Art, Culture, Books and Travel

One Little Guitar: The Words of Paul Job Kafeero

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Uganda’s beloved composer, singer, and social and cultural critic Paul Kafeero was a genius by any measure of that word.  One Little Guitar: The Words of Paul Job Kafeerois a literary and pictorial recreation of the musical career of this genius. It is the only complete collection of every word he recorded, in 83 songs on 21 albums, during his twenty-year career.  This collection is the first of its kind in Ugandan history.  It celebrates the life of this cultural icon, and preserves a serious body of literature as part of the cultural legacy of all Ugandans.

You will find all of your favourites in this book.  If you are not confident about your knowledge of this deep Luganda, the songs are rendered inboth their original Luganda and in English translations. The bookreproduces each tape jacket of each album, and over one hundred full colour, and some older black and white, photographs of Kafeero on, off, and behind the stage. The images and their captions reveal the life of the man that many knew as Prince and The Golden Boy of Africa.

Kafeero’s music, even after his death in 2007, continues to reverberate in the hearts of Ugandans at home and abroad.  Ugandan radio stations continue to play his songs, which are didactic, reflective, and inspirational, commonly described as educative.  People can feel compelled to modify and improve their lives after listening to Kafeero’s music.  This has cemented this artist’s educationist legacy.

When Kafeero died, Baganda and other Ugandans the world over began asking for his lyrics.  SinceKafeero belongs to Uganda, as a fiercely proud Ugandan and Muganda, it is laudable that his Omwanaw’Omuzungu, Kathryn Barrett-Gaines, ensured that this book is published in Uganda by a Ugandan publisher, Fountain Publishers, Ltd.

Few non-English speaking geniuses are recognized in this world.  It seems that in order to be acknowledged for greatness, a genius has to perform that elusive feat of luck to have been born along one of the northern seacoasts of the Atlantic, Pacific or Mediterranean.  This little boy from among the tiny villages of Kyaggwe, who absorbed the richness of his beautiful language and learned how to sculpt that richness into captivating imagery and story, how would he ever be recognized for his genius?  Omwanaw’Omuzungu, who is also a professor of African History in USA, isuniquely positioned to place Kafeero in documentary history, to live forever.
Kafeerois the most celebrated composer and singer in the Kiganda tradition of KadongoKamu, the only popular music form indigenous to Uganda.  At his death just before his thirty-seventh birthday, in Mulago Hospital in Kampala, the out-pouring of grief from across Uganda, and from Ugandans around the world, confirmed his esteem.  At the time of his death, Kafeero was planning to celebrate 20 years of an illustrious music career.  His 1994 hit song WalumbeZzaaya, a fifteen-minute lament on death in which no word is repeated, sent him into the Ugandan musical stratosphere.  That song earned Kafeero the enduring nickname The Golden Boy of Africa as a result of a 1994 Cairo music festival attended by thousands of African contestants, where he won a gold medal from the Institute d’EtudesTheatreales.  In 2003, his hit DippoNaziggala, which criticizes the drinking habits of Ugandans, including himself, won a Pearl of Africa Music Award.

Because of the weakness of the English language, the weakness of this book is the English translations of Kafeero’s words.  This is not because Omwanaw’Omuzungu did a poor job translating; this is because English is a poor language.  The Luganda in this book is a faithful transcription of what Kafeero sang to us.  The English in this book renders only the literal translation of the Luganda words.  The English translations may appear to the English speaker to be simple and unadorned, and not poetic.  This is because Englishis unable to interpret the many layers of meaning that Kafeero’s lyrics convey in richLuganda.  Also, Barrett-Gaines wants to allow for future interpretation of Kafeero’s meaning.  His images have multiple meanings in Luganda, and they engage in many creative ways with Kiganda proverbs, idiom, and folklore.

Ugandans and Luganda-philes have long been drawn into the images that Kafeero paints in his songs.  Since Kafeero began to sing to Uganda in the late 1980s, listeners have been debating his meaning, searching their Luganda for understanding, asking each other and consulting elders and scholars about the ancient forms that Kafeero deployed in his compositions.

This project is appropriately a book because Kafeero’s work is literature.  Ugandan scholars like Sylvia Nanyonga-Tamasuza, Susan Kiguli, Joel Isabirye, Moses Musaazi, and A.B.K. Kasozi all see Kafeero’s work as part of the national literature.  Accordingly, the words on each page are arranged as prose poetry, although many of his songs were stories.  KadongoKamu is only called music because of the musical instruments which play under it.  KadongoKamu is essentially oral literature.  No one dances to KadongoKamu; they listen to its stories.  The word most often used to describe Kafeero’s work is educative, okuyigiriza, to cause to learn.  The Luganda verbs okuyigira, to educate,and okuzimba, to build, are etched on his tombstone, expressing appreciation for the way his work contributes to building Ugandan people and culture.  Ezinyuma, eziyigiriza, n’ezizimba; entertaining, educative, and constructive.

Many Ugandan artists, after their deaths, disappear from history.  This book ensures that Kafeero will live on.  This book adds to the body of literature of and by Ugandans, and it expands what can be considered Ugandan literature.  The book records for the future an understanding of this elaborate ancient Luganda, which English-language education and increasing urbanization are helping to erode.  Kafeero was a prodigy in his facility with what the Baganda call “deep” or “heavy” Luganda.  One Little Guitar: The Words of Paul Job Kafeero provide sources for scholars, language students, and all Luganda speakers, to help them increase their knowledge, respect, and love for this wondrous language.

One Little Guitar: The Words of Paul Job Kafeero
Kathryn Barrett-Gaines (Omwanaw’Omuzungu)
© Fountain Publishers 2011

Distributed in Europe and Commonwealth countries outside Africa by: African Books Collective,

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