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Author: Helen Nabasuta Mugambi
Title: From radio to video: migratory texts in contemporary Luganda song narratives and performances
Publication info: Ann Arbor, Michigan: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library

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Source: From radio to video: migratory texts in contemporary Luganda song narratives and performances
Helen Nabasuta Mugambi

Evanston, IL: Program of African Studies, Northwestern University
no. 8, pp. 8, 12, 14-15, 1994
Issue title: Institute for Advanced Study and Research in the African Humanities: Media, Popular Culture, and 'the Public' in Africa
Author Biography: Helen Nabasuta Mugambi is an Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature at California State University at Fullerton.

From Radio to Video: Migratory Texts in Contemporary Luganda Song Narratives and Performances


It is intriguing to examine the nature of migratory texts surrounding the structure and performance of Luganda radio songs because of the nature of these songs. The category of songs I discuss here are known as Kadongo Kamu, popular songs broadcast on Radio Uganda or circulated commercially on audio cassettes. I utilize the term radio song to locate these songs into a clearly delineated genre since the difference between songs lies only in the manner of their circulation. Generally, these songs dramatize events and lives of fictional or real people; they incorporate discourses on family, community and the nation at large. I propose that a close examination of these songs proves that they are intrinsically constituted by migratory elements derived from the traditional oral narrative. Traditional elements central to the form, content, style, or rhetorical aspects of the traditional story or folktale have migrated and been integrated into the radio song to narrate and/or interpret emergent cultural and national histories. In essence, these elements signal that a genealogy exists in the corpus of oral or performed texts. While the traditional narrative has origins in the distant past, radio songs only became accessible to the masses when transistor radios became affordable at the grass-roots level in the late 50s. Video-taped songs are the most recent arrivals on the scene. The first mass-produced video tape of Kadongo Kamu made its appearance on the market only in 1993. As a consequence, identifying and interpreting migratory texts found in video songs becomes mostly an attempt to delineate a narrative tradition across various media spanning the country's pre-colonial and post-colonial phases.

The traditional narrative essentially functions as a migratory unit, binding story to song. It is common knowledge that the traditional folktale was originally considered a tool for socialization, or for reinforcing the values and traditions of the community. The radio song exhibits an identical function: the artist utilizes songs to help the audience make sense of the post-colonial cultural and economic (dis)order. Songs address the problematic issue of balancing ethnic and national identities. Furthermore, as in folktale performance, singers state their didactic purpose with an explicit formulaic statement of the moral of the story. Radio song artists, in a very self-conscious manner, declare themselves critics, teachers, or embodiments of the moral conscience of the community/nation. They define themselves as the acknowledged authors of contemporary morality, inheriting the function from anonymous communal authorship of traditional moral codes. In long episodic songs, this moral will usually be announced at the end of each significant episode. The moral of the story, as in the folktale, is repeatedly stated in the form of a proverb and is introduced by phrases such as: "as they say ... " Another well-known principal characteristic of the traditional narrative is its function of entertainment. While entertainment normally is an integral part of the song medium, many radio song artists nevertheless explicitly articulate this function, introducing themselves to the audience with declarations like: "once again it is your friend 'so and so' returning to entertain you." Many contemporary radio songs are performed in multiple genres, a major element in traditional narrative. In the most structurally complex songs, spoken dialogue or poetic recitations may become integral parts in the exposition of the narrative's plot, while the predominant narration progresses throughout the song. The best examples of such complex songs are Nakakaawa and Kayanda, two songs I will later discuss in detail. Nakakaawa starts off as a romance story; we encounter Ssepiria on his way to get his bride Nakakaawa from her maternal home. Along the way, he sings his own praises while his companion Coloneli "'speaks" a running commentary in signifying language. At the home of the prospective in-laws, Ssepiria stops the song mode when Nakakaawa's aunt allows him to take the bride, and breaks into a recitation of praise poetry honoring the aunt.

