Tuning the Kingdom

Tuning the Kingdom

Kawuugulu Musical Performance, Politics, and Storytelling in Buganda

Damascus Kafumbe


University of Rochester Press



Examines how the Kawuugulu Clan-Royal Musical Ensemble uses musical performance and storytelling to manage, structure, model, and legitimize power relations among the Baganda people of south-central Uganda.
Tuning the Kingdom draws on oral and written accounts, archival research, and musical analysis to examine how the Kawuugulu Clan-Royal Musical Ensemble of the Kingdom of Buganda (arguably the kingdom's oldest and longest-surviving performance ensemble) has historically managed, structured, modeled, and legitimized power relations among the Baganda people of south-central Uganda. Damascus Kafumbe argues that the ensemble sustains a complex sociopolitical hierarchy, interweaving and maintaining a delicate balance between kin and clan ties and royal prerogatives through musical performance and storytelling that integrates human and nonhuman stories. He describes this phenomenon as "tuning the kingdom," and he compares it to the process of tensioning or stretching Kiganda drums, which are always moving in and out of tune. Even as Kawuugulu continues to adapt to the rapidly changing world around it, Tuning the Kingdom documents how Kawuugulu has historically articulated and embodied principles of the three inextricably related domains that serve as the backbone of Kiganda politics: kinship, clanship, and kingship.

Damascus Kafumbe is Assistant Professor of Music at Middlebury College.


25 colour, 20 line illustrations
180 pages
9x6 in
Eastman/Rochester Studies Ethnomusicology
Hardback, 9781580469043, May 2018
eBook, 9781787442481, May 2018
University of Rochester Press
BISAC MUS015000, SOC011000, HIS001020
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Table of Contents

The Kawuugulu Clan-Royal Music and Dance Ensemble
Kawuugulu and Intra-Clan Politics
Kawuugulu and Royal Politics
Kawuugulu and Inter-Clan Politics
Conclusion: A Performative Constitution


"There is no other book I know that does the work of this one. It is beautiful, rich in ethnographic materials, and an important intervention in the contemporary study of African music-making and meanings." --Carol Muller, University of Pennsylvania

"A monumental contribution to the undocumented history and performative expression of the Baganda's kinship, clanship, and kingship institutions, Tuning the Kingdom unveils a narrative of the Kiganda monarchy as it is archived in the performance practice and storytelling of Kawuugulu music and dance. The author's maternal ties to the clan in charge of the ensemble offer him access to privileged knowledge that would be inaccessible to any other scholar. This book exemplifies how ethnomusicology can help form a springboard upon which to retrieve hidden knowledge of a culture." --Sylvia A. Nannyonga-Tamusuza, author of Baakisimba: Gender in the Music and Dance of the Baganda People of Uganda

"This is an important book. The Kawuugulu royal drums of the Buganda kingdom of Uganda carry great significance not only within the kingdom, but also for the fields of ethnomusicology and African studies. Any African court tradition that has survived into the twenty-first century merits this kind of scholarly documentation and investigation. This royal drum tradition is especially significant, given its age (at least several centuries), its role in Baganda society, and the fact that it survived political suppression from 1966-93. The author has done an immaculate job in documenting and analyzing the history and importance of the tradition within Baganda social life." --Eric Charry, Wesleyan University

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