• Denholm Hewlett

[Music/Culture] Ennanga Vision

Experience the psychedelic East African universe of ENNANGA VISION. Deconstructed royal-court music from the forgotten kingdoms of Uganda. The experimental fusion sounds of Jesse Hackett, Otim Alpha and Albert Bissaso Ssempeke (the 2nd).

This multi-cultural audiovisual project was masterminded by UK producer Jesse Hackett, (Teeth Agency, Metal Preyers, Owiny Sigoma). Hackett recorded this remarkable album over the course of three separate trips to Kampala, Uganda, which happened between 2014 - 2016, facilitated via Nyege Nyege Tapes and released on Sound Way Record in 2017. The project features 13 unique experimental mutations of inventive and highly original Ugandan electro-pop. The traditional royal court musical styles of Uganda transformed through the electronic fizz of London.

Albert Bissaso Ssempeke, (the 2nd)

"Reconstructed electronic Larakaraka Acholi wedding music, fluorescent psychedelic African space-pop, crunchy 8-bit drum machines and a 10-foot long monster xylophone are just a few of the sounds of Ennanga Vision. This spectrum of vibrant sound is exemplified by the lead single, "Like A Football".

Albert Bissaso Ssempeke, (the 2nd), was Hackett's key musical collaborator on the Ennanga Vision. Albert is an extremely gifted musician and teacher with a profound knowledge of royal court music of Bugandan kingdoms. A highly revered multi-instrumentalist and traditional singer known for his brand of Baganda Music. He was a royal court musician to the Kabaka of Buganda, potentially Mutesa II. Albert's vast repertoire makes him a truly accomplished and versatile musician who can plays various instruments, including the ancient 1-string Endingidi Fiddle (African Violin), the Endere flute, the lyre, drums, the 8-string Kiganda harp and the 10-foot long Amandina Xylophone. Listen to the hypnotic rhythms of KILLING GHOSTS, with samples of President Yoweri Museveni talking about how to destroy the ghosts who dwell and haunt the ruins of abandoned homes. Albert features on this track playing the Xylophone and Endingidi Fiddle.

At age 11, Albert's father began playing the Endere flute. He was tutored by the royal flautists and rose through the ranks as a court musician. After the kingdom of Buganda was dissolved by Milton Obote, royal music declined because many refused to play it. The reign of Idi Amin led to its further decline when many people fled. By the 1980s, most people had either forgotten royal music or died, which left Albert as one of the last royal musicians, making him of interest to ethnomusicologists. Albert's father's album "Ssempeke!" is his music from the pre-independence era of Buganda.

An album by Albert Bissaso Ssempeke the 1st - (the father of Albert the 2nd, who features on Ennanga)

Albert (the 2nd) provided his striking vocals and unique instrumentation on Ennanga Vision, his native Bugandan sounds were transformed and digitally re-imagined through Hackett's idiosyncratic brand of hypnotising electronic experimentation, infusing crunchy and fizzy polyrhythmic drums loops with bubbling 8-bit bass-line grooves to create a unique form of heavily distorted and electrifying African technicolour dream-pop madness.

Albert (the 2nd) enlisted the musical contributions of James Ochieng, an old school master of the 1-string Fiddle whose skills are unmatched, and Geoffrey Opinyo Twongweno, a legendary Acholitronix singing pioneer. Jesse got his Owiny Sigoma band member Tom Skinner to play drums. All of these talented musicians made fantastic contributions to the project.

The most outstanding Ugandan musician enlisted to contribute on Ennanga Vision was Otim Alpha, the king of Acholitronix, a legendary electro acholi wedding singer and multi-instrumentalist from Northern Uganda. Alpha featured vocals on Otim's War and Happy Birthday Wonder. This was when Jesse and Alpha met for the first time and became friends, a strong creative partnership blossomed and resulted in a second collaboration between the duo years later with METAL PREYERS (2020).

"Otim just rolled up to the studio on the back of a motorbike with his Adungu harp gripped in his hand, not even wrapped up in a case or anything. He was dressed in some crazy multicoloured traditional acholi shirts and leather bowling shoes. When we first met, he gave me a big hug, we exchanged names and then got straight into the studio, he didn't waste any time in showing us what he was about. Otim immediately began radiating a warm and soulful energy, he was this lovable gentle giant, a sensitive musician who sings with an incredible voice and can play the beautiful Adungu harp like a true master, everyone was uplifted by Alpha's presence. Within a very short amount of time I knew that Otim was a truly magical person. He's so good in the studio, he worked me pretty hard actually! We became friend's really quickly and the first song we recorded was "Otim's War" ~ Jesse Hackett

OTIM'S WAR - A BATTLE CRY - RALLY THE TROOPS OF UGANDA - A pixelated tribe of haunted Acholi gather for Alpha's War...

Including the video for OTIM'S WAR, Jesse and the Nyege Nyege Tapes crew directed a series of hallucinogenic visuals to accompany the Ennanga Vision album. Jesse told us about his experiences trying to manifest these ambitious and enigmatic psychedelic audiovisual explorations with the help of the legendary independent Ugandan film crew, Wakaliwood.

"I was invited to do an artist residency by a group of people based in Kampala who run a film school. Having expressed an interest in trying to amass as much visual material as possible to coincide with the Ennanga Vision album release, a hook up with legendary independent film company Wakaliwood was suggested. We turned up at their HQ without any real plan for a narrative and were met warmly by film director Isaac Nabwana and his crew. This incredible hub of creativity was built up using very little resources - machine guns, masks, a helicopter and bizarre costumes including a size 25 pair of rubber wellies and gas masks....." ~ Jesse Hackett

"It was suggested by Issac that we tried doing a classic Wakaliwood "cannibal scene" where I would be chased, captured and eaten....well, I couldn't back down!! In the exhausting heat I ended up being smothered in pigs' intestines from the local butchers and squirted in fake blood. I guess the dark, moody, choppy, techno feel of the piece of music kind of suited this bizarre scenario so...we just went with it. And now, I have been officially inducted into the Wakaliwood 'Hall of Fame', being one of a select group of travellers who have 'died' on set - and this footage will no doubt be reappearing in one of their many zombie films." ~ Jesse Hackett

The final video and song from the album is a traditional electro acholi style birthday song dedicated to Jesse's daughter, Wonder, who had just celebrated her third birthday before Jesse had left London for Kampala. As Otim and Jesse started getting to know one another in the Nyege Nyege studios, they soon opened up and began talking about their children. Jesse confessed that he was missing his daughter, so Otim jumped up and decided that they should record a Ugandan birthday song for her! This charming video is a bi-lingual love letter from a father to his daughter.

To learn more about Albert Bissasso Ssempeke (the 1st) and traditional Ugandan music culture, you can watch this incredible documentary shot in 1995 which chronicles the royal court music of Buganda. There is so much joy and inspiration to be taken from these African musical masters.


~ Psychic Garden