Like many other African folktales, the Kiganda folktale contains a formulaic beginning and ending. The typical story opening is: "Awo olwatuuka nga mbalabira," [It so happened that I witnessed (this story) for you—the audience]. Within the folktale, the events described in the narrative are supposed to have taken place in a very distant past. However, when the narrator claims to have witnessed the events in the story, s/he transplants the folktale into the recent past. In many cases, song artists transplant and incorporate the idea of the story-teller seeing or witnessing the story on behalf of the audience into their narrative. The radio song performer will normally establish herself/himself as an eyewitness of the event s/he is about to narrate. The radio song Imbalu provides a classic example. The performer is a Muganda who claims to have witnessed the circumcision festivities for a group of Bagishu boys in Kampala's suburbs. The performer injects humor in the song in describing his verbal encounter with Bosco, a Mugishu, who provides him with the explanation of the initiation process, the song's subject. The singer exerts himself to demonstrate his proficiency in Lugishu, the language of the young boys whose initiation rites he witnesses. For a short while, the audience listens to him reenacting his conversation with Bosco in Lugishu. After this attempt to gain credibility, he resumes narrating his eyewitness account of the event in the audience's primary language. Ebizibu bye Kibuga [Problems of City Life] by Matiya Luyima provides yet another dimension to this incorporation of the eyewitness stance. A villager visits his city friend in Kampala. The conversation between the two, an amplification of the elaborate traditional Kiganda greeting, is transformed into the song. After being addressed with the usual phrase "Oli otya?" [How are you?], each man not only casts himself as eyewitness, but also as participant in the story he consequently narrates. Each man starts a recitation of 'the trials and tribulations' that his neighbors and himself are subjected to. The novel element in their recitations is that they transform the traditional poetic recitation into song; their joint song becomes a portrait contrasting rural and urban life, while focusing on the economic hardships which family and nation face. Such strategies establish the artist's credibility and validate new stories which thus far were not authorized by tradition.

While the general aim of this paper is to demonstrate the existence of an oral narrative tradition that traverses the traditional narrative story, the radio song, the public performance as well as the video medium, the central concern here consists of initiating an examination of the nature of the migratory process as migratory texts traverse oral and electronic landscapes. I propose that new meanings are constructed by the transitions between one medium and another, and/or at the points where media converge or intersect. It is within these transitions or "moments of transition" that transformative reconstructions occur. These reconstructions will be shown to generate contemporary philosophical or ideological meanings. It should become clear in the discussion that these meanings are mostly determined by the country's emerging—and constantly changing—cultural and political history. New meanings thus reconfigure and transcend original meanings to produce new codes of signification. In essence, newly created forms become metaphorical or rhetorical strategies that transform song performance into an arena for contemporary ideological and political discourses.

Since my central concern is the interpretation of "moments" of transitions between story and song performances, it is important that I ground my discussion within previous theories that interpret similar "moments of transition," as texts move from orality to literacy. A.N. Doane provides an excellent synopsis and critique of the history of intertextuality in which he addresses issues of orality and literacy raised by the works of Jack Goody and Walter J. Ong. Doane states:

At certain discrete historical moments a culture that has adopted writing as a privileged or as a secondary mode for the production and preservation of texts may form an "interface" (Goody 1987:78ff) with a primarily oral culture.... An interface is the moment when the oral text and the technology of literacy are capable of penetrating and interpreting each other. The result of these encounters is the gradual undermining of the oral culture by the power of writing and literacy. Once it comes into contact with writing, the orality of oral cultures tends to bifurcate into written traces, ... and into ordinary language which is not considered worth preserving in writing. At the same time, during these interfacial moments, ... many performative situations may migrate into written residue (Doane XXXX:79).

Unlike this dichotomy formed by oral and written forms, the transition from oral narrative to radio song or video tape is a continuous system of oral signification in which ordinary language is "worth preserving." It is a site where the power of the oral/visual electronic media does not undermine traditional oral form or leaves it as a residue, but rather embodies it, as it amplifies antecedent meanings. The new media provide a reconstitution of oral narratives without losing the integrity and authenticity of the original forms. The video text, for instance, does not impose supremacy over radio or traditional narrative but rather becomes its ultimate fulfillment, even adding new dimensions of signification.

