Ugandan performer shares culture with campus and community


Sam Summers

Ugandan artist Haruna Walusimbi (right) performs with world music and percussion professor Mark Stone at the Pontiac Creative Arts Center on Saturday, Nov. 2.

For the past four years, Haruna Walusimbi and Mark Stone have partnered to share the creative aspects of Ugandan culture within Oakland University and the surrounding community.

Walusimbi is a celebrated Ugandan artist. He grew up immersing himself in the diverse cultures of rural Uganda. While attending Makerere University in his home country over 20 years ago, he met rotary scholar Mark Stone, who would eventually become an associate professor of world music and percussion at OU.

The two connected because of their interest in immersing themselves in each Ugandan community and understanding each style of music, reaching beyond the surface.

“What I liked most about [Stone] was that he wanted to reach the source of this music … so he could understand and conceptualize the context in which it is performed,” Walusimbi said.

While at the university, Walusimbi shared his upbringing with Stone. Now the professor is bringing his experience from Uganda back home to add significance to the classes he’s taught for two decades on Ugandan percussion and dance.

“The students were doing such a great job with the music from Uganda that I wanted them to have the opportunity to meet a great artist from Uganda, and have the opportunity to work with Haruna,” Stone said.

Walusimbi gives credit to his upbringing for helping him fall into a teaching role.

“I must say I’m not a trained teacher, but I’m a natural teacher because back home, we learn by imitation,” Walusimbi said. “We learn by observation. I’ve been a performer since my childhood, and I was lucky that in the rural setting, there are musicians in almost every village, so you get exposed to musicians … Uganda is very diverse, culturally and linguistically, but what makes me different is that I was exposed to a lot of ethnic groupings. I learned, I appreciated and I kind of took over their cultural treasures.”

The Ugandan performer became close to Stone because of their shared, intense interest in seeking deeper meaning behind the songs and dances of the rural communities in Uganda.

This interest has not only been brought to Oakland’s community in Pontiac during workshops and concerts held at the Pontiac Creative Arts Center this past weekend, but also to students in Stone’s classroom.

Rockim Williamson, a creative writing sophomore at OU, is a student in a world music class taught by Stone and guided by Walusimbi. He described how authentic cultural immersion in the classroom has broadened his views of the world, even beyond the realm of music.

“Me being a musician, it’s allowed me to think more creatively and think of other things that I could take away, and overall it’s just a lot of fun,” Williamson said. “It’s allowed me to be more open-minded. Not everywhere is like where you’re from.”

To see Walusimbi perform music from East Africa, visit Varner Recital Hall on Nov. 22. More information can be found on OU’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance website.