Performed Words
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Hear the ballads

Two kinds of context frame the meaning of performed words. In an immediate, living context of performance, the performer's relationship with his or her audience is shaped by certain ethical and aesthetic expectations. And in the broader historical context, the performer's work addresses certain ethics and aesthetics as well.

The performance of heroic ballads was and is mostly cool and contemplative. A professional singer entertains an adult audience. The audience sits, sips millet beer, and listens. The experience of ballad performance is one of fully plotted stories sung in richly textured, imagistic, and allusive poetic language. Traditionally, performances occurred at a royal court, at the invitation of the king, or at a wedding involving a prominent family, at the invitation of a clan patriarch. Ballad themes address the ethics of the once-primary social institutions of king and clan. More performances occur today in public bars, and bardic performance has changed to meet the ethical and aesthetic expectations of this context.

The broader historical context for Haya balladry, the moral horizon within which depicted action occurs, is defined by the interaction of two formerly dominant institutions, patrilineal clans and a centralized royal state. The multifaceted relationship between these two - which has social, religious, political, and economic dimensions - has been formative in this part of eastern Africa, the land between the Great Lakes, and it is often expressed through the forms of capital that the two institutions controlled and through which they exercised power - land and agriculture on the one hand and cattle herding on the other. Fortunately, the relationship between Haya kings and clans, royal state-builders and commoners, cattle-keepers and agriculturalists, developed more like the accommodation and solidarity attained in Uganda than like the tragic conflict that culminated in recent events in Rwanda and Burundi. But the ethics of those institutions and often of the conflict between them inform the action of almost all the ballads included here.

Welcome to Performed Words, where you will be able to hear . . .
Haya heroic ballads are long story-songs. Their protagonists are larger-than-life . . .
Certain Conventions are used in the annotation of performances. Luhaya, like English . . .
Synchrotext is software that enables the creation . . . The production of the Performed Words site is the work of many . . .