On the other hand, it is the nature of the "interfacial text", as summarized by Doane, that provides us with the discursive bridge that links this paper's interpretations of transitions to previous ones. An interfacial text is defined as "one produced in a milieu where the oral tradition is still alive and productive, one whose intended/actual audience, ... whether literate or illiterate, is conversant with the tradition and capable of receiving the 'oral text' as an oral audience, not just aurally, but critically, with a traditional understanding of the meaning and functions of traditional language, formulas, and themes" (Doane XXXX:81).

Radio songs are true interfacial texts. A consciousness of a listening audience that both appraises and critiques the songs is embedded within the composition of the radio song. At the same time, the radio song itself generates meaning to interpret radio song discourses as well as those of the traditional oral narrative. The radio song Nakakaawa is a primary example. Nakakaawa is a long episodic narrative song that, in the first episodes, dramatizes wedding preparations culminating in Nakakaawa's marriage to Ssepiria, who already has a "common law" wife. The ensuing conflicts leads to Nakakaawa's deserting her husband and, finally, to Ssepiria's plans for staging a modern, public wedding to Kaddulubale. On the wedding day, in a surprising twist of the plot, we discover that Ssepiria has secretly invited Nakakaawa back and is able, despite Kaddulubale's protestations, to marry both women in a joint ceremony. As an integral part of the unfolding story in Nakakaawa, the artist clearly spells out the aesthetics of Kiganda story-telling. In addition, the very structure of this song consists of a series of story manifestations (conceived and acted by the cast within the song), followed by a series of narrations of the completed action. This particular element makes this whole song one long treatise on the creation and recreation of the oral narrative.

The most fascinating example of episodes in which theories of story creation and re-creations are embedded takes place when Ssepiria returns home with his new bride, Nakakaawa. He delegates the story-telling of his obtaining-a-bride "adventures" to a new narrator, his companion, Coloneli [Colonel], whose proficiency in the various spoken genres has already been witnessed by the audience.

Ssepiria says:

Coloneli owe Bulamba
Leero nkakasizza omanyi ebigambo
Abantu banyumize kale olugendo
Coloneli of Bulamba
Today your mastery of the spoken word was proven to me;
Now tell the story of our journey to the assembled people.

Ssepiria requests Coloneli to tell the story of their adventures "so that the hearts of the audience may settle down in peace." Within the Kiganda tradition, whenever a person undertakes a journey or leaves home to call upon the neighbors, the first act upon returning home is narrating the visit. The family at home expects a story from the "traveller" and becomes the anticipating audience; they will normally request the story with a formulaic statement: "Tunyumize obugenyi" [Tell us the story of your visit]. The story incorporates the trip's details, including the type of food served and gifts received. Ssepiria's request for the narration of his experiences may lead to an exposition on the Kiganda world view which, by implication, interprets action/journey/movement as disruptive to life's equilibrium. This equilibrium is restored only through the power of the word—the power of story-telling. In a sense, the family's need for the story witnessed by the traveller implies that the narration of a story has therapeutic or curative qualities. Such an interpretation facilitates our understanding of the important role radio songs played immediately after the last war in Uganda. When the guerrilla war ended in 1986, Ugandans scattered in different parts of the world and/or dispersed within Uganda returned to their homes. During this phase, families would gather to exchange war stories punctuated by radio songs that narrated horrifying war experiences or dramatized the slaughter of human beings. Listening to such songs was characterized usually by intense silence. Some people wept silently while others responded with spin-offs on their own personal encounters with the war. Clearly, the traditional folktale, in its original form, has no place during such tragic phases in the people's lives. Radio songs helped to maintain the unbroken thread of story-telling; it became incorporated into narratives at gatherings where people subconsciously engaged in the traditional ritual of "okwaabya olumbe," expelling death on behalf of the nation's dead. During one such gathering in 1986, in Bubere village, Nakajubi, a teenage girl orphaned by Milton Obote's soldiers and adopted into my family slowly rose up. To everyone's surprise, she wrapped a dance skirt around her hips and performed a solo dance against the background of a radio song that incorporated sound effects to dramatize the story of how soldiers' attacked and murdered innocent civilians. Nakajubi had previously witnessed the murder of her own father during an assault on her community in Luweero. Her mother had died as she attempted to flee the besieged zone with her children. Nakajubi's dance act can certainly be interpreted as her personal moment of "okwaabya olumbe" in the presence of an empathetic audience stunned by the young girl's emotional courage to dance to a song re-enacting her personal tragedy.

