The warble of a flute introduces you to Felipe Salles' Ugandan Suite. Further drawn in by the exotic rhythms of Movement 1, “The Buffalo”, the listener falls into a world of dancing polyrhythms and spontaneous emotion. Saxophones, played brilliantly by Salles and bandmate David Liebman, mimic a buffalo call. An air of mystery leads the listener. What will be next? What previously unheard instrument, what new sound, new melodic line will draw the ear?
Birds call and respond in the playing of Damascus Kafumbe's ndingidi tube-fiddle. A bari sax joins in, representing the deep earthiness of the elephant, the animal inspiring movement two. But this elephant is on fire with energy! Informed by Eastern Ugandan imbalu, isonja, and kadodi dance styles and by the minimalist style of Steve Reich, this is the most classical-inspired movement.
Movement 3, The “Leopard”, begins quietly before turning into an all-dance party. Pianist Nando Michelin reconnects the African to Brazilian baião in his opening solo, simply and lovingly declaring themes to be heard later as the party gets moving. Salles and Liebman do that job midway through with joyously stated melodies and a tenor solo that brings in some Carribean flavor. This movement is truly world music, not just African music.
Movement 4, the Rhinoceros, is filled with rolling percussion and a brooding tension, as one might expect for a piece dedicated to the unpredictable beast. Percussion, including xylophone are used in both western and the African madinda style and maintain tension throughout. Movement 5, “The Lion” brings back the light, celebratory vibe of “The Leopard” with traditional African call and response, beautiful jazz saxophone and the more modern African taste in hip-hop and rock sounds.
Ugandan Suite is a truly entertaining album and a gorgeous celebration of the diversity that music has to offer. Music is truly a world language and brings people together in ways other languages cannot. Though this is truly an ensemble album, huge credit must be given to the two ethno-musicologists in the group, Salles and Kafumbe, who have clearly added their heart and soul to this album. Nzuri kazi!