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Music

Ssewa Ssewa launches ‘janzi’ music instrument

James Ssewakiryanga
James Ssewakiryanga Jnr, a Ugandan Afro-fusion and folk musician, with the janzi music instrument he invented. PHOTO | COURTESY | NMG 

After the successful official launch of his 22-stringed janzi musical instrument at Katonga Hall, Kampala Serena Hotel on April 13, the Ugandan Afro-fusion and folk artist James Ssewakiryanga Jnr is looking forward to touring Kenya.

“I don’t have plans yet to introduce the janzi in Kenya. But if I got the chance I will introduce it there.

“I have not had a chance of someone to hook me up in Kenya,” Ssewakiryanga known by the stage name of Ssewa Ssewa told the Business Daily.

However, his immediate plan is to embark on its manufacture and training others how to play the janzi. “What started as a dream has become a reality today, I am so overwhelmed with emotion,” Ssewa Ssewa said during the launch in Kampala.

“The janzi has taken me places to almost all continents. I had a privilege to chat with music scholars who really liked the instrument. They made me realise that I had to make the people at home know about this first hence the launch today,” he added.

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“I have a dream of manufacturing janzi in plenty and selling it around the world because everywhere I go they want to buy it. Someone asked me if I can supply 20 to 50 pieces a month,” says Ssewa Ssewa.

“I also want to reach janzi in schools. I am on the verge of making mini janzis for children to learn and possibly have a music school where music lovers around the world can come and learn.”

In a sole performance while playing the janzi, Ssewa Ssewa presented his song Mwana Wange. Myko Ouma joined him on guitar for Friends. He also performed renditions of Bob Marley’s ‘‘No Woman No Cry’’ and ‘‘Everything is Gonna Be Alright’’ with Joe Kahirimbanyi on vocals.

Janzi Band later joined him to perform Seasons, Dawn in Uganda, Njabala, Afrika, Nkwesunga, Semusajja and Yelele Mama, among others.

Ssewa donated a janzi to the Uganda National Museum.

Ssewa Ssewa designed the janzi in 2015. It has two long wooden necks on the left and right, with a narrow space in between. It is made up of 22 strings, 11 strings on either side attached to the sound box with plastic strings. The janzi is amplified and can be connected to any sound systems. He used guitar pegs instead of the usual adungu’s local wood pegs or nails.

The janzi is a re-modification of the adungu a stringed bow-harp of the Alur people of northwestern Uganda. It is an arched harp of varying dimensions, ranging from seven to ten strings or more.

The adungu is used to accompany epic and lyrical songs, and may be plucked alone (often with vocal accompaniment) or in an ensemble.

According to Ssewa Ssewa, the difference between the janzi and adungu is as follows: the janzi is tuned in two scales (diatonic and pentatonic) — it is entirely made out of the mahogany tropical hardwood. It’s fully amplified with professional pickups, uses modern, strong and more reliable tuning pegs — a much more strong and distinctive sound compared the adungu. It can be played with four, five, six or seven fingers accordingly and it has extra notes.

On the hand, the adungu is tuned in one scale (mostly pentatonic), made out of wood and cow skin, uses wood or nails as tuning pegs, usually the player uses a stand microphone or rolls the microphone cable around his neck for amplification and it’s normally played with four fingers.

The African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation and Uganda Registration Services Bureau recognised the janzi by granting him a utility model certificate on October 31, 2017.

Accompanied by Janzi Band, Ssewa Ssewa went on a European tour promoting the janzi between January and April 2018. The American Musical Instrument Society inaugurated as a member Ssewa Ssewa in January this year.

According to Ssewa Ssewa, music unites people, Janzi Band has been involved in the Prevention of Gang Violence Programme in Uganda that the US Embassy funds and other charity works.

Ssewa Ssewa told the Business Daily that the janzi has been embraced by fellow African instrumentalists and his fans.

“I have invited different musicians to my home who believe it’s a different instrument from those they have played like Myko Ouma (guitarist and can play the adungu), Joe Kahirimbanyi (Qwela Band), Sam Nalangira, Hakim Kiwanuka, Giovanni Kiyingi, and Abraham Sekasi, among others.

“My Ugandan fans and those that have attended my performances at home and around the world have embraced the sound of the instrument.”

Ssewa Ssewa was born on June 25, 1987, in Kampala, into a musical family. His late father and mother ran the famous traditional music troupe called Tebifanana Abifuna, which influenced Ssewa Ssewa’s music career.

“My father (RIP) Ssewakiryanga James Senior and my mother Betty Namata Ssewakiryanga have always been my role models throughout my life. My father set standards for me resulting from the successes he achieved, which I watched every day.

He and Tebifanana Abifuna cultural troupe played at so many national and state functions, for the President and before the King of Buganda most memorably the Kabaka’s wedding. He and my mother travelled all over the world entertaining thousands of audiences which interested me a lot as a young boy,” recalls Ssewa who is married to Fairy Trubish and they have a son Amani Trubish Ssewakiryanga.

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