When this album was re-released and I also heard a few fragments through the net, I immediately realised this must be a rather unique creative expression of music with certain independent African flavours, so I checked this out, and I surely did not regret.
At the time when Ugandan born Birigwa was studying at the New England Conservatory, he recorded this album with the help of some friends, which included the Stark Reality member, bass player Phil Morrison (Stark Reality was a weird jazz/funk combo who recorded a great album at around 1970), and jazz flutist Stan Strickland. On the liner notes Birigwa himself says “what we did was to follow certain patterns retaining characteristics of African music -call and response, falsetto, pentatonic scales in places.”… “This is not really African music, simply good music made possible by these beautiful people..” Mait Edey at that time labelled it “as a good mix of African and jazz and not like any other such mix.” But in fact, except for the last track, one should forget the jazz connection as a prominent influence, because, it is not that when there are musicians involved with such connections, that the music directs even with references to jazz, or even Afro-jazz at all, although the underlying strength to do so is there, they keep the real Afro-jazz improvisation for the last track, gently built up to it with a former longer improvisation on the track before. The core is in fact singer-songwriter music with beautiful acoustic guitar, in a mostly African styled picking guitar, played skilfully on a nylon guitar, perhaps even on 12 string?, in an original and professional style which alone is also worth noticing.
Three of the songs are in fact folk songs from the Baganda Tribe. Three other tracks were self-penned, while the last free improvisation was by Stan Strickland, using Birigwa’s lyrics and perhaps also fused Afro-jazz styled ideas. Several tracks are only voice and guitar, with interesting pickings, while some others have also exotic, almost Latin-flavoured percussion, (by Yusef Crowder on diverse percussion and most often the shiko drum -which sounds like a high pitched conga-, and by Mpelelezo on conga), and some flute improvisations (by the already mentioned Stan Strickland). It leaves no doubt that most songs are sung with a beautiful warm voice, in a nicely sounding local African language. Its emotions are rich and recognisable. Especially “Kanemu-Kanabilli” I have to lift out for its beautiful, slowly phrased, emotional singing, while on “Lule Lule” his voice suddenly changes to a Ferre Gruignard-flavour, as if in a theatrical way changing pitch to express a different character. On “Njabala” we have another voice coming in, as if imitating some discontented wife, who is rhythmically complaining with her high toned voice ; this is musically brilliantly combined with the rhythm and flute theme improvisations. On the end of “Obugumba” the song evolves to a nice outro improvisation of increasing energy, and includes also splendid drumming (by Vinnie Johnson), with Afro-flavours. The last track continues with more full arrangements, with slightly Latin-jazz flavoured flugelhorn (Arthur Brooks) & sax (Strickland) and interesting afro-combinations of rhythms, and more vocal responses (one voice doing a bit weird, another, again with a different colour or personality, as if complaining with words). A brilliant album which has its own personal richness and is once more a perfect example of the so neglected different qualities to be found in independent African music.
PS. Shortly after the record came out Birigwa disappeared. Some think he went back to Africa.