Showing posts with label East Africa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label East Africa. Show all posts

Friday, July 3, 2009

Kamba Sounds




I've written here before that twenty years ago I accumulated an archive of about 24 hours worth of East African music on 10" tape reels that I finally got around to digitizing a year and a half ago. These records were loaned to me by friends from that part of the world, most of whom have moved on to other cities, and cover a gamut of languages and styles.

Digitizing this material was fairly straightforward, but actually processing, organizing and making sense of the collection has been a daunting task, one that I've pursued in whatever spare time I've had. It's complicated by the fact that the various genres and artists are scattered among the tapes willy-nilly.

Some of the more refreshing of these tracks have been the ones recorded by Kamba musicians. The Akamba, related to the Kikuyu, are said to number about four million and live in the south-central region of Kenya just east of Nairobi (refer to the map on the right; click to enlarge). While contemporary Kamba music is often labeled "Benga" or "Cavacha," it's characterized by its relative simplicity and straightforwardness. Doug Paterson had this to say in World Music: The Rough Guide (Rough Guides, 1994):

. . . Although distinctive melodies distinguish Kamba pop from other styles of benga, there are other special Kamba features. One is the delicate, flowing, merry-go-round-like rythm guitar that underlies many Kamba arrangements. While the primary guitar plays chords in the lower range, the second guitar plays a fast pattern of notes that mesh with the rest of the instrumentation to fill in the holes. This gentle presence is discernible in many of the recordings of the three most famous Kamba groups: The Kalambya Boys & Kalambya Sisters, Peter Mwambi and his Kyanganga Boys and Les Kilimambogo Brothers Band, led, until 1987, by Kakai Kilonzo.
It turns out that I have quite a few tracks by the Kilimambogos, almost none of which are on the two recent compilations Best of Kakai Vol. 1 and Best of Kakai Vol. 2, so you can assume I'll be devoting a future post exclusively to them. Tunes by various other Kamba musicians (most recorded around 1983) add up to about three hours' worth of music, and the ones I'm posting here are a representative sample. If you like these I'll be happy to post more in the future.

Back in the early '80s Kenya was under the sway of the imported Congolese musicians, Virunga, Baba Gaston and the like, and the various Swahili "big bands" like Mlimani Park and the Wanyika groups. Kamba music and the other "vernacular" styles were part of an older, less-sophisticated tradition that had its roots in the '60s and earlier, as described by John Storm Roberts in the liner notes to his compilation Before Benga Vol. 2: The Nairobi Sound (Original Music OMCD 022):

. . .I soon found that this was very much a people's music. The hip young Kenyans moving into government and the professions were uneasy with its reminder of the Swahili-speaking, makeshift past, more happy with the sophistication of Zaïrean music and English-language pop and rock 'n' roll. True, compared with the work of the great names of Kinshasa, the discs cranked out of the scruffy record stores of River Road, down near the country bus station, were simple and sometimes seemed naïvely optimistic. But for the majority of Kenyans whose English was functional at best, they reflected day-to-day life with a plain-man exuberance that was very like their audience: lacking the glamour of West or Central Africa, but in their own way wholly admirable. . .
In this light I regret that I've been unable to find anyone to translate the lyrics of these records for us. I'm sure they would be even more pleasurable if we knew what they were about! As it is there's plenty of wonderful singing and guitar-picking for our musical enjoyment.

The Kalambya Boys, led by Onesmus Musyoki and Joseph Mutaiti, were one of the primary Kamba bands of the 1980s. Unfortunately I have nothing by the naughty Kalambya Sisters, the Boys' female auxiliary, who caused a sensation with their 1983 release "Katelina," but there is a good track by them on the compilation The Nairobi Beat: Kenyan Pop Music Today (Rounder CD 5030). Here are the A & B sides of Utanu UTA 108 by the Kalambya Boys:

Onesmus Musyoki & Kalambya Boys - Katelesa

Onesmus Musyoki & Kalambya Boys - Kyonzi Kya Aka

And here are sides A & B of Utanu UTA 113:

The Kalambya Boys - Eka Nzasu


The Kalambya Boys - Mwendwa Losi

The Kyanganga Boys Band, led by Peter Mwambi, have also been quite popular. Doug Paterson writes that Mwambi's ". . . musically simple, 'pound 'em out,' pulsing-bass drum style may not have enough musical variation to keep non-Kamba speakers interested." Listen to these sides from Boxer BX 018 and judge for yourself:

Peter Mwambi, Charles Mutiso & Kyanganga Boys Band - Beatrice


Peter Mwambi, Charles Mutiso & Kyanganga Boys Band - Mwenyenyo


From Mwambi BIMA 002, here are two sides that Mwambi apparently recorded without the Kyanganga Boys:

Peter Mwambi - Matatu

Peter Mwambi - Mueni


Of course, the Kamba music scene has produced nuemerous other artists, including the Kaiti Brothers, who give us these refreshing tunes (from Kaiti Bro's KAITI 04):

Kaiti Brothers - Ndungata

Kaiti Brothers - Nau Wakwa "J"

The Ngoleni Brothers, led by Dickson Mulwa, a Kalambya Boys alumnus, also produced numerous hits, including these, side A & B of the Ngoleni Brothers Boys single DICK 02:

Professor Dick Mutuku Mulwa & Ngoleni Brothers Band - Kavinda Kakwa


Professor Dick Mutuku Mulwa & Ngoleni Brothers Band - Ngilesi


"Kibushi" was a dance craze imported from Congo/Zaire, the most important exponent of which was the Orchestre Hi-Fives. Here's a Kamba version of Kibushi which doesn't bear much resemblence to the original style. These tracks are the A & B sides of Akamba AS 801. I know nothing of Fadhili Mundi & the Ithanga Brothers, but these are certainly enjoyable tunes, especially the delightful "Wakwa Sabethi."

Fadhili Mundi & Ithanga Brothers - Mzee Tamaa

Fadhili Mundi & Ithanga Brothers - Wakwa Sabethi

Fans of East African 45s know that looking at their colorful labels is almost as much fun as listening to them. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to provide you with scans of these recordings, but KenTanza Vinyl has an excellent gallery for your enjoyment. The picture at the top of this post is entitled "My Neighborhood" and is by a Tanzanian artist named Mkumba. Explore more of his work and that of a number of other excellent East African artists here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Some More Seldom-Heard Tracks by Remmy Ongala




Like Comb and Razor, I seem to be experiencing some difficulty managing to get a post up, not, as in Uchenna's case, because I'm terribly busy with anything else, but because of a general sense of ennui. Spring fever perhaps?

Anyway, I've got a few things in the works, but I just realized that it's been more than two weeks since I've posted, so here's something in the nature of a stop-gap.

In one of my first dispatches, I posted five tracks from Remmy Ongala's two 1988 albums On Stage With Remmy Ongala (Ahadi AHDLP 6007) and Nalilia Mwana (Womad WOMAD 010). Which leaves seven tunes that I didn't post, so here they are!

"Tembea Ujionee," from Nalilia Mwana, means "Travel and See For Yourself." Remmy sings, "Travel and see for yourself. Don't wait to be told about it. There are many things to see in the world. Waiting for you. . ." By the way, although the liner notes of the LP credit this song to "Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila," I suspect it, along with other songs on Nalilia Mwana, was recorded when Ongala was with Orchestra Makassy. That sounds an awful lot like Mose Fan Fan Se Sengo on lead guitar!

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Tembea Ujionee

In "Mnyonge Hana Haki" ("The Poor Have No Rights") Remmy deplores the plight of the unfortunate. "I have nothing to say. . . Remmy is a poor man, an ugly man. Remmy has nothing to say to his companions. A bicycle has nothing to say in front of a motorbike. A motorbike has nothing to say in front of a car. A car has nothing to say in front of a train. The poor have nothing to say in front of the rich. . . The poor have no rights."

