In Summary
  • Elizabeth Namale of Salama had, at the peak of her career, been a top-flight vocalist with the Buganda royal orchestras.
  • Her voice was readily recognisable all over the region.
  • What I particularly liked about Namale was the air of quiet tranquillity about her, which was reflected in the perfectly controlled pitch, volume and timbre of her voice.

One of the first things I did, in the name of scholarship, when I embarked on my research into orature in 1968, was to inherit a widow.

Now, this was not any shenzi bush widow but a royal music star who had regularly performed before two Kings: my kinsman, Daudi Chwa and his son, “King Freddie” Edward Mutesa, the first President of independent Uganda.

Elizabeth Namale of Salama had, at the peak of her career, been a top-flight vocalist with the Buganda royal orchestras and her voice was readily recognisable all over the region.

She had been one of the first Ugandans to be recorded on the “His Master’s Voice” discs and played back on their increasingly popular gramophone machines back in the 1940s. She was thus following in the footsteps of the other eminent crooner queens of the times, like the Egyptian Kulsum and our own taarab legend, Zanzibari Siti Binti Saad.

GOLDEN VOICE

What I particularly liked about Namale was the air of quiet tranquillity about her, which was reflected in the perfectly controlled pitch, volume and timbre of her voice. Indeed, when I finally got her to sing for me, her best song for me had the lyrics: saagala bayomba/nze saagala baleekaana (I hate wranglers/I loathe noisemakers).

I was, and still am, totally sold on Namale’s opinion. I hate noise, and I firmly believe that it is one of the foulest evils in the world. Noise-makers can never go to Paradise. John Milton called the home of all daemons “Pandemonium” (another name for noise).

It was, indeed, the incessant and increasing pandemonium around the places I live and work that set me nostalgically remembering my Namale and her aversion to noise. But one is never short of alerts to this evil in the East African environment, as I remember mentioning to you earlier this year. I may be wrong, but I suspect that one of the reasons for the recent assertive resistance to the “Michuki Rules” was that they included orders against noise, to which a lot of the matatu operators are addicted.

Recent medical research reports indicate that excessive noise is harmful not only to our hearing but also to our heart health and even our blood pressure. I regard this as more of a scientific endorsement of existing common sense knowledge than a new discovery.

We will not go into the details of all the health risks, injuries and damages of noise. But we all know the discomfort of close exposure to noises like the sonic booms of “woofers” and other exaggerated sound amplifications of modern electronics. If they rattle our houses to the foundations, you can imagine what they do to all the delicate organs of our bodies.

The medics should also give us data about the insomnia occasioned by the round-the-clock noises around us. Few people can sleep soundly, or at all, under the constant assault of the cacophony of all the blaring noises from advertisers, revellers and worshippers, with all their aggressive paraphernalia. You have heard of the trumpets that brought down city walls. Could the hullabaloo around us be about to bring down the walls of all our civilisation?

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