UGANDA: Louis Armstrong – What a wonderful world WHEN GEN. IDDI AMIN…
When the trumpet wizard made his mark on Uganda
Sunday December 11 2011 Advertisement By Bamuturaki Musinguzi During his famous second tour of Africa 51 years ago, the great jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong, used his visit to Uganda to hit at the apartheid regime over a planned performance for whites only in South Africa.
DAILY MONITOR published on December 11, 2011
|Armstrong and the All Stars band performing|
During his famous second tour of Africa 51 years ago, the great jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong, used his visit to Uganda to hit at the apartheid regime over a planned performance for whites only in South Africa.
The good will tour with his All-Stars, took him to the Congo Republic, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya, where he was given wild receptions. He came to Uganda under the sponsorship of the US Department of State’s cultural exchange programme in cooperation with the American National Theatre and Academy and Pepsi Cola.
There were conflicting reports earlier that year (1960) that Armstrong alas “Satchmo” had been refused permission to perform in South Africa, and another that he had refused to play to segregated audiences.
According to Uganda Argus newspaper of November 1, 1960, his personal physician, Dr Alexander Schiff said, “We never asked South Africa for a visa, so there was no question of our being refused one. We never intended to go there and we signed no contracts. As far as we are concerned, South Africa does not exist. Maybe one day when they become human beings, we will go there, but not while the present people are in power.”
“We are not afraid to go anywhere,” Armstrong himself said. “Maybe one day when the grievances have been straightened out we will get to South Africa.”
However, Floyd Levin gives a different account of the Armstrong – South African relationship in his book, “Classic Jazz: A Personal View of the Music and the Musicians.” “In 1960, three years after his aborted trip to the Soviet Union, Armstrong completed a series of African concerts… The All-Stars attracted overflow audiences in stadiums that held more than 50,000 people.
The itinerary included several dates in South Africa, but the apartheid regime banned the group at the last minute because Armstrong refused to play to segregated audiences. The South Africans also objected to the group’s racial mixture – the All-Stars included black, white and Hawaiian members,” Levin writes.
According to Uganda Argus, November 1, 1960, Satchmo laughingly denied a suggestion that he had had an operation to leave him with the Armstrong trademark – that famous gravel voice. He traced its origins back to his day as a youth in New Orleans.
“All the kids used to play at these all-night shows where there was plenty of beer, plenty of whisky,” he said. “The climate was just like Africa and a kid didn’t get his proper rest, so when my voice broke – this is the way it ended up. When I was 13, I was singing tenor – look at me now!”
In its October 31, 1960, edition, Uganda Argus reported that Armstrong the previous evening at Entebbe Airport yesterday evening from the Congo. He was 24 hours behind schedule, having been delayed in Leopoldville because of difficulty in getting an aircraft to Uganda.
There was a crowd there to watch the jazz trumpeter’s arrival with his All-Star Band. They included members of two Uganda dance bands – Kampala City Six and Bagatelle Night Club who performed for the visitors. Satchmo had a word of praise for the local bands. “They really swung that Mack the Knife,” was his parting comment.
The band leader of the former Kampala City Six, Israel Magembe, recalls, “We welcomed him at Entebbe Airport and played some of his popular songs back then. I can’t remember the particular songs, because it is a long time ago.”
The 88-year-old Magembe told Life at his home in Nakasaja, Gayaza, “Very many people turned up for Armstrong’s shows because they loved him and we played many of his popular hits in the night clubs, so they wanted to watch him perform live.”
Satchmo was accompanied by his wife, Lucille. The group included instrumentalists, Barney Bigard (clarinet) and Mort Herbert (bass), William Billy Kyle (piano), Trummy Young (trombone), Danny Barcelona (drums) and vocalist Velma Middleton.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but man, when us cats get together, you know what happens,” Armstrong told journalists. In Kampala, Armstrong gave two concerts at Nakivubo War Memorial Stadium. The first was on the night of October 31, 1960, and the second held on November 2, 1960, which was in response to public demand.
