Live in the Clubs: Ubuntu embodies spirit of community

Community is important to the four members of the Saratoga Springs acoustic group Ubuntu. It’s right

Community is important to the four members of the Saratoga Springs acoustic group Ubuntu.

It’s right there in the band’s name — “Ubuntu” is a South African word for a humanist philosophy characterized by a strong sense of community. Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee described the ideas behind Ubuntu with the quote, “I am who I am because of who we all are,” which is also emblazoned across the top of the band’s website,

This philosophy carries into the band’s everyday workings in a number of ways. Ubuntu is a regular every Tuesday on open mic night at Gaffney’s, where it formed four years ago, and has since started running its own open jam at the Olde Saratoga Brewing Company on Thursday nights. Even in more formal show settings, the band invites audience participation.

“It really is true that when you are collaborating with three other people, you are who you are because of all of who you’re dealing with,” said percussionist and backing vocalist Sue Wolfer.

“That sense of community and sense of synergy also attracts people to us. We have a lot of energy. Sometimes at gigs, I’ll pass out all my small instruments and invite the audience to participate.”


WHEN: 9 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Gaffney’s Restaurant, 16 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs


MORE INFO: 587-7359,

Band in demand

The band has certainly seen a growing demand for its unique live performances, which bring African percussion and rhythms to a wide variety of songs ranging from The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” to G. Love and Special Sauce’s “Stepping Stones.” It’s not unusual for the band — Sue Wolfer; her husband of 34 years, drummer Al Wolfer; lead guitarist Jerry Silverman; and lead vocalist and guitarist Blaise Santangelo — to play two to three shows per week. This weekend the band will perform at The Paddock Lounge on Friday night, then at Gaffney’s on Saturday night.

Three of the four members of Ubuntu also have careers outside of music — Al Wolfer is a certified social worker, Sue Wolfer owns a home for senior citizens and Silverman is a geologist and has a grant-writing business. But finding time to practice and perform never seems to be an issue.

“I think that again, it boils down to the fact that, first of all we absolutely love what we do,” Sue Wolfer said.

“We’re all really grateful to have the opportunity to do this. We’re almost humbled by the reaction that people have to our little four-piece. Again, going back to that word, synergy — it’s very easy for the four of us to have a two-hour practice and get a ton of things accomplished.”

Musical backgrounds

All four members have strong musical backgrounds. For the Wolfers, playing music would often become the main event at their many house parties over the years, with Sue playing keyboards and Al his various percussion instruments, including cajon, bongos, djembes and other hand drums.

“We live in a large house and we have a lot of parties, and those parties always turn into musical jams,” Sue Wolfer said. “So we took that informal approach, the joy of that informal approach, and started going to Gaffney’s, particularly in open mics. When you take that step, the dynamic becomes totally different, and it became very well received.”

The Wolfers began playing with Silverman and another vocalist, who has since left the band, at the open mics, and caught the attention of Gaffney’s general manager Kim Smith. Soon the band was playing regularly at Gaffney’s, eventually branching out to other Saratoga Springs venues, private parties and arts festivals as far away as Greenwich, Conn. Santangelo officially came on board in August of this year.

Range of tastes

The band’s choice of cover material reflects the members’ wide-ranging tastes, including blues, folk and rock. All members of the band bring in songs to learn. Additionally, the group is also working to incorporate originals into its sets — so far, they have added one song by Silverman, “Raining in My Head.”

“Blaise tends to bring stuff to us like ‘Stepping Stones’ and ‘A Long December’ [Counting Crows] — just things that may be a little more contemporary to his age group,” Sue Wolfer said.

“We all have a very eclectic love for music. . . . It’s interesting because not only do we perform professionally together, we really enjoy each other. There is that mutual respect and that synergy.”

Categories: Entertainment, Life & Arts

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