of 3/4 minute tracks down from the 3/4 hour epics.
The project has two strands - firstly to work with the musicians and the villages to develop an outdoor performance area that will help people from outside the community join 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. Working towards this second strand is the objective On the Corner Records will be working towards with these releases.
David of Santuri met Pete from On the Corner in Stone Town, Zanzibar in 2013 when Pete’s Traktor S4 made a conspicuous entrance into a workers cafe. With shared musical interests as a starting point the projects they have since founded have aligned for these releases along with Sam from Soundthread and the release has been stirred to life with the peerless, knockout artwork from Victoria Topping
Sam Jones of Soundthread and remixer on The Embaire Umeme E.P.
“ Having captured the instrument in its natural habitat we set about finding the appropriate producers to then re-articulate the sessions. For my construct I was keen to keep the essence of the instrument and its players as true as possible. Borrowing from the cyclical nature true to its original played style, adding minimal classic old synths, tape delays, guitar stabs and some vocals, and sylobols recorded from some of the villages. The track meanders along introducing a pair of solos before going to a very different place by the end where everything is over driven and mashed up with further obligatory solos. Its a real journey and tried to represent the whole experience and attempt to articulate the whole time of spending a whole week, off the grid with some of the most talented and wonderful people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.”
We also suggested alternative ways of playing the instrument for verity, suggesting playing with hands rather than the exclusive use of sticks. This provided a very interesting alternative and let to subtleties of the instrument come through which were then met with the kalimba, Zeze and pipes.