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Okusinza mu Luganda #5: music to move the soul

by Shanon Shah

Michaiah Mukiibi at St John's Waterloo (courtesy of Michaiah Mukiibi)

The nationwide lockdown that started at the end of March 2020 meant that the St John’s congregation was suddenly deprived of the talented Michaiah Mukiibi’s weekly flourishes at the organ during the Sunday service. Often, Michaiah would also make his way downstairs to the grand piano as a special treat, accompanying the post-Communion hymns and Taize chants with his own improvised arrangements. Michaiah has also premiered his own settings and compositions at services for both St John’s and Okusinza mu Luganda (Worship in Luganda).

Despite several difficulties resulting from the coronavirus-related lockdown, Michaiah managed to conduct an email interview with Shanon Shah, in which they discussed Michaiah’s musical journey from Uganda to the UK. We hope you enjoy this continuing series of interviews as part of the Waterloo Festival’s curtain-raising for Okusinza mu Luganda’s upcoming celebrations of its 30th anniversary.

Michaiah and family (picture courtesy of Stephen Kafeero)

SS: What are the memories that stand out from your childhood?

MM: I was born and raised in Uganda. As a child, I remember being allowed to practice on the church harmonium by the time I was in primary three or four.

SS: What stories did you hear when you were growing up that you cherish until today?

MM: I remember being told about the first pipe organ in Uganda which was at Namirembe Cathedral in Kampala City. At school we used to read about the person who brought that organ to Uganda and the way he used to play it while directing the choir. This was Reverend John Murray Duncan. He came to Uganda in 1927 and died in 1936 at Mengo Hospital after a short illness. Within that short time of nine years, he had managed to raise funds, get a good pipe organ and develop a proper Cathedral Choir of Baganda singers as well as accompanists at Namirembe Hill. My father was one of those choristers at the time where he acquired good keyboard skills from his master.

SS: What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your life?

MM: When I joined the Cathedral choir, I started getting proper piano lessons and eventually organ lessons from the music director and his assistant. The music director was trained by Rev. J.M. Duncan and he was exceptionally good. I remember listening to his playing with so much ease, however fast the music was. He died at Mulago Hospital in 1980. His assistant, who was my real tutor, Mr Michael Kalule, was shot and killed while at work. This was my biggest challenge at that time in my life as we had to take over the responsibility of leading the Cathedral Choirs with my colleagues.

Michaiah and his wife Joyce (picture courtesy of Stephen Kafeero)

SS: What brought you to Okusinza?

MM: When I came to London, I joined the Okusinza Mu Luganda mainly because most Anglican Ugandans were congregating there and afterwards became more involved in music matters. As the congregation moved to St John’s, we felt at home with a warm welcome from churchwardens like the late Rosa Wright who used to sit in our long Luganda services and provided tea afterwards.

Picture courtesy of Stephen Kafeero

I for one decided to get more involved by playing the organ at St John’s after being approached by the choirmaster of Okusinza choir, Mr Amos Kaggwa, and three members of St John’s Church – Dr Sam Banyikidde, Mr Dan Mukasa and Rev Dr Godfrey Kaziro – who told me that there was such need for the service. Sadly, Mr Kaggwa returned to Uganda after nearly 40 years in exile.

Okusinza choir in action with conductor Samuel Kimuli

SS: What are your hopes for Okusinza?

MM: I hope the Okusinza church, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, may keep growing in partnership with St John’s Waterloo for many years to come.

Next – Sara Kwagala relates her experiences with youth worship and Sunday school at Okusinza.

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