Sheik Khalifa Sulaiman Lwanga, Mataali songs from Uganda

Mataali is the Luganda name for both the frame drum and the Islamic praise songs with which the drums are associated.  This musical style was introduced to central Uganda in 1928 by Sheikh Swaibu Semakula.  Inspired by Zanzibari styles of Islamic singing, Swaibu organized Maulidi celebrations (ceremonies honoring the birth of the prophet) featuring mataali ensembles singing religious praise songs, at first in Swahli and Arabic and, starting in the 1980s, in Luganda.

Up through the 1980s Mataali songs were almost exclusively performed during Maulidis. Over the last three decades, however, there has been both a shift in the performance context of mataali and in the performance style.  Today, mataali songs are performed at most life-cycle events, baptisms, graduation ceremonies, and weddings, as well as at cultural festivals and for political rallies.  With the new context the genre has also become more sophisticated, incorporating a unique style of dancing performed by young men.  The lyrical content of the songs has also evolved, from songs exclusively praising the prophet to songs expressing religiously inspired social commentary and praise for patrons.

Sheik Khalifa Sulaiman Lwanga is from Kilokola Parish, Kalamba subcounty in Butambala district, located in the central region of Uganda, just 70 kilometres southwest of the capital city of Kampala.  He is one of the most prominent mataali singers and bandleaders, renown for his lyrical improvisations, inspired by the event at which he is performing. 

This cassette is part of a batch of Ugandan cassettes I found in a grocery story in downtown Waltham, Massachusetts, back in 2003.  (Waltham has one of the largest Ugandan communities in the Northeast US).  The tracks on the cassete don't seem to match the titles listed on the J-card.

Download Sheik Khalifa Sulaiman Lwanga of Kilokola-Butambala

Here are a few videos of mataali groups.  This first one features a group performing at a graduation ceremony.

The second gives you a good idea of the dances that accompany the songs.

This post draws on the research of Professor Abasi Kiyimba, as well as on this article.  The picture above is from the monitor article.




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