Other journalists besides me have felt the soothing lullabies of Ugandan multi-instrumentalist Samite Mulondo. The storyteller -musician-humanitarian takes his audiences on journeys to the African bush and also deep into the human heart. Listening to his recordings provide an intimate musical experience and seeing Samite in concert provides a different type of emotional experience that opens eyes, ears and hearts.
I first came across Samite when I was seeking African recordings to review for my former website, Cranky Crow World Music. Tunula Eno landed in my mailbox and as I listened to a beautiful set of songs I traveled through a gamut of emotions, from sweet humor to grief (the CD was dedicated to his wife who died from brain cancer).
A few years later, another Samite CD came my way—his seventh album, Embalasasa, named after a beautiful, yet poisonous lizard. According to Samite, today the poisonous lizard Africans and others face is the AIDS epidemic. The album featured another soulful collection of songs featuring Samite on thumb piano, flutes, percussion and vocals and backed by extraordinary musicians on kit drum, bass and guitar, including Grammy Award winner David Cullen.
WME: I read that you emigrated to the U.S. in 1987 and that you started out recording for the Windham Hill label. Were you recording Ugandan or African music for that label or other types of music? Besides recording for this label, how did you get started with music after settling in the U.S.?
Samite Mulondo: I began recording for Shanachie Records when I first came to the US. I recorded two albums with them: Dance My Children, Dance and Pearl Of Africa Reborn. Next, I recorded for Xenophile, a branch of Green Linnet Records. For this label I recorded Silina Misango. Following this, I recorded Stars to Share with Windham Hill Records. I only record my music and it is in Luganda, my native language.
WME: You offer your listeners a great gift with storytelling, multi-instrumental playing and original songs with the essence of Uganda. Does your storytelling and music come from a tradition similar to the West African griot?
SM: No. In Uganda it is different. One member of the family could be a musician and the rest of the family members might be doctors or engineers. In my family, I am the only musician, the rest are accountants, etc.
WME: Speaking of storytelling, I am interested in the films that your music has appeared in and the soundtrack you composed for the Kenyan filmmaker. Please tell me more about these projects.
SM: The filmmaker that I believe you are referring to is the team of Alan Dater and Lisa Merton (Marlboro Productions). They are not Kenyan -- their subject is. The other important film that I was recently a part of (one of my songs is in this film) is War Dance by Fine Films (Sean and Andrea Fine).
WME: Besides musical projects, you also founded a non-profit that uses the healing power of music to heal orphans in African countries. I know you founded this non-profit, Musicians for World Harmony in 2002, but how did it begin? Do you have any heartfelt stories to share in regard to starting this non-profit?
SM: I think this started from way back when I was a refugee in Kenya in the early 1980s and I realized that music could be used to heal the souls that suffer from various traumas.
WME: In visiting your website, I learned that your most recent trip to Uganda involved photographing a baby mountain gorilla. Please tell me more about this recent photographic tour and how the photographs might be featured in your upcoming concerts.
SM: This is the second time that I have visited Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to shoot photographs. Both times I have been fortunate enough to spend time with mountain gorilla families. This last time, yes, there was a baby that was very young and in its mother's arms. My photographs capture the mother cradling her infant just after nursing. There was also a bit older baby - who thought it would be exciting to "play" with me. He didn't like the fact that I was looking him straight in the eyes (to him a challenge), so he hit me in the head with a branch! (Fortunately it was not a very big one). I do use these photographs in my multimedia concerts.
WME: Your music is special to me because it touches my heart on a deep and healing level. You understand the healing power of music and have demonstrated this knowledge on your recordings and your work with the nonprofit. So how do you approach your music in regard to recording and performing? Some musicians pray or meditate beforehand. Do you have a ritual that you perform so that you become a clear channel for healing music?
SM: I do spend some quiet time alone before each concert. I definitely pray to have a good spirit in the hall that I am performing in. I also pray to open people's hearts -- that may open their hearts and minds for me to reach them with my music even though I am singing in a language that they don't understand.
WME: Is there anything else you would like to add about your upcoming concert in Mount Vernon, Washington? Besides storytelling, healing music and humor, what else can the audience members expect?
SM: I will perform with my good friend, David Cullen, a Grammy Award winning guitarist who appears on many of my recordings. I will be performing my multimedia concert so your readers will get a chance to experience some of my Africa.
WME: Please describe the various traditional instruments you play, (flutes, percussion, thumb piano…)
SM: Kalimba (thumb piano), flutes - African and western, and voice.
This interview appears in my book Whole Music
This interview appears in my book Whole Music