Field Recordings: The music of Kajo Keji, South Sudan

by andrewcagle

From 2011 to 2012, I produced films for Seed Effect microfinance in South Sudan. Over the course of my year there, I was able capture some wonderful music on video. I was going through my archives recently and decided to compile the songs I came across into one track. Below is a brief description of each song and where it was recorded.

*All of the music is in Bari/Kuku, Dinka, Lugbara, or Swahili. I may have some full translations later on.

1. Kigwo Trading Post

This song was recorded at night in a rural area called Kigwo Boma. I had accompanied a group to the Nile river to scout a potential route for a road project connecting Kajo Keji with Nimule in Eastern Equatoria. After our surveying trek, our group along with the local villagers shared a goat and some good music.

2. Kalawa Baptism

This song was recorded while filming a baptism in a village called Kalawa. We walked from the mango tree where church was held to the closest body of water, a small muddy pond, nestled among some rocks. Baptisms are a group event full of celebration and song. You can hear my friend Sam giving the baptism at the end.

3. SPLA War Song

This is part of a call and response song sung by the SPLA troops during an interlude in the July 9, 2011 independence day celebration in Kajo Keji. I wish I had captured more of the song. The soldiers clapped their rifles while a few ranking NCO’s danced and led the song. There’s something about this moment that gives me chills when I hear it. All of the music from independence day is this way. The songs aren’t just music, but expressions of joy freely expressed after decades of war and exile.

4. Yumbe Delegation, Uganda

Since Kajo Keji is located in the southern part of Central Equatoria, the Kuku people share a connection to northern Uganda where they spent years as refugees from the Sudanese civil war. Conversely, Kajo Keji hosted refugees from northern Uganda during the days of LRA terrorism. This song was recorded on the back of a small lorry as it carried Ugandans from West Nile, Yumbe District to independence day celebrations in Kajo Keji.

5. Schoolchildren, Kajo Keji

This first song performed by young, local pupils was quite a riot at the independence day celebration. This group displayed a confidence, natural ability for performance and stage presence that I had never seen from a group of middle school aged children. They went so far as to drag local officials from the VIP stands out onto the parade grounds to dance.

6. Yumbe Delegation, Uganda

This second song from the Yumbe group was performed during the official celebration. The song is an old Islamic tune from the West Nile region. West Nile is one of the areas in Uganda with an historic Muslim minority.

7. Schoolchildren, Kajo Keji

This is perhaps my favorite song from independence day. I only wish I had an uncut full version. This group of schoolgirls recount the history of South Sudan in their struggle for freedom. They thank the SPLA, and praise the independence referendum. They go through a list of East African nations, thanking each for hosting South Sudan’s refugees. At the mention of Uganda, they repeat their line of thanks to an eruption of applause. Lastly, they end on a note imploring good governance from the leaders of their new nation. This song had the whole parade grounds on their feet. Individuals, in a traditional sign of appreciation and commendation, got up and placed South Sudanese pounds in the pockets of the performers.

8. Tinate Yesu

This name of this song, also the main chorus line, translates as “Thank you Jesus” in Kuku. This was recorded at Kajo Keji Baptist Church, where I spent most of my Sundays in South Sudan. This song is one that transports me back in time to a place full of people I love, and awakens some cherished memories. I am still waiting for the next Sunday I will be able to enjoy inside of those walls.