Another feature of the traditional narrative is the structured opening where the physically present and participating audience is usually addressed or identified. In its migratory form into the radio song, this element is made into a rhetorical device to empower the narrative. Most significantly, the radio song artist often employs the structured opening as a means to constitute his otherwise invisible audience. In the song Imbalu the artist constitutes an unrestricted, imagined radio audience and opens his song with the words: "Aboluganda, abemikwaano ebyange bibino" [Brethren, friends, here are my words....]. In the radio song Naggayi the artist is gender specific. This song warns men about city women who exploit men. The artist addresses himself only to the male segment of his audience whom he feels must be protected against the cunning, city woman. He opens with the words: "Basajja bannange abagalwa" [My dearly beloved fellow men]. By constituting "fellow men" as the primary audience, the artist simultaneously succeeds in drawing the attention of the female audience who become interested in the, man's story about them.

By employing this rhetorical strategy of apparent exclusion, in the end he captures the attention of both men and women. Thus it is not surprising that his song concludes in a direct address to women admonishing them and warning them against moral corruption.

The most complex audience constitution as rhetorical device takes place within the song Nakakaawa, which was described above. In this radio song, the artist consciously addresses himself to two audiences. One audience is the target radio audience, invisible from the urban recording studio. The other is constituted as his primary audience within the song and simulates the live audience of the oral narrative. He specifically summons all his childhood friends, his sisters, his uncles from his mother's side, all the husbands of his sisters-in-law, especially Migadde of Kawempe village, to assemble and witness as he negotiates and justifies his need for a second wife. The artist, Matiya Luyima, acting as Ssepiria in Nakakaawa, assembles the audience inside the song to re-create the rural ambiance associated with traditional story-telling. These newly assembled members of his audience become participants in the unfolding story. They do so through spoken words, running commentaries on the song's pronouncements, or sung responses. They become characters within the performance event and, like the traditional elders of the oral narrative, they mediate the dispute between husband and wife.

The ending of the final episode of Nakakaawa entitled "Ssepiria mu lumbe lwa Ssenfuusi"—composed several years after the first episode—contains the beginnings of a manipulation of structured endings to create narratives about emergent political discourses; the manipulation moves the attention of both audiences (that within the song and that of radio listeners) from issues of family to those of nation. In direct contrast with the opening statements of Nakakaawa which summons elders, relatives and neighbors to mediate in Ssepiria's family affairs, the dominating ideas in the final episode go beyond addressing an audience—still within the same ethnic community—gathered for the wake ("okwaabya olumbe") of Ssepiria's brother-in-law. The actual song starts as everyone physically assembles to participate in the wake. The final moments of the story are devoted to Ssepiria as he boasts to the assembled community how he has become chief of his village, Kipuuta. The assembled audience, in chorus, hails him and says how, even in their own villages, they strive to abide by the laws of the government in order to ease governing the country. Hence both the narrator and the audience are engaged in constructing their biographies as they insert themselves into the national context. The radio song artist transforms the traditional opening into a political discourse through which s/he attempts to recreate the ideals the emerging nation aspires to. Clan systems traditionally formed the kinships that created cohesion in the communities. Like the real bonds created through clan identities, recent radio songs transform the technique of audience assembly into moments of national cohesion.

