Come one, come all: African Music Ensemble

Carissa Bowlin

Kent State African Ensemble director Kazadi wa Mukuna is expanding Kent State’s cultural variety as he restarts the ensemble next fall.

The ensemble has a rich history built from hard work, dedication and passion for the art of African music and dance. In the past, the ensemble toured all over Ohio and beyond.

An album was then released by the group in 1992 called “Mchangamyiko wa Muziki wa ki Afrika,” which translates to Medley of African Music.

Many of the people in the group who recorded this medley had already graduated. Mukuna had no trouble getting the committed group to come back for an 11-hour recording session.

“The group was so interested — one guy drove from Florida, another from Louisville and many from all over Ohio,” Mukuna said. “It was very meaningful to me and the people who participated.”

It took a great deal of work and some time for the group to get to the point of this recording. The group gelled so well that the South African selection “Gwabi gwabi” only took one take.

The tracks are based on rhythm and soul.

Mukuna is looking forward to getting another group to this point. He knows what it takes, and he is willing to work at that level.

“Listening is how you learn,” Mukuna said. “The recorded CD can serve as a text book. First, the repertoire needs to be put in the new members’ heads. I’ll let them get comfortable with them before I start punching rhythm and get them to the point of singing and dancing at the same time.”

Mukuna has turned down five requests for performances because he is not willing to perform when he is unprepared.

“It’s not that the songs are difficult,” Mukuna said. “It’s a matter of working fast to learn the songs, which is a matter of concentration.”

The simplicity of the songs is a real advantage for those interested in getting involved in a music ensemble with no prior music experience, he said.

“There are no notes, no musical reading. Everything is done by rote,” Mukuna said. “Just come as you are. We’ll teach you everything.”

Students shouldn’t be nervous to give this kind of learning a shot because it’s not nearly as complicated as a lot of people think, he said.

“Previous musical experience is not needed,” future member Eric Murray said. “As an appropriate Zimbabwean proverb states, ‘If you can speak, you can sing. If you can walk, you can dance.’”

Although the group adheres to many African traditions from its authentic costumes to much of the music and dance, Mukuna makes the group special when compared to any other African ensemble in the country as he also includes popular urban music of Africa in the ensemble’s repertoire. This means that along with the traditional drums, bells and rattles, there are also western instruments like guitars, trumpets and saxophones.

“You learn to sing and play drums and percussion in the traditional African style,” Murray said. “The KSU African ensemble also performs modern styles of African music, a rarity for African ensembles throughout the country.”

Students are excited for the group to get back into the groove. Many graduate students are already signed up, and the undergraduates are interested as well.

“I think it’s very important that people see other culture’s display of celebration,” said Carrianne Mance, chorale member.

Students can use the course to fill elective requirements. Because it is only one credit hour, it can be taken as many times as students desire.

For more information, contact Mukuna at (330) 672-3041 or [email protected].

Contact on-campus entertainment reporter Carissa Bowlin at [email protected].