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Tu Ungane (for concert band, Grade 2, Alfred Publications)

by Scott Watson

Tu Ungane (Swahili, pronounced TOO une-GAH-nay) is a Grade 2 concert band work of mine, published by Alfred in their Challenger Series (for which I am one of four exclusive writers). It has become one of my most popular works, receiving many performances at school concerts and in honor band festivals, etc. Since it's publication in 2010 it was named a J.W. Pepper "Editor's Choice" and has become one of Alfred's best selling works at it's level. Click here to see the score and hear a recording at the J.W. Pepper website.

The title means "Let's join together" and refers both to musicians coming together to play, as well as African and Western styles merging musically. Western musical styles such as Gospel, Blues, and Jazz owe much to African influence. African music has been influenced by the West as well, fusing British military and brass band music, along with the hymns and songs of missionaries from Europe and the United States, with tribal folk elements.Sometimes this African fusion music is called "highlife."

Tu Ungane explores this musical cross-pollination by nesting an authentic Tanzanian folk song "Asali Ya Nyuki" ("Honey of Bees") between

original musical material in the style of the British-African fusion. The story of my "discovering" the tune "Asali Ya Nyuki" is actually very interesting. The year Alfred asked me to step in as one of the writers for their Challenger Series, their concert band editor, noted composer (and friend) Bob Sheldon, asked me if I could do a "world music" piece. As it turns out, the Senior Pastor at my church (Cedar Crest Bible Fellowship Church, Allentown, PA), Cliff Boone, and his family had served as missionaries in Tanzania, East Africa for 10 years. I asked Cliff if he could share some folk tunes he had encountered during his years there. Specifically, I asked him, "What would you say is the East African equivalent of "Yankee Doodle" - a well-known, children's folk song?" Shortly after that, I meet after church with his wife, Becky, and their daughter, Sarah, who were going to sing some folk songs they'd encountered. I brought along a handheld digital recorder and Becky and Sarah sang for me (in Swahili) about five tunes. I really felt like Percy Grainger or Bela Bartok doing folk music field research! Of the five, the tune I gravitated toward the most for it's melodic buoyancy was "Asali Ya Nyuki." Here's that original recording of Becky and Sarah singing the tune:

Here's the transcription of the tune that I made before creating TU UNGANE:

The Boone's shared how their family learned the song from the Sandawee people amongst whom they lived. While I don't have a translation to offer, I do know that the song is actually more like "Jesus Loves Me" than "Yankee Doodle," in that it relays how Jesus is so good He is like "Honey to Bees." Interestingly, I originally wanted to call the piece "African Spirit," but another Alfred composer (John O'Reilly I think) had already used that title so Bob asked me to come up with something else. After discussing the musical goal of the piece - the idea of African and Western styles coming together (as well as band members coming together to play - Cliff Boone helped me come up with the Swahili phrase, "tuungane." Technically, "tuungane" is ONE word, but Cliff and I agreed that it would have a stronger chance of being pronounced correctly if we Westernized it and broke it up into two separate units: TU UNGANE. Here's a translation of the lyrics of the tune, "Asali Ya Nyuki," done by Pastor Cliff Boone:

Asali ya nyuki (Honey of bees)
Taamu sana (very sweet)
Yesu ashinda asali ya nyuki. (Jesus is better than honey of bees)
Njoo uonje (come and taste)
Taamu sana (very sweet)
Yesu ashinda asali ya nyuki. (Jesus is better than honey of bees)

If you perform Tu Ungane with your ensemble, I'd love to hear your feedback about the piece. You can contact me at: drscottwatson@gmail.com