Diverging from the traditional audience of their immediate community, subsequent radio songs use the structured openings as means of re-assembling, re-creating, or re-configuring Uganda as a multiethnic nation. The song Bannange Mwenna Mbalamusa provides a good illustration. The artist assembles his audience from a multiplicity of ethnic groups strategically selected to represent eastern, western, northern and southern Uganda. He opens his song symbolically by greeting each group in its own language. After the greetings, the singer again symbolically announces that the purpose of the gathering is to celebrate New Year's day. However, as the song progresses, we realize that the celebration is about surviving the massacres of the recent wars and the New Year symbolizes the new beginning of a different type of nation where peace should reign. The radio songs' structured openings are thus transformed into sites for the formulation of social and political identities.

This idea of negotiated identities by assembling the audience as nation also finds its way into staged performances, some of which are transferred to video tape for cultural shows on Uganda television. The best example is a play I videotaped in Kiyinda Mityana in July 1992 at the Mityana women's Club Festival. This play is clearly an intertext to the song Bannange Mwenna Mbalamusa. The play dramatizes courtship and the ensuing marriage celebration between a Muganda suitor and an Acholi young lady. At the end of the marriage celebration, a wedding dance is performed in which all present dance to a single rhythm. The significance of the nation in the performance is expressed mainly in the types of dress, song, drum and dance. All the dancers, dressed to represent various Ugandan ethnic groups, occupy the center of the stage. Each dancer performed a dance from the group represented by her/his attire. This becomes a celebration of ethnicity as all the assembled performers share a single space—the stage—to simultaneously dance to the same rhythm. It is clear, however, that the message here is a political one, of re-assembling the nation both physically and ideologically, an extension of the national government's call to ethnic unity.

Let us now examine what happens when a tune or parts of a traditional song migrate into the radio song and later make their way into the video medium. As implied earlier, the re-creation or restructuring of a song from a traditional folktale first of all creates a genealogical bridge across narrative forms. While the songs retain their appeal to the traditional rural audience after re-configuring the story, they address a new urban audience as true interfacial texts.

The song Ogenda wa? Ngenda Kulaba Nyonyi Muzinge [Where Are You Going? I Am Going To See The Peacock] provides an ideal example of the transformation of traditional elements into rhetorical devices in order to imbue meaning in contemporary song. Such rhetorical devices include coded language and symbols represented in a tune or a chorus from a traditional story. Philly Lutaya, for instance, reconstructs the tune, story, and words of the traditional folk tale Ogenda wa? Ngenda Kulaba Nyonyi Muzinge into his radio song Ogenda Wa? Ngenda mu Kibuga Kampala [Where are you going? I am going to Kampala city]. In the traditional story, a curious child disobeys her parents' instructions never to open the basket in which the family treasure, the peacock that lays eggs to feed the family during famine, is hidden. After her disobedience resulting in the escape of the peacock, the child is disowned by her family. She runs away from home and goes wandering across the country. People she meets on the way ask her: "Where are you going?" to which she replies: "I am going to see the peacock." She then continuses to tell her whole history in song. Lutaya's use of this story and song starts off with the persona, in exile, sending a friend to look up family and relatives back home. By the end of the song, the message has changed into a post-guerrilla war song that summons all Ugandans in exile to return home. As the song moves the traditional discourse from family to nation, it simultaneously inverts the story which the traditional narrative conveyed. The call on the population to return stands in a direct, antithetical relationship to the journey of expulsion undertaken by the young child in the original story.

The use of a traditional tune is even more complex in the song Tulo, Tulo, Kwaata Omwaana? [Sleep, Sleep, Catch the Baby], a modification of an ancient lullaby entitled Siisiitira Omwaana Yebake. I present an extensive discussion of this song in a forthcoming article entitled "Intersections: Gender, Orality, Text, and Female Space in Contemporary Kiganda Radio Songs" (in Research In African Literature, Fall 1994). In it I elaborate on the various strategies with which Lutaya successfully transforms traditional gender-specific genres into discursive spaces for his political lament. In the process, the whole genre in its entirety constitutes the migratory text. In the case of the lullaby Lutaya transforms it and the dirge into rhetorical strategies in order to invade traditionally female narrative space.

