Ugandan artiste blends modernity and tradition for delightful music

Monday February 22 2010

Kinobe playing the ‘kalimba’. Photo/FILE

Kinobe playing the ‘kalimba’. Photo/FILE 

By BAMUTURAKI MUSINGUZI

Herbert Kinobe’s ability to make musical instruments and later blend traditional and Afro-folk sounds with a rich cocktail of repertoires with them continues to impress his audience all over the world.

The Ugandan artiste, who plays a number of instruments and also a singer and songwriter, makes his own instruments, notably the 21-string kora (West African harp), the kalimba (flute), the adungu (Ugandan harp) and the akogo (traditional piano).

And among the instruments he is adept playing are the engalabi (an African long drum), the namunjoloba (a small rhythmical drum that creates a high-pitched sound), the akogo, the ennongo (lyre), the kora, the adungu), the endongo (bowed lyre), the endingidi (tube fiddle) and the endere (Ugandan flute).

He mastered the kora under Mali’s Toumani Diabaté. His concerts usually include traditional and electric instruments, or a combination of both.

These accompany traditional and/or original compositions, solos, duets and full-band repertoires.

They comprise captivating melodies and pulsating rhythms, with deep commitment to bringing the best of the world’s cultural values to his audiences.

“Honestly, I love all the instruments I make and play, and I have a problem deciding to play one and not the other.” he says.

The transformation of Uganda’s ethnic folk music by artistes like Kinobe, Joel Sebunjo, Samite and Percussion Discussion Africa into more contemporary and abstract music has attracted local and international appreciation.

“When I began to make music, I never looked at it in a commercial way,” he says philosophically.

“I looked at it as a language that was born in me. To live and grow in me, it’s me. And it grew because I travelled and learned to speak with my soul. I’ve seen and tasted the beauty of life through this language of the soul, which unites the world.

“I make music for the love of it and not the money, like many musicians do. Music does not rhyme with money, or else you will be disappointed.”

Kinobe and his Soul Beat Africa group are currently on a one-year tour of the US, blending African traditional instruments with modern instrumentation to create a unique and universal taste of African music.

He also spices it with rhythms and melodies from the rest of the world.

Soul Beat Africa plays traditional African instruments such as the kora, the kalimba and the adungu, blending them with the guitar and drawing on influences from around the globe.

“This is a new groove for a new world,” World Music Stores notes, and AllMusic Guide adds: “…Their live performances are energetic, highly visual and captivating…”

This fact is reflected in their debut 11-track album, Kinobe & Soul Beat Africa, which was released last year on the Multicultural Media label. It carries songs like Abataka, Abatambuze, Ekilooto, Njagala Kuddayo, The Caribbean and Salala.

Kinobe says his greatest moments have been when he is performing and touring with some of Africa’s greatest — the likes of Baaba Maal, Youssou N’Dour, Salif Keita, Ismail Lo, Angelique Kidjo, Femi Kuti and South African Ringo Madlingozi. He has toured Africa, Europe, the US and Asia.

“I want to be unique in my style because it’s African of which I am proud,” Kinobe notes. “I had a bit of knowledge of modern music, but it is not easy to combine it with our folk music. I want to bring unity to different parts of the world.”

The artiste expresses disappointment, however, that he is hardly known at home.

“It’s sad for those who don’t know me,” he regrets. “They should be able to welcome me and know what I play, because I am Uganda’s ambassador abroad. People need to love their identity — it’s that simple.”

In May, 2007, his solo debut album, Soul Language, was released worldwide by the Multicultural Media label of the US.

The collection reflects his acoustic traditional Ugandan roots, which he blends with influences from his rich and varied musical path.

In February, 2009, he released a joint project with Canadian guitarist Michael Waters titled, Nomad: Kinobe & Michael Waters, under the Rootstock label. His new album with Philip Aaberg titled, Kinobe & Philip Aaberg, will be released soon.

Born in 1983, Kinobe comes from the Buganda Kingdom. He was attracted to music at a very early age and grew up listening to, and being in the presence of, the Kabaka’s (Buganda kings) abagoma (traditional drummers).

One of six children, Kinobe attended the University of Bordeaux in France and earned a degree in world music after attending Makerere College in Uganda.

According to nomadroots.com: “Kinobe has that elusive knack for producing melodies that wheedle their way into the brain over time, and although the overall feel of this (latest) album is somewhat unrefined and rough around the edges (his vocals are good but unremarkable), his will definitely be a name to watch out for in the future.”

Says Waters, who has played the guitar as a spiritual practice for over 33 years: “I have never met a musician of Kinobe’s age that has such a clear focus on where he wants to go with the music, and such ease in getting it there.”

According to World Music Stores “…They (Kinobe & Soul Beat Africa) are the new voice of Ugandan music, the inspired synthesis of African roots and world music, of traditional and modern instrumentation. The musicians represent the new vanguard of Ugandan performers, gifted instrumentalists steeped in the music of their homeland, but with ears open to the sounds of the world at large. Driving poly-rhythms underly transcendent melodies.”

Adds a BBC presenter of Kinobe’s music: “Some of the most exquisite music coming out of Africa today. Sublime and peaceful. Uganda’s Saro-Wiwa.”

Adds Mixite Afrobeats: “Despite his young age he (Kinobe) has already made an impressive state of work... We will hear much more from him in the near future.”