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Janzi: Good for Africa, Good for the World

James Ssewakiryanga Junior, 31, better known as Ssewa Ssewa is a Ugandan musician, and the inventor of a musical instrument named Janzi .

One of the beauties of being an African is to identify with the nostalgic tune of sensation, sexuality, inspiration, or the spirituality the tune our hides, idiophones or aerophones give when blown ,pluck or beaten.

In the same vein, the alluring tune of Janzi, an instrument made in Africa,by an African, for Africa, and the world would definitely propel the hearts of music lovers and create a thirst in an indifferent mind to want more.

In this interview with Ssewa Ssewa, Janzi creator, our conversation hovers around the launch of Janzi, it’s acceptance and the future of this instrument on a global scale.

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Ssewa Ssewa, Janzi, BBC

Recently, you got to talk about Janzi with the British Broadcasting Co-oorporation, (BBC), what was the experience like?

Its was a great experience sharing my story with BBC about how I started making Janzi and I am happy they have shared it with the world, hopefully the instrument can get global attention

The design, what inspired the idea, because I’m sure there are other instruments in Uganda, “Adoro” for example, if I got that right?

The design was inspired by the Adungu instrument commonly tuned in a Pentatonic Scale or One Major Scale played by the Alur people from Northern Ugandan. back in 2014 at Copenhagen airport with a Friend who had an Adungu and we were refused to have the instrument on board because it had Sharp nails as tuning pegs and was considered a security threat, it was from this moment that I thought about working on improving instruments from my home land, after working on my first Adungu in 2015, I thought of challenging myself and designed a 22 string 2 scaled instrument JANZI tuned in a Diatonic scale on the left and Pentatonic Scale on the right respectively, I was a granted a UTILITY MODEL CERTIFICATE patented as an instrument with two musical scales and the instrument was officially launched in Uganda and hoping to further Launch it across the world.

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In your interview, you said the Janzi can do all the piano can do even better, I guess this explains that?

Well the instrument is capable of doing what the Piano/keyboard does Thats how it was interpreted

(Smiles)… So you won’t say you agree to that?

Well my point is, Janzi can do what the Piano does and there’s room to discover more about the instrument.

I believe every name has its meaning. What does Janzi mean?

Janzi come from a Luganda name “Ejjanzi” which means Locust, when I found Janzi Music (Band) in 2009 I had a dream for the band to fly from one place to another, crossing boarders playing on different music stages across the world, so when I designed Janzi instrument in 2015, I chose to named it Janzi after the Band because I want to the instrument to fly from one place to another, cross borders and be introduced to music stages globally.

Do you plan on a Janzi Tour with your band; like an African tour, I mean?

If there funds, I would surely love to do a world tour with my band and perform at festivals but chances are that I might have to travel a lot more alone with the instrument for workshops, collaboration, acoustic performances and possible recordings with other musician African Tour sounds great if we can find a booking agent or record label to organize a tour for Janzi band, the band has been around now 10years and we are surely ready if the chance comes.

In one word, if it’s possible, how do you want people to think of Janzi in say 3years time?

Iconic Well I will be happy to see how the world will have interpreted the instrument after 3 years and hopefully the world will be playing Janzi

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How receptive is Uganda towards Janzi?

Uganda has responded well to the Janzi instrument, we had a full house attendance at the Janzi Launch with Embassies, UN, European Union, Government and Ugandans all showing up, but i still have to teach them more and so the world. Ugandan instruments are not that much valued as we can all witness that they don’t feature much in Ugandan music which i would like to change also try to bring Janzi and other Ugandan instrument to global music stagesI play Ugandan instruments like, Janzi, Adungu, Akogo, Endongo, Endingidi, Amadinda, Engoma

Is there any way the Janzi reflects the Ugandan culture, in relationship to her arts and music?

The instrument is in the shape of a legendary instrument, and Janzi is an additional to the already existing instruments and a contribution to culture and the entire global music industry as a whole.Yes legendary because the Adungu has been around for centuries but the world will soon learn that the Adungu and Janzi are two different instruments in terms of Tunings, Playing technic and sound. Like I mentioned, the Adungu is tuned in one scale and Janzi is tuned in two different musical scales and played at the same time which makes Janzi a unique instrument. And Exposure will of the instrument on global music stages will teach the Janzi difference

In your opinion, what’s the perspective about the African culture, its art and destination using Uganda as an example?

I think South and West Africa have dominated music on so many global stages and I think East Africa is still Virgin, Uganda specifically has so much music, Instruments and Cultures to share with the world. The world knows more about instruments like Kora, Ngoni, Mbira, Kalimba, Balafons, Djembe, Talking Drum and one of my objectives is to introduce Ugandan/East African Cultures and our musical instruments along with rest of Africa for Ugandan instruments to also contribute to global sounds.

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Seye Fakinlede

Seye is a writer and a journalist, who is intrigued about documenting Africa's arts, destinations and culture.

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