Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Down-Home Sounds of Kakai Kilonzo




Major players in the '70s and '80s music scene in Kenya, Kakai Kilonzo and his band the Kilimambogo Brothers were one of the few benga groups whose popularity crossed tribal lines. It helped that they recorded in Swahili as well as their native Kamba language, but the quality of their musical output no doubt played a major role as well.

Kilonzo's beginnings in life were modest indeed. His daughter Anita Kilonzo writes:


Kakai Kilobzo was born in1954 at Kilimambogo in Machakos district. He attended Primary education at Kilimambogo in 1962 to 1965. He definitely did not finish it because of lack of school fees. Kakai then sought for cheap labour like herding in to help his poor family. These continued for a duration of five years.

In 1970 he was employed in Thika town at farms that dealt with pineapple plantations as a harvester.

While in Thika, Kakai made single stringed guitars which were made of tin, due to his interest in music. He played then during his leisure time in the farms. Through his peanut earnings he managed to by a box guitar. He used to entertain local people at night during his off-time; which is termed as Tumisonge in Kamba.
Kilonzo's talents as a musician soon won him renown. He recorded "Kaylo Kyakwa na Mary" in 1974 and with the Kilimambogo Brothers scored many hits like "Baba Mkwe," "August One" and "Mama Sofia." Many of these recordings are collected in two CDs, Best of Kakai Vol. 1 (Shava Musik SHAVACD011-2, 2002) and Best of Kakai Vol. 2 (Shava Musik SHAVACD017, 2006) and an LP that was released in 1987, Simba Africa (Popular African Music PAM 03). As far as I can tell, these compilations are all of of print.

Well before his time, Kakai Kilonzo passed away in 1987 after a brief illness. His presence in the Kenyan music scene is sorely missed.

Many years ago I dubbed onto 10" tape reels a number of 45s by Kakai Kilonzo and the Kilimambogos, and was recently able to digitize them. None of these are on any of the above-referenced pressings. Except for "Christmas Day," which is in Swahili, these records are all in Kamba. For the most part I have no idea what the lyrics are about, but I presume that they deal with the usual subjects of Kenyan popular music: Family matters, love and harvests. It is benga, the music of Kakai Kilonzo and artists like him, that is the true voice of Kenya's rural majority - blunt and straightforward, real Kenyan "country music."

Here's a recording from the late '70s or early '80s, the A & B sides of Kakai Kilonzo Sound KLZ 7-002:

Kakai Kilonzo & Kilimambogo Brothers Band - Kithetheesyo Ki Muka

Kakai Kilonzo & Kilimambogo Brothers Band - Katuli Lungi

Les Kilimambogo LES 007:

Les Kilimambogo Brothers - Mutwawa Niwatwana

Les Kilimambogo Brothers - Mathitu Mowe

Les Kilimambogo LES 08:

Les Kilimambogo - Ngungu Na Muoi

Les Kilimambogo - Kilinga Munguti

The Kilimambogos celebrate the birth of Christ on Les Kilimambogo LES 16:

Les Kilimambogo - Christmas Day Pts 1 & 2

Hear another Kilimambogo Christmas song here. Here are the A & B sides of Les Kilimambogo LES 17:

Les Kilimambogo - Sera Ndungembeti

Les Kilimambogo - Ngomelelye Kitambaasye

Let's close with the Swahili sounds of the Original Kilimambogo (OKB) Stars. The OKB Stars were formed in 1978 when Joseph Mwania left the Kilimambogo Brothers Band to form his own group. This recording was issued as New Mwania Sound NEW 108:

Joseph Mwania & the Original Kilimambogo (OKB) Stars - Mama Sheria Pts 1 & 2

For more rustic, down-home Kamba sounds, go here. Download the songs in this post as a zipped file here.

4 comments:

joe said...

John; These singles are great, and thank you for them. Guess you saw by now that GlobalGroove posted "Simba Africa"...

Timothy said...

Thanks a million John! Kakai Kilonzo was a naturally-talented Kamba musician. He remains the all-time King of Kikamba pop. If your box of vinyls and cassettes is yet to spring more Kamba music surprises, look for a group called Muema brothers (a.k.a "Wana Kilumi"). Led by a composing wizard called Matee Festo, the latter have probably been the only music-literate group that the Kamba Pop world has ever produced.

David said...

Great singles, thank you! I love that Christmas one, it's good to know that there ARE some good Christmas singles out there :-)

Anonymous said...

Serah ndungie mbete yakwa simply requesting the girl dersh to return the engagement ring (he) kakai had given her. Given that there was nothing betwen them anymore