Generally speaking, when solo performance of radio song makes its way to video presentation, attention is exclusively focused on the words of the narrative and the singer's expertise in the use of voice, facial expressions and gestures. It is in radio songs like Kayanda, and of course Nakakaawa described above, that the ultimate transformations in the transition between radio and video occurs. Like Nakakaawa, Kayanda defies definition since it is interchangeably referred to by listeners as luyimba [song] and as muzannyo [drama]. The driving force of the song's plot is the traditional trickster motif, simultaneously incorporating the didactic and entertaining aspects into the song narrative. The most innovative aspect in this incorporation is that the traditional trickster animal, the hare, has been transformed into a new character, woman. The woman as a radio song trickster has a short, but intriguing history that sheds light on her as the antagonist in Kayanda. In traditional stories the hare usually escaped after inflicting injury or injustice on an opponent. When the trickster attribute is transferred to a woman, she is usually caught, humiliated and admonished while her experience is used to warn men about the dangerous female species. Such is the case in two songs composed around 1989. The aforementioned song Naggayi narrates the story of a city girl, Naggayi, who for a long time succeeds in tricking three different men into believing that each is her only boyfriend. She finally gets caught at the death of her child as each man discovers the trickery when they try to claim the dead child. Her punishment is extreme within the culture. The three men desert her at the hospital and her dead child is left to be buried by the state—without the community's burial rites. The song Eminkuduuli, composed at about the same time, pushes this motif to artistic heights when it inter-weaves everyday happenings with mystical interventions. In this song, a woman wants to stabilize her marriage by ensuring her husband's faithfulness. She purchases concoctions from a family medicine specialist who advises her to cook a chicken and add the concoctions as seasoning in her husband's food. She does so when the song's narrator is a guest of honour at the home. When everyone is seated at table, the husband opens the cooked chicken dish. The chicken has been transformed into a snake. Once again, the woman as trickster is caught and humiliated.

Kayanda, emerging around 1992 on radio and making its debut on video in 1993, appears to transcend this punitive plot. In this song/drama, Mukaabya, the husband, discovers an affair between his wife and the house servant when he overhears a conversation between the two. Kayanda is a migrant worker from Rwanda who is supposed to be treated as a servant by Mukaabya, the head of household, who acts as his master. Using the narrative technique of assembling an audience, Mukaabya summons the village Resistance Council (RC), an entity that has in contemporary Ugandan politics replaced the traditional council of elders (as reflected in the first part of Nakakaawa described above) who normally mediated family disputes.

At the end of the mediation, even though it is proved that the wife had fooled the husband into believing that he was the father of her child—in reality, Kayanda is the father—, the case is decided against the husband. He is accused and found guilty of wife-neglect because he is always on business trips and away from home. This situation, the song continues, forced the wife to become entirely dependent on the servant for help in domestic chores and errands, and later led to the unfortunate situation. The female character is cast as victim and gets the sympathy of the judges, the Resistance Council. Nevertheless, when it comes to announcing the moral of the story—the reason for the existence of the song—, a male voice from the mediating committee who is also part of the participant audience states: "Manya bwobeera n'abakazi olina kukuuma bukuumi ngembwa enkambwe" [When you have a wife, you must be brave. You must watch her like a ferocious watchdog]. The Resistance Council is supposed to be the supreme authority in the settlement of domestic disputes. However, when it declares the woman's victory, the husband rejects the verdict, becomes more enraged, and initiates a fight, intent on killing Kayanda. The wife is left with an empty victory and an uncertain future as the performance ends in a chaotic fight. The initial appearance of transcendence of the punitive plot for a female trickster is confirmed. The woman is once again the humiliated trickster, disempowered and frozen in her tracks.

