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Composite Compositions

Musician blends many styles with traditional African sounds.

November 13, 1998|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A positive side effect of the recent explosion of interest in African music has been the educational trickle-down. Music fans have become enlightened to the riches of African culture as well as the continent's legacy of strife. Many well-known African musicians now making a name on the world stage, including a Ugandan who goes by the name of Samite, have fled their native countries during times of civil war.

Samite, who comes to Ventura this week to perform in schools and also in an official concert at the Church of Religious Science on Saturday, became a refugee 16 years ago, fleeing his war-torn country. He relocated to Kenya for five years, and then to the far-flung outpost of Ithaca, N.Y., where he has been based for 11 years.

In that time, his reputation has flourished, slowly and surely. He has three albums out in the States, including last year's Silina Musango (Xenophile), the popularity of which helped secure a record deal with the Windham Hill label. He has already become an integral member of the Windham Hill family, providing tracks for a compilation and singing on the new album by Will Ackerman. Soon, he will be recording his own album.

"The music I do right now is a

composite," he said in a phone interview from New York. "I've been exposed to every kind of music. Growing up, I was exposed to traditional music from day one, through my grandfather. As I grew older, I was also exposed to Western music, from Motown to everything else. . . . I think that's one of the reasons my music is accessible to a lot of people. It covers a lot of areas.

"But the most important thing that has been pulling it has been traditional Ugandan rhythms. And then, of course, there are the rhythms I picked up when I was a refugee in Kenya."

The farther from home Samite got, the more he became rooted in Ugandan tradition.

He began to focus more on traditional instruments, including the kalimba, marimba, and the Kenyan stringed instrument called the litungu, as well as various flutes. The timing was good, in that "world music" was, by the early '90s, starting to command its own category in the music industry.

Samite also gained deeper insight into his own heritage, as both a Ugandan and a refugee, through his involvement in a new PBS documentary called "Song of the Refugee." The film, which focuses on the artist, will screen at the Oak Grove Pavilion in Ojai on Thursday, followed by a discussion with Samite.

Samite remembers the genesis of the documentary, in which he travels to countries--Liberia, Rwanda, the Ivory Coast and Uganda--where struggles have led to the creation of refugee camps for large numbers of displaced people.

Inspired by the experience, Samite has formed a foundation called "Music for Global Harmony," with the goal of taking music to people who are suffering.

BE THERE

Samite performs at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Church of Religious Science, 101 S. Laurel St., Ventura. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door; 650-9688.

The documentary "Song of the Refugee, A Journey Home," 7 p.m. Nov. 19, Oak Grove Pavilion, 220 W. Lomita Ave., Ojai. Free, by reservation only; 646-8907.

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