Fifteen years after he fled the country’s violence, Samite (Mulondo) returned to Uganda with a PBS television crew documenting Africa’s refugees. The 1997 trip featured a reunion with his family, including his father who never approved of his desire to become a musician.

At a memorial service for his brother, who was killed by the government 15 years earlier, Samite’s father asked him to speak. Instead of speaking, Samite started playing the flute.

“I played the flute and he cried,” Samite said in an interview with Rootsworld. “He’d never heard me play before. I went to visit him the following weekend and he says, ‘Did you bring that thing with you?’ He sent a driver to bring my flute. I played for him and he started crying again. He said, ‘I give you my blessing and I want you to be successful.’ My whole heart opened up. I didn’t think I cared, but I did.”

Samite (pronounced SAH-mee-tay) continues to enchant audiences with his traditional and contemporary African and world sounds. He will bring his unique collection of African instruments to Lewiston next week for this month’s L/A Arts’ Cabaret Series performance.

Besides various flutes, Samite is expected to showcase the kalimba (thumb piano), the madinda (wooden xylophone) and the litungu (seven-string Kenyan harp). Many of his songs are sung in his native language of Luganda.

Billboard magazine wrote that Samite “wraps his voice around melodies that seem to rise up off the Uganda plateau, caressed by his kalimbas and other native instruments.” The LA Times described his rhythms as “forceful but not domineering, and Samite’s melodies ride over and through them to create a soothing, almost lullabylike effect.”

Samite was drawn to music at a young age. While growing up in Uganda, his grandfather taught him to play a traditional African flute. Since his school was located in the palace, he would listen to the royal musicians perform for the king. He also discovered the music of the working class from the laborers who rented apartments from his mother in Kampala.

A teacher gave him his first Western-style flute.

Samite, 47, and his family survived Idi Amin’s reign of terror, but the government that replaced Amin in the late 1970s was equally ruthless. When his older brother was tortured and murdered, Samite escaped to Kenya and turned to music as a refugee.

During his stay in Nairobi, he met his future wife, an American who was a teacher. They left for the United States in 1987 and settled in Ithaca, N.Y. He released his first album a year later.

He has recorded six CDs; the latest, titled “Tunula Eno,” was released in 2003. The album is a tribute to his wife, who died of brain cancer during the recording of the CD. The title track talks about everlasting love.

Samite has earned wide appeal around the world for his African folk and jazz sounds. Besides many festival appearances, he performed at Woodstock ‘94 as part of Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD stage.

Themes of hope, optimism, healing and love are woven throughout his recordings. The rhythms often have audience members dancing.

Samite has not abandoned his native Uganda. He recently returned from a monthlong trip, bringing a message of hope to the orphans, HIV/AIDS patients and other victims of a guerrilla war.

“You would expect sadness in such a place, but I found that each time I would visit I was filled with joy,” Samite wrote last week on his Web site describing his recent trip. “Music plays a very big part in the lives of these children.”


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