There are two versions of Kayanda in the very first videotape of radio songs ever to hit the commercial market, in 1993. Both versions faithfully reproduce the song portions of the radio narrative. However, a comparison of the two versions shows that most of the dialogue by the participant audience is improvised since it varies in the two versions. Yet this variation does not detract from the spirit and message of the song. Growing up in the 50s and 60s, I witnessed the wave of distressed refugees from Burundi and Rwanda who flocked into Buganda villages looking for work. I witnessed the creation of a class below the existing peasant class in what was then the Buganda kingdom. The 1992 appearance of Kayanda as the title of a Luganda song in which a character from that era secretly becomes the master of his master's household fascinated me. First, I figured that this representation might reflect, in artistic form, that which to a great extent has happened in real life. Immigrant workers more freely inter-marry among the Baganda. When the video version came out, I was shocked at the physical portrayal of Kayanda. In both versions, Kayanda loomed over the screen as the stereotypical unkempt fieldworker, dressed in tattered, dirty clothes. It was a portrait of a truly marginal character wearing a dirty wig. These visual effects do problematize the interpretation of the transition from radio song to videotape.

Despite these external elements, Kayanda scores a moral victory at the end of the story. When an order expelling him from the village is signed by the Resistance Council chair, the wife protects him, threatening to leave if Kayanda leaves. Nevertheless, the interpretation of his behavior and treatment by the participating audience on the performance stage remains problematic. The video representation of Kayanda leaves one wondering whether or not his image is simply a symbol exploited by the artist to comment on men's perceived need to retain control over wives.

The second most important transformation in meaning as Kayanda moves from radio to video occurs visually when we see two of the Resistance-Council women dressed in army trousers and yellow civilian blouses. These two very strong women keep order on the stage, prevent imminent fights, and actually act as bumpers between Mukaabya, the enraged husband, and the two accused persons. In the most dramatic version of the song, one of the women goes backstage to get Kayanda when he is summoned onto the stage. She re-emerges carrying the pathetic and frightened Kayanda in her arms and dumps him on the stage. Here, again, the army trousers symbolize women's role as former participants in the guerrilla war (see Karagwa Byanyima 1992:129-142 and The 6th of February, Kampala: Vol.6 No.3 March 1992). The roles these women play on stage would traditionally have been given to men. The tribute to these women as peace makers is, however, undermined by the chaotic ending of the song.

In the final analysis, this video drama opens challenges for the interpretation of meanings in the choreography of stage production. The Kayanda song successfully reinscribes its text in orality with one final gesture from Kayanda. When the non-literate Kayanda is asked to sign the document expelling him from the village, he is confused by the Luganda term "Ssaako omukono" [put your hand here]. He attempts to actually put his whole arm on the page presented for his signature. When it is determined that he can neither read nor write, he is requested to print his thumb, in lieu of the written sign that he does not comprehend. Does this not raise the question whether the written word is an appropriate tool for governing people for whom the written word is alien?

The most complex radio songs, recorded on video so far, focus simultaneously on the construction of nation and gender in contemporary post-guerrilla-war Uganda. Many songs focus on the moral decay or rehabilitation of the nation while others are concerned with educational songs about AIDS. This latter category of video presentation tends to be a simple, faithful reproduction of the radio song and appears to utilize beautiful landscapes as background, for aesthetic rather than symbolic purposes. As the volume of videotaped songs grows, critics will be in a better position to determine the overall nature of the transfer of meanings from audio to video media, as well as in the overall process of migratory texts within the oral narrative tradition.


Byanyima, Karagwa W. 1992. Women in Political Struggle in Uganda. In Women Transforming Politics, ed. Jill M. Bystydzienski, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 129-142.

Doane, A. N. XXXX. Oral Texts, Intertexts, and Intratexts: Editing Old English. In Influence and Intertextuality in Literary History, eds. Jay Clayton and Eric Rothstein. Pp. 75-113.

Goody, Jack. 1987. The interface between the Written and the Oral. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mugambi, Nabasuta Helen. 1994. Intersections: Gender, Orality, Text, and Female Space in Contemporary Kiganda Radio Songs" Research in African Literature Forthcoming Fall 1994.

The 6th of February. Kampala: Vol.6 No.3 March.

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