Music Unites Us: Babirye

Samuel Nalangira is a Ugandan songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who has lived in West Michigan for several years. He is a consummate performer, an Adungu virtuoso, and a lovely human being.

He wrote a song when his twins were born called “Babirye” (the firstborn among twins). While many of his songs are energetic opportunities for Samuel to teach audiences African dance moves, “Babirye” is a mesmerizing, tender song based on a repeated Adungu* arpeggio.

The challenge with this song is that a four-chord pattern repeats over and over with vocals floating freely on top of that foundation. I decided that the best approach would be almost minimalist–some doubling of the Adungu arpeggio, a cloud of strings, and soloists and sections of the orchestra filling in the spaces between Samuel’s vocals like a conversation. This was one of my favorite arrangements; it felt like the orchestra added depth and texture, heightening Samuel’s already beautiful song.

Pay special attention to a few moments in the performance:

4:18 The song builds slowly with muted, sustained strings and light percussion doubling. More musicians are added little by little until a final build-up to the chorus at 7:30.

8:17 The oscillating marimba pattern worked beautifully in this section.

8:42 The “Babirye” theme moves through the orchestra, building lush chords.

10:30 I like how the arrangement winds down: the full orchestra finishes, and the strings take over, followed by short a woodwind coda.

*The Adungu is a harp-like Ugandan instrument.

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