On a stroll through the Nile Discovery Resort in Jinja, just as the Nyege Nyege Festival 2019 nears its peak on the afternoon of Saturday 7th September, I land on a very talented but little known instrumentalist.
As I start descending the long staircase on a terrace towards the lakeside, my eyes catch a young man dressed in a majorly-red African print shirt, blue Fila jeans and black slip-on slide sandals, peacefully seated by himself.
My eyes see a simple man, probably in his mid-twenties, before my ears are caught by a rich rendition of Jose Chameleone’s ‘Kilabe’. I stand for a minute, not letting my movement make me miss any bit of the performance and I’m amazed by how swift he pulls the strings of an instrument which my mind terms as the African guitar.
The sound stops but I still feel like it’s still playing in my head before realizing that he is looking at me with a wide smile on his face. He seems impressed by the attention I give him because several other people have already bypassed him without notice.
“Ki ekiliwo blood,” I chip in to say ‘Hi’ to him and he is welcoming. We talk for a few minutes like we have met before and if you had met us at that moment, you’d think we’d known each others for years.
I request if he has a few more minutes just to settle down for a simple interview and he is more than glad that I asked. Very humble, soft-spoken, yet madly talented, I am easily impressed by his personality so I pull out my recording equipment and I get on with the interview.
First, I ask him to play me one of his favorite songs and he blesses me with the sweet vibes of ‘One Love’, a song by the legendary Bob Marley. It is one of my favorite songs and at this point I know I’m at the right place, at the right time.
He tells me his name is Mark Joseph Mayanja Sserwada and it quickly hits me that Chameleone shares the same name ‘Joseph Mayanja’. Inquisitively, I ask how it came about and he cheekily reminds me of the existence of the word ‘coincidence’.
He further tells me that he is a big fan of Chameleone whom he adores with all his life because of what an inspiration he has been in his life.
I love that man (Chameleone) with my entire life. I love his music, his lifestyle, I love him more than anything else because he is an honorable man. We have grown up looking up to him and his music has raised us from A to Z.Mayanja Joseph
That’s why we respect him and pray for his longevity. He is our role model and I want to achieve so much more than he has achieved. He’s really a good man.Mayanja Joseph
Moving on, Mayanja tells me that he is at the festival to perform as he shows me his own created instrument.
This is my own created instrument because I want to make a difference. We have made music, performed, played instruments but there is a need for change, We need creativity hence me making this instrument.Mayanja Joseph
He named it the ‘Malinda’ which is a combination of initials from his name Mayanja, and Uganda. It’s a wooden instrument with a bow and a couple of strings attached from the calabash.
It has a close resemblance to the Kora – a harp built from a small calabash cut in half and covered with cow skin to make a resonator with a long hardwood neck. The skin is supported by two handles that run under it.
The major difference between the Kora and Mayanja’s Malinda is the number of strings and the way he shaped it at the bottom. The Malinda has 22 strings, one more that the average Kora, each playing a different note.
He added a crochet strap and spiderweb design in green, yellow, red, and black colors at the bottom. He attached metallic pins allover the calabash to create a unique design.
Before playing two more songs for me, Mayanja wraps up the short interview emphasizing how happy and blessed he is, with appreciation to music which has made him relevant to the few people that have met him.
I love music and I am so happy and blessed to be here. It is because of music that I’m here and am a great pillar to my country because I will be remembered. Even if I die tomorrow, this shall remain (as he taps his instrument).Mayanja Joseph
Watch the full interview below:
Music: ‘One Love’ by Bob Marley, ‘Kilabe’ by Jose Chameleone (off the Kintu riddim produced by Washington David), and his own composition titled ‘Sabasaliza’