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MITCAN concert features Chinese, African collaborative performances

From melodious tunes played on delicate bow harps to the pulsating rhythms of mbuutu drums, MITCAN, New England's only East African performance group, presents the music and dance of Malawi, Uganda and South Africa in its spring concert on Saturday, April 22 at 8pm in Kresge Auditorium.

The program will include guest appearances by China's Wu Man, renowned for her performances on the pipa (Chinese lute), Ugandan musician and dancer Andrew Mangeni and tap dancer Thomas DeFrantz, assistant professor in the music and theater arts section. For more information, call x3-2826.

Now in its fourth year, MITCAN -- a 19-member ensemble made up almost entirely of MIT students -- is led by Ugandan musician and composer James Makubuya, assistant professor of music.

In the April 22 concert, Professor Makubuya, a master of the Ugandan adungu (bow harp), will join Ms. Wu in an unusual duet between the Ugandan ndongo (bowl lyre) and the Chinese pipa. Their appearance at MIT follows their successful February performance at the World Music Institute's 15th anniversary gala in New York City's Town Hall, which was praised in a February 9 New York Times review ("China's Pipa Has an Ally In the Harps Of Uganda").

"I think it is a very good idea to show our students how the two folk traditions -- Chinese and Ugandan -- can meaningfully and entertainingly blend together," said Professor Makubuya, adding that Ms. Wu's renown can "diversify our growing African concert audience at MIT."

Ms. Wu began her music training at the age of nine and studied at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. She has won acclaim for her classical repertoire and is a leading interpreter of contemporary Chinese music. While in China, she received many awards and became the first recipient of a masters degree in the pipa; she also took part in many groundbreaking first performances of a new generation of Chinese composers. Since coming to the US, she has continued to champion new works.

The concert will also feature MITCAN members in another unusual piece combining South African gumboot dance and tap dance, choreographed by Professor DeFrantz, who will also perform in the work. Also on the program are two large instrumental pieces -- one played on madindas (log xylophones) and one played on adungus (bow harps). In addition, it will feature three large Ugandan folk dances, two of which Mr. Mangeni will choreograph and appear in. Smaller arrangements of vocal music, instrumental pieces and dances will also be performed.

MITCAN's first CD, "UMEWA Live!" is available for $9.99 from, a web site that allows users to sample the CD on line and listen to it instantly once they've placed their order. The CD contains pieces from MITCAN's spring 1999 concert, recorded live in Wong Auditorium.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 12, 2000.

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