Cultural devotees bemoan the death of nanga in Acholi culture

No talented Nanga musician has emerged in over 30 years,” declared Watmon Matthew Amone, a renowned Nanga maestro.

Gulu I The trough zither, locally known as Nanga, is among the stringed musical instruments that were popular among the Acholi.

The instrument is made by curving wood in a rectangular shape and hollowing it from the inside. Seven holes are drilled in the short ends of the instrument where strings are attached vertically into them.

When playing the Nanga, the performer places it on the ground and strings it rhythmically and tunefully with their thumb, as six people dance to the tunes.

Although it is a simple instrument, the stringers explained that it needs careful calculations for it to generate a sound. Besides, one must know how to sing, otherwise, they cannot strum it.


Amone recalls that in the early 1960s to the 1990s, Nanga (also a music genre produced by playing the Nanga instrument) was a “hit” in every traditional ceremony. In case of death, the body was washed while Nanga songs were being performed to celebrate the dead.

There are two types of songs for Nanga; Larumu, a Nanga genre with obscure lyrics intended to disparage an enemy, and Ogodi, which is themed on love, sadness, war, and whatnot. More than 100 music stars in Acholi could play it, according to Amone.

Amone, a 72-year-old resident of Pawiri village in Kitgum district started his Nanga music career at only 11 years old through his mother’s mentorship.

“She would ask me to sing along with her and I was inspired and learned from her,” Amone recalls.

However, Nanga is dying because of the advancing technology in the music industry, and the perception of modern churches on such instruments.

Years back, churches used traditional stringed instruments such as the African arched harp (adungu), and trough zither (Nanga) to worship God, but they have been replaced by electronic musical instruments such as the keyboard.

Amone cited an incident two decades ago, when he was invited to the funeral rite of a devoted Christian, but was denied the opportunity to perform before the mourners.

Amone claimed that the Christians explained that death is part of life and there is no need to mourn anyone traditionally and termed Nanga as “witchcraft worship.”

In striving to restore the lost glory of Nanga, Amone plans to bring together all the legends of Nanga, to chart a way forward.

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Quinto Kidega, 70 years old, a three-time music award winner in Nanga music shows who resides in Kasubi Goan-Quarters in Gulu City, started his music career in 1973.

Kidega learned how to play Nanga from his father during their evening gatherings around the bonfire.

However, in 2014, Kidega stopped playing Nanga and is now a born-again Christian.

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“I will train my son to replace my legacy,” Kidega said, fearing that Nanga could disappear when the last generation of musicians like him die.

According to Kidega, laxity by the Acholi cultural institution to uphold the cultural heritage of Acholi has made the young ones ignorant of the vital aspects of their culture.

Kidega Quinto playing nanga. Photo by Okot Lil Romeo.

George Tabu, Kidega’s son has accepted to learn how to play the Nanga from his father because he believes that Nanga musicians help to sustain Acholi’s traditional history.

“When I refuse to keep the legacy of my father, then the Nanga will be dead in our lineage,” Tabu said.

Modern music producers speak out

George Williams Kilama, alias producer Kiddy Face, a Gulu city-based music producer, songwriter, and artist, argued that the music industry is challenged by untalented artists, who are also causing the death of the rich Acholi culture by copying music styles from other cultures.

“Native sound of Nanga in Acholi is very complex and unique, unlike other local sounds, few talented Nanga artists come to us,” adding that what the producers are doing is “trying to modify it [Nanga] and fuse it into another sound” to have a semblance of Nanga.

While Cosmas Denis Oloya, alias Producer Badman Koda, blamed the parents of upcoming musicians, for exposing their children to music production and on-stage performances in the early stages without encouraging them to learn the theory of music.

Producer Badman Koda (Cosmas Denis Oloya) at his studio in the main Bus Park in Gulu City: Photo by Okot Lil Romeo.

Efforts to revamp traditional music and culture

Patrick Kitara, the Gulu District Tourism Officer, told tndNews the district is planning to promote cultural dances especially those involving stringed instruments in all Acholi chiefdom and churches.

Kitara blamed the church leaders for de-campaigning and associating with witchcraft, and cultural music such as Nanga. He argued that until Nanga starts playing in churches, people will keep despising it.

He added that the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development together with cultural institutions are encouraging all districts in Acholi to ban electronic sound systems at funeral services and other traditional functions.

Kitara revealed that the government will allocate a Tourism Development Grant (TDG) in the financial year 2024/2025 to build a tourism information and museum centre in Gulu district, to promote cultural heritage.

“Acholi has over 20 different types of dances, and all we need to identify and promote it among the people of Acholi and other tribes,” Kitara said.

This year the district is partnering with the line ministry to organize the Acholi Cultural Festival and Exhibition to promote Acholi culture. The Cultural Festival was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and a shortage of funds for two years.

Akello Madelena, a 73-year-old resident of Pece Pawell central in Gulu city said traditional dance has been a fundamental culture of Acholi for years, and it is when people socialized, acquired informal education, and learned about norms and values of Acholi culture.

The 73-year-old started being a fanatic of traditional dance at 14 years old and criticizes how Acholi traditional songs are being changed.

“I’m grooming all my grandchildren to understand how to sing the original songs of Acholi so that they help in sustaining it,” Akello said.

Margaret Arach, a 55-year-old catechist of St. Bakhita Church in Pece-Pawel, acknowledged that churches located in the rural area still use traditional string instruments.

Arach said electronic instruments dilute the originality of local gospel songs but hastened to explain that the urban churches have adopted electronic instruments to energize the choir.

“The congregations are not active in singing. They only wait for already produced songs to be played,” adding, “Years back, the congregation used to concentrate and sing actively because the instruments were not imposing.”

Arach agreed that although some aspects of modernity should be restricted from completely taking over the traditional culture in the churches, “It is difficult to get a talented child in this generation who is interested in learning how to drum and play traditional stringed instruments.”

Geoffrey Okello Okuna, the Acting Prime Minister of Acholi Cultural Institution, said cultural institutions are looking at introducing Nanga in every school music festival, to identify talented children and learners.

Okuna also appealed to Nanga legends to identify themselves with the cultural institution, to chart a way of reviving the music genre.

“Nanga was the only official music Acholi used to relay messages to our enemy, praise and give glory to people who had done well in the community,” Okuna explained.

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