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Mnyonge Hana Haki

The liner notes of Nalilia Mwana state that "Arusi ya Mwanza"
is ". . . about a young woman who is married in Mwanza and goes to live with her husband in Dar es Salaam. After a few days he deserts her and she is too ashamed to return home to face the questions of her parents and neighbors. She warns other women that men are deceitful and will promise a house and car to make girls give up their studies. She herself only wanted to be happy and start a family like her friends. . ."

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Arusi ya Mwanza

On Stage With Remmy Ongala unfortunately doesn't provide song translations.

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matilmila - Sauti ya Mnyonge


Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Asili ya Muziki

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Maisha

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Mama Mzazi


If you would like to recreate the original LPs using the other five tunes, the tracklistings are as follows:


Nalilia Mwana (
Womad WOMAD 010, 1988)
1. Nalilia Mwana
2. Sika ya Kufa
3. Tembea Ujionee
4. Ndumila Kuwili
5. Mnyonge Hana Haki
6. Arusi ya Mwanza

On Stage With Remmy Ongala
(Ahadi AHDLP 6007, 1988)
1. Sauti ya Mnyonge
2. Asili ya Muziki
3. Maisha
4. Kifo
5. Mama Mzazi
6. Narudi Nyumbani
The picture at the top of this post is from this site.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Some Somo-Somo




Guitarist Mose Se Sengo "Fan Fan" was a crucial member of Franco's Orchestre TPOK Jazz from 1967 to 1972. In that year he left, and after some time in Orchestre Lovy, founded the first of several orchestras called Somo-Somo in 1974. This band was short-lived, and Fan Fan soon made his way south and east, first to Zambia and then Tanzania, where he played with the legendary Orchestra Makassy, composing some of its greatest hits, notably "Ciska," "Mosese" and "Molema." Moving on to Nairobi in the early '80s , he founded another iteration of Somo-Somo, recording two LPs and several singles with the group.

In the mid-'80s Fan Fan ended up in London where he formed a new Somo-Somo band, which recorded a wonderful LP entitled, of course, Somo-Somo (Sterns 1007, 1985, left). What set this London version of the band apart from the earlier incarnations was that, apart from Fan Fan, fellow Congolese N'Simba Foquis and South African vocalist Doreen Thobekile Webster, it was composed entirely of British session musicians.

I suppose the line-up of the UK Somo-Somo was more a product of necessity than design (Unlike, say, Paris, there is a dearth of Congolese musicians in London), but the tracks on Somo-Somo, mainly reworks of songs Fan Fan recorded earlier in Africa, have a punchiness and vitality lacking in many of the more formulaic Paris productions. The extensive use of saxophones really sets it apart - talk about making lemonade from lemons!

Somo-Somo has long been out of print. For some time I've wanted to digitize it and make it available here, but wouldn't you know? Moos, over at the blog Global Groove, has beat me to it! You can download it here.

However, I have two more hard-to-find Fan Fan tracks for you, apparently recorded around 1983 during his sojourn in Kenya. I have no idea what the lyrics of "Kimoze-Moze" (
Editions FrancAfrique EFA 015) are about but the chorus does seem to share a theme with Fela Anikulapo-Kuti's classic recording "Lady." Musically, of course, the songs have nothing in common:

Mose Fan Fan et son Orchestre T.P. Somo-Somo - Kimoze-Moze Pts. 1 & 2

And here's Fan Fan's cover of Pamelo Mounk'a's classic tune "l'Argent Appelle l'Argent" (Editions FrancAfrique EFA 013):

Mose Fan Fan et son Orchestre T.P. Somo-Somo - l'Argent Appelle l'Argent Pts. 1 & 2

You can get Pamelo's original here.

An excellent overview of Fan Fan's career is available on the CD Belle Epoque (RetroAfric RETRO 7CD), issued in 1994 and available here. Several recent recordings by this consummate professional are available from Sterns.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

More Songs the Swahili Sing




Note: This post was updated on September 20, 2008, to incorporate comments by reader/listener Iman.

