Music department hosts Samite

Ugandan musician fills Wilson Hall with African rhythm


Samite dedicated several of his pieces to friends in Africa who fell victim to military oppression. During his performance Saturday, Samite shared stories of his childhood growing up in Uganda. Photo by Elllen Kanzinger.

Clare Wilkinson

In an attempt to broaden the Washington and Lee University community’s idea of music, the Department of music hosted Samite, a Ugandan musician, to the Wilson concert hall this past Saturday evening.

The free concert was made possible by the Pauline B. and Paul D. Pickens fund, which the music and arts departments, as well as the global affairs office bring international artists and speakers to campus.

The concert was also a major part of a new music class, Worlds of Music, taught by Gregory Parker, W&L’s music department chair.

The purpose of the class and of the concert, Parker said, is to remind music majors and the rest of the community that music is global and shouldn’t just be limited to Western music.

The Worlds of Music course is now a requirement for all music majors and it is written in the curriculum that there be one live concert the students must attend. This year, Samite provided that concert.

Samite lives in Ithaca, NY but is a native of Uganda, which is where his musical roots lie. The concert featured Samite singing, playing the flute and playing the kalimba, while accompanied by two percussionists. Percussion is integral to African music, Parker said, because it is indigenous to African rhythm.

The concert was very interactive. Samite encouraged the audience to ask questions and told stories of his childhood in between songs.

Lisa Stoiser ‘15 said she was immediately moved by Samite during his very first song.

“[Samite] allowed his casual demonstration [of the kalimba] to evolve into the type of polyrhythmic medley of earthy instrumentation that makes you want to quit the pursuit of a plastic degree in a concrete jungle in favor of a family in a fertile-soiled village for life,” Stoiser said.

He and his “birds,” as he referred to his percussionists, performed songs each with a different purpose.

Some songs had the intent to bring joy to the hurt people of Africa. Samite has played in the Congo and other places with refugee camps where there are women who have been abused and raped, or where there are child soldiers.

“We want to help them sing again,” he said.

Another song was written about some friends Samite used to dance with when he was young and living in Uganda. He said Uganda was a peaceful place when he was a child, “the pearl of Africa.”  But a few years later it was overtaken by a dictatorship. There were soldiers in all of the villages, patrolling night and day.

At night, Samite said, he and his friends used to gather together, lean mattresses against windows and play music and dance. The mattresses made it so that the soldiers couldn’t hear, he said, and they would dance all night long.

But sometimes his friends would leave in the middle of the night and never make it home. This song was for them, Samite said to the audience.

Samite also shared his story about his experiences in moving to the United States.

When Samite first came to the United States, he said went to New York City. “I was told to not go down certain streets because that’s where the homeless people were,” he said. “But of course that’s where I went.”

Samite said seeing the homeless in New York inspired him to write a song – the only song he sang with some English – entitled, “My name is not homeless, my mother calls me baby.”

Samite’s songs are energetic and inspiring and they teach a lesson. Though very repetitive, the variation of dynamics and the expression on the performers’ faces kept the audience engaged throughout the night.

For the last two songs, Samite invited everyone to the front of the concert hall to dance, and the majority of the audience participated. They even requested an encore.

“It was one of the best nights I have had at W&L,” Stoiser said. “The entire audience was having an incredible time bouncing, clapping, and singing together.”

The music performed by Samite and his partners clearly touched all members of the audience, young and old, student and community member.

“Describing the concert with written English words does an injustice to the incredible energy and spirit that Samite inspired in Wilson Hall,” Stoiser said. “You just had to be there.”