Percussion ensemble joined by world-renowned artists

Amanda Kinnunen

Attendees of the UW Oshkosh percussion ensemble performance witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime show May 5 in the Arts and Communications Center Music Hall, according to the music department. The performance featured students in the percussion ensemble along with Grammy-winning musician Haruna Walusimbi and Mark Stone, a world music professor at Oakland University. Along with winning the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album and Best Pop Instrumental Performance, Walusimbi has also acted in Academy Award-winning films and is the director of the Senator National Cultural Festival, which has become the largest annual cultural festival in Uganda, according to his biography. Music department Chairwoman Alison Shaw said she arranged to bring Walusimbi to campus with the help of Stone, her former student. Stone and Walusimbi met while studying at Makerere University, and Stone later studied in Uganda as a Rotary scholar. According to Stone, during a ceremony in Uganda he was made to promise he would share the Ugandan music with everyone when he returned to America. Shaw said while it was not the same as being in Uganda, students could experience part of Walusimbi’s culture through his performance. “Haruna is a culture bearer,” Shaw said. “His communication and performances provide a first-hand experience for our students. Since they cannot be in Uganda, Haruna can bring that culture to them.” Audience members received a quick lesson of various African percussion instruments, such as the adungu, which resembled a bowed harp, the endongo, another handheld string instrument, and Walusimbi’s personal favorite, the akogo, a thumb piano. According to Shaw, Walusimbi had been workshopping with the students since last Thursday. Percussion ensemble member Emma Jensen said they had rehearsals Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday to prepare for the performance. “A lot of it was just introduction to basic techniques because we had Mark Stone here last year, but we didn’t have Haruna,” Jensen said. “It was kind of a reintroduction to the instrument we haven’t seen in a year.” While they were taught new techniques on a few instruments, they were reacquainted with the embaire, a large, xylophone-like instrument with carvings made into the wood. “This is one of two embaires in the United States right now,” Jensen said. The percussion students sat around the embaire and each played their own rhythm while Walusimbi and other students played a wind instrument and danced. “One thing Haruna makes very clear is that music and dance are interrelated,” Shaw said. “They do not happen independent of one another.” Walusimbi also wore rattles around his legs and danced a call and response with Stone playing the hand drum. Crowd participation was also high as Walusimbi had attendees singing and clapping along to his original pieces. “Everyone’s a performer in Africa,” Walusimbi said. Walusimbi even had a few of the students perform a choreographed dance with him as the last piece. “The best part was learning all the awesome dancing,” Oshkosh student and percussion ensemble member Seth Scherer said. While Scherer and a few other ensemble members danced, Jensen and student Megan Clarke played the akogo. Clarke said while the dancing and singing was fun, she enjoyed the opportunity to be immersed in the culture and instruments. “My favorite part is just being able to learn instruments we normally wouldn’t get the chance to because this is kind of like a once in a lifetime instrument,” Clarke said. Shaw said it is important for cultures to interact because through interaction, people find more commonalities than differences, which generates an understanding between people. “It is very easy to become limited and isolated in our own experience,” Shaw said. Shaw said she hopes students left with an appreciation for Walusimbi and how much he enjoys sharing his music and performances with others. “I was lucky,” Walusimbi said. “In Africa, many children don’t have access to good schools.” Walusimbi said music has been a hobby of his since childhood, and his parents didn’t support his passion, wishing he would spend more time on his academics. According to Walusimbi, music is Uganda’s native companion, and with it, he can express his environment and type of life he’s lived. “There are things that you cannot just say in life, that are so inner, that you kind of reflect them in the music,” Walusimbi said.