Samite Mulondo, a Ugandan musician who performs internationally as Samite, has picked up a new instrument: his speaking voice.
The internationally acclaimed flutist has recorded with Paul Simon and toured with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. He’s released nine of his own albums plus a film score. He tours constantly throughout North America.
Now he’s readying a one-man theater and music show titled “Resilience.”
There will be three preview performances of “Resilience” March 15 to 17 at Hartbeat Ensemble’s Carriage House Theater in Hartford before the show’s world premiere March 23 at the University of St. Joseph’s Autorino Center for the Arts and Humanities in West Hartford.
Samite, who lives in Syracuse, N.Y., spent an artist residency at USJ in 2016 that involved teaching, mentoring and performing on campus.
“I have never done acting,” Samite says during a recent phone interview. “I told stories before, between songs, but those were very short.
“I’ve been a musician for many years. I’m 60 years old now. I’ve performed at orphanages, and for rape victims, and for those who feel guilt because they’ve killed. I found amazing resilience in those people. I found it important to share my experiences, and those of the people I’d met. I did a TED talk about it. Steven Raider Ginsburg came to one of my talks and said ‘We can help you turn this into a one-man show.’ We’ve been working on this for over two years, with them training me to be a different kind of performer.”
The show, which involves stories, songs and projections, is directed by Brian Jennings, a HartBeat Ensemble member, and produced by Ginsburg, who co-founded HartBeat and is also the director of the Autorino Center.
“Resilience” features “about seven stories and about seven songs,” Samite says. “The songs accompany the stories. I don’t talk about the songs. I sing in Ugandan, my own language. I also play instruments — the flute; the kalimba, which is like a piano; and the litungu, which is like a harp.
“There are no props or costumes. Just me talking and playing music. I am bringing people to life onstage — my grandfather, for instance. There are images that accompany the story and colors that reflect the mood.
“I have gone back to a few places in Uganda to see the people who shared their stories with me,” Samite explains. “Some of them have died: My brother, who was killed. My late wife, who had cancer. I talk about that experience of a person knowing they will live for a year and 22 days more.
“I was a refugee at one point, and I take the audience through that experience. I was a refugee in Kenya for five years, then I came to the U.S. That’s in the show — why I left and how.”
Did he find the theatrical elements of the “Resilience” project an interesting challenge?
“It is and it isn’t, because I’ve been working on this for so long. The difficult part of it was reliving the moments. That was the same with the TED talk — reliving the stories. It’s hard to feel that again. I get sad, but then I also get happy.”
One of the show’s messages, Samite says, is to “live in the moment. Most of the time we go to a place of ‘Why me?’” The performer wants to embrace positivity and community instead.
Samite also speaks emotionally of “the healing powers of music.” He tells of being among a group of children when he happened to have a flute with him, and how enchanted they were with the instrument. “I never realized before how important that could be.”
A CD of songs from “Resilience” will be officially released in June, but advance copies will be available at the Connecticut shows. Following its West Hartford premiere, Samite plans to tour the show extensively.
“I don’t know how I can go away from it now. I get into it so deeply.”
The world premiere performance is at 7:30 p.m. March 23 at the Autorino Center on the campus of the University of St. Joseph, 1678 Asylum Ave., West Hartford ($35 “premium,” $30 general admission, $25 seniors, Autorino Center members and Let’s Go Arts members, $15 students; 860-231-5555, usj.edu/arts/performing-arts/our-current-season/). The March 23 premiere is preceded by a 7:30 p.m. “book launch and talk” in the university’s Bruyette Athenaeum, with Nancy Billias, a philosophy professor at USJ who discusses Samite in her book “The Ethics of Silence: An Interdisciplinary Case Analysis Approach.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Steven Raider Ginsburg.