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The Big World of James Makubuya

James Makubuya performing on the ndingidi at Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Shay Atkinson ’05

Wabash folks on campus know James Makubuya as an associate professor of music and artistic director of WAMIDAN, the College’s world music ensemble.

But long before he arrived at Wabash he was an internationally known world music performer—”world” writ large—and that reputation has only increased during his tenure here.

A musicologist who makes frequent trips back to his native Uganda to do fieldwork, James has studied with master musicians from various East African musical traditions. Though the endongo (bowl lyre) is his primary musical instrument, he is also proficient on the adungu (harp), akogo (thumb piano), ndingidi (tube fiddle), madinda (log xylophone), and in various East African dance drum styles. He has performed nationally and internationally with the New York-based African Troubadours, the Kayaga of Africa and the Kiyira Ensemble, and he has arranged traditional music for the Kronos Quartet, with which he performed in concert on the endongo.

Before coming to the U.S. he was the artistic director of CACEMCHO, Uganda’s 150-voice national choir, which he led in several successful international tours, including a concert and mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Makubuya performed on the soundtrack to the movie Mississippi Masala and several television movies and documentaries, and he has released three CDs, including The Uganda Tropical Beat I, Taata Wange and Watik, Watik: Music from Uganda.

But his most recent collaboration may be the most interesting. In 2005 he recorded Wu Man and Friends with Wu Man, the premier virtuoso on the pipa, a Chinese lute-like instrument with a 2,000-year history. His playing, singing and compositions were highlights of the CD. Joining them were masters the Appalachian-style five-string banjo and the Ukrainian bandura, and the mix was so compelling and successful that the group continues to perform from time to time.

James tries to keep a low-profile on the Wabash campus about these international collaborations and accomplishments, but you’ll have a chance to enjoy his mastery of these instruments this Friday in Salter Hall during the 7:30 concert at Wally Tunes: A Symposium on Music and the Liberal Arts.  His extraordinary skills and the joy he experiences and expresses are not to be missed.