Justinian Tamusuza

ACE has just begun publishing a small selection of works by Ugandan composer Justinian Tamusuza (b.1951)
Country of residence: 
1 January 1951

Justinian Tamusuza is Uganda’s foremost living composer. His first musical education was at home, where he learnt Ganda music from the traditional musicians who played traditional musical instruments at his parents’ house in Kibisi, south-west of the Ugandan capital, Kampala. Tamusuza attended Kisubi Seminary, St. Mary’s College Kisubi, and King’s College Budo, schools where he accompanied the chapel choirs. He first learnt formal music composition from Rev. Dr. Anthony Okelo at the department of Music, Dance, and Drama, Makerere University. Tamusuza was choir director and accompanist of St. Augustine Choir and the Catholic Centenary Memorial Choir in Kampala, and wrote and arranged music for them. His training in Western music notwithstanding, Tamusuza feels that he has never graduated from the school of traditional musicians: ‘I am always learning new musical aspects from that school’, as he puts it. While at the Queen’s University of Belfast in the 1980s he studied composition with Kevin Volans, and he later studied with Michael Pisaro, Jay Yim, and Allan Stout at Northwestern University, Illinois. Tamusuza came to world prominence when his string quartet was featured on the Kronos Quartet album Pieces of Africa (1992).

Tamusuza has served on a number of international music bodies: as a jury member for the International Society of Contemporary Music, ISCM; as artistic director of africa95 contemporary composers; as Co-Composer Babylon Multimedia Multimusic Project of the ISCM, Germany; as Africa’s International Representative at the Composers Guild of New Jersey, USA; and as Member of the International Council of Artists, africa95 Liverpool. He was Indaba Composer-in-Residence at the New Music Indaba in Grahamstown, South Africa in 2005, and has served as external examiner for Rhodes and Wits Universities in South Africa,  Kenyatta University in Kenya, and Maseno University in Kenya.

His more than twenty international publications include compositions, articles in music journals and encyclopedias, and CDs. He has been commissioned twice by the Kronos Quartet, for the string quartets Mu Kkubo Ery’Omusaalaba (1988) and Twadaagana Ku Lw’Omwana (1992). He was a visiting fellow at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies (STIAS) in 2019, where he was commissioned to write Naakutendanga Emirembe Gyonna for vibraphone, marimba and percussion. He was commissioned by Ensemble Jahrhudeert XX (Vienna) to write Ekinnonoggo (2010), by Ensemble Reconsil (Vienna), for Ekikujjuko (2007), and has also received commissions from the Munich Chamber Orchestra (2006) International Horn Symposium. For the latter he wrote Ebisoko By’Ekkondeere (2005). International Opus of Richmond, Virginia, has published some of Tamusuza’s pieces including Ekivvulu Ky’ Endere (An Africa Festivity for Flute) for flute, viola, prepared harp, marimba and maracas.

His musical language is greatly – and equally – influenced by Ganda ethnic music and the western music composition techniques he acquired while pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees in music.

Tamusuza is Professor of Music (Composition) in the Department of Performing Arts and Film at Makerere University, Kampala, where he teaches composition, musicology, and performance, and where he has also served as Head of Department.