Uganda Argus reported on November 2, 1960, that nobody rolled in the aisles; it might have been a Sunday school convention in Nakivubo Stadium on October 31, when 6,000 people heard Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars give their first concert in Kampala. But there was no mistaking the quality of the reception, Armstrong’s showmanship and the music “went over big.”
“…In Kampala they found an audience they enjoyed playing to. Pianist William Kyle put it this way: ‘For the first time we were able to hear ourselves play,’” Uganda Argus added.
The audience were (was) able to hear them too, right back from the bandstand in the centre of the football pitch to the back of the raised stands, with the aid of a very efficient loudspeaker system. “And while the fraction of initiates might have heard finer playing from this group, the rest knew they were listening to one of the greatest bands ever,” Uganda Argus went on.
“They were spellbound by Satchmo’s outstretched finger, by the power of the old gravel voice and by some trumpeting which by its attack and invention belied the impression from some recent records that Louis was over the top. True, he saved himself more than he might have a few years back – he has been blowing for 48 of his 60 years.”
“The total effect was of outstandingly professional production but only too short,” Uganda Argus reported. The organisers of the concert and the stadium management contributed their share by very efficient crowd arrangements and car parking.
“After Armstrong had been introduced to us on stage, we went wild with cheers of joy, excitement and applause. What was amazing was that after his vocals he would go on to blow his trumpet with ease,” Benon Mayambala said.
Mayambala, who attended the first show as 16-year-old teen then, adds, “While on stage, he would dance with one foot and we went crazy because of his strokes. The bad thing was that we were not allowed to dance on the pitch in Nakivubo Stadium – we just watched him play. We really enjoyed and did not want him to end.”
Some Ugandans attended the concerts by collecting Pepsi-Cola tops, for example, one needed 30 Pepsi tops for a Shs15 ticket or five Pepsi tops for a Shs2 ticket. The organisers allocated 2,500 tickets to the public against Pepsi-Cola tops. The band leader of Afrigo band, Moses Matovu who was 15-years-old then and one of the few to get the lucky tickets recalls: “The atmosphere was good and the people very eager to watch the trumpet wizard.”
Armstrong had earlier toured Africa in 1956 and performed with E.T. Mensah of Ghana in Accra before enormous crowds and at Mensah’s own club, the Paramount Night Club.
Armstrong was given a welcome of tribal dances, tom-tom bands, and a song specially composed in his honour, when he arrived to give an open concert in Leopoldville in Congo Republic on October 28, 1960. He played to more than 40,000 in Accra and Leopoldville. A crowd of about 200 greeted him as he landed from the Brazzaville ferry, escorted by a jeep-load of Ghanaian U.N. troops.
The jazz musician spoke enthusiastically of his second tour of Africa in 1960: “I’ve liked the trip right from the first day,” he said. “It’s always been my ambition to tour Africa – being of somewhat African descent!” What happened was that dances were staged in his honour, 30,000 people packed an open-air concert and…“they carried him into the stadium for his concert on a sedan chair – just like a real king,” Schiff said.
Levin writes, “The African tour included some of Armstrong’s most inspiring performances and his most poignant interactions with fans. When the All-Stars returned to the United States, Barney Bigard gave me a carton full of mementos. “When we got off the plane in the Belgian Congo, thousands were waiting for us,” he said. “They lifted Louis on a large canvas throne and carried him through the streets to the stadium shouting, ‘Satchmo!’ ‘Satchmo!’ It was hotter’n hell, and all the concerts were outdoors – but they were always jam-packed.””
“Louis actually stopped a war,” Levin adds. “At one place, we arrived during a civil uprising. Opposing factions halted their fighting to meet us at the ferry landing.
They all had rifles over their shoulders, but sat together listening to the concert.
After we left, the shooting resumed.” By any measure, Louis Armstrong’s tour of Africa was a huge diplomatic success. More than two million Africans enjoyed the great trumpeter’s music and homespun charm. Photos of him surrounded by throngs of smiling Africans appeared in newspapers around the world.”