Uganda’s award winning folk pop troupe Percussion Discussion Africa (PDA) has blended its old and new material with a touch of its own unique and individual brilliance to conform to current market trends.
At a re-branding concert dubbed The New Horizon held at the National Theatre in Kampala on February 12, PDA presented its renewed repertoire packaged in African jazz, soul, dance, percussion and storytelling.
The troupe has changed its presentation, sound, stage performance and introduced more instruments.
Although PDA’s re-branding is in the right direction — the band has to contend with a small market that may not generate enough revenue. The group is perceived to be preserving Uganda’s folklore.
“We have re-branded our material to suit the times, by twisting it so as to attract today’s young generation that is into Western music,” the band’s lead vocalist, Mike Musoke said, adding: “We still maintain the skeleton but the body spreads to all generations, young and old.”
“We needed to move our music another step. Our old and new music will be performed differently with a new life,” the band leader, Herman Ssewanyana said.
Ssewanyana, who plays traditional drums and sings, said although the youth in Uganda are into hip-hop they are now trying to blend it with traditional music. “This will change the sound to African hip-hop, which is encouraging,” he said.
PDA, a resident band at the National Theatre, has changed its schedule from weekly Tuesday gigs, and now plays only on the first Tuesday of the month.
“The reason we are shifting to monthly shows is that when you put weekly performances your fans will not notice changes in your production. With a monthly show, there is ample time to introduce new material. Every month we shall be presenting totally different musical arrangements and creativity,” Ssewanyana said.
“We also have plans of touring the country to spread our music,” said Musoke, who plays the shakers.
Formed in 1997, PDA’s music is from a selection of traditional instruments like the adungu (African harp), ndingidi (tube fiddles), lukembe, shakers, dourbouka, xylophones and rattles.
These traditional instruments are accompanied by the sounds of the bass guitar, acoustic drums, keyboards, saxophone and trumpet to produce a unique sound.
The ancient vibrations and wisdom of Africa are renewed and transmitted in a modern setting.
“Our music is a fusion of local instruments with foreign ones. We are trying to move with the world. Generations change and some of our young fans may not have heard some old traditional folk songs, so we try to modernise this musical heritage,” Ssewanyana said.
The group released their debut album, Omubala in 1998 under the Far and Wide Music Label. Then came Mulamu in 2000 and Kitafe Ali mu Ggulu (Our Father Who Art in Heaven) in 2004 and Nakayima in 2005. PDA plans to release its fifth album titled Chunga Kilemba later this year.
Their title hit Mulamu won them the Pearl of African Music Award in 2003 for Best Cultural Group in Uganda. The following year they won the Best Folk Pop Music PAM Award for their song Mu’Afrika (Troubles in Africa). Their song Nakayima also won a PAM Award in 2006.
PDA was runner-up in the Best African Traditional Group at the Kora Awards in 2004.
The Kora Awards are music awards given annually for musical achievement in sub-Saharan Africa, and are similar in intent to the Grammy Awards in the US.
The group’s song Nakawunde off the Nakayima album, featured as the introductory soundtrack in the Oscar winning film The Last King of Scotland. The movie was about the rise of former Ugandan president Idi Amin.
PDA has toured Lebanon, Britain, Malawi, USA, Rwanda, Zanzibar, Kenya, Burundi, Ghana, Djibouti, DR Congo and Burkina Faso.
On offer at the concert was Zamberi, a song performed with percussion accompanied with western instruments and dancing. The song calls on drummers and dancers for a percussion discussion at the break of the day. It elaborates the importance of drums in Africa.
They played the Luo version of Angelina with purely traditional sounds from Acholi using the bow harp as the lead instrument. Angelina is a love song from Bunyoro in Western Uganda. In the song, a young man calls for his long lost love, the beautiful Angelina, who left home one day promising to return. He sees her in his dreams.
Being the crowd’s favourite, the group played Mulamu twice. Also on the menu was Under Blacks Blue, Adimdong, Ntwara Amata Gange, Chunga Kilemba, Nakayima, Africa and Ssemusajja Agenda.