In response a to a request from reader/listener Mike K., I'm happy to post more taarab music from the Indian Ocean coast. The selections here are taken from two cassettes, Pendo Kazi Yetu by the Jasmin Musical Club (FLATIM/Ahadi AHD (MC) 023) and Pendo La Dharau by the Shani Musical Club (FLATIM/Ahadi AHD (MC) 035). While a friend brought these back for me from Nairobi some years ago, I've never really listened to them until now. They're quite nice, though, despite the dodgy audio quality. As FLATIM/Ahadi productions, the packaging is similarly lacking in style:



Doug Paterson writes, at Musikifan:

". . . Badly mastered? Surely you jest? The cassettes have gone through a rigorous controlled process starting with duplication of the original one track tape from Radio Tanzania, the creation of a cassette master at the Nairobi's Valley Road Pentecostal Church (an actual studio), and then home duplication on Livingstone Amaumo's comsumer grade cassette recorder on blanks from no-name Asian manufacturers. At least that was the process back in 1988.

"Since then Livingstone actually uses professional tape duplicators who aren't too bad. The quarter inch tape masters (duplicates) were always a bit dicey but the rest of the process really took its toll.

In another message, Doug explains the acronym: "FLATIM stands for (the late) Franklin Livingstone Amaumo and Tido Dunstan Mhando. Tido, former head of the BBC Swahili Service and now head of TUT (Tanzania's state-owned radio and television services), was once Livingstone's Tanzanian partner in FLATIM."
I've always thought the crew at FLATIM deserved major kudos for keeping this music in circulation throughout the eighties and nineties, despite the technical limitations of their work. They put out some amazing stuff, a complete listing of which you can read here.

I've been unable to find out anything about the Shani Musical Club or Jasmin Musical Club. I suspect they are from the Tanga area in mainland Tanzania, as are the Black Star Musical Club. At least their style is quite similar. But that's pure conjecture on my part. Iman writes:

I really can't tell where these bands are from, you are probably correct in your conjecture. They are using words that are beyond my vocabulary and this is not surprising seeing as that us Nairobians are often ridiculed for our poor grammar - it could also be just me. In any case, I have translated the titles as you have posted them and gone a little further with some of them.
Here's a heaping helping of nimble guitar work, funky Farfisa organs, and passionate Islamic vocals from the land of the Swahili! In regards to our first song, "Mjamili," Iman writes, "I have no idea what this word means. When I listen to it, it sounds more like 'Mjamali' which I also don't understand! I asked a friend though and he is trying to figure it out. But from the few lyrics I could pick up, he seems to be sad about something. One of the lines I picked up: My heart is burning and you are the firewood."

Jasmin Musical Club - Mjamili

"
'Mama wa Kambo' = 'Stepmother'"

Jasmin Musical Club - Mama wa Kambo

"'Pendo Limetakasika' = 'This Love Has Gone Bad'"

Jasmin Musical Club - Pendo Limetakasika

"'Nakonda Kwa Huba': Literally 'I am losing weight over love.' This one is actually kinda funny and sad at the same time! My favorite of the bunch. He is basically saying: 'All the wrongs you have done me make me laugh and really shock me. Remember how good our love used to be? I believed you when you said you loved me and now it seems like you have grown tired of me. Have you no God? How can you harass me this way? I am a fool for your love. I am hungry for your love.'"

Shani Musical Club - Nakonda Kwa Huba

"'Ewe Wangu Nateseka': 'My Love, I am Suffering.' Her lover has left and she is asking him to return soon.

Shani Musical Club - Ewe Wangu Natiseka

"'Moyo Hukipenda Hula': 'The Heart Wants What it Wants' (even if it is bad). Something close to 'I can't help what I love.'"

Shani Musical Club - Moyo Hukipenda Hula



The artwork at the top of this post is from the website Zanzibar Henna Art. The site is a bit rudimentary now, but hopefully it will be updated soon. Browse the site, read about the artists, and consider buying the set of postcards that is available.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

More Mbaraka




I have a number of posts that are just on the threshold of going up, but I seem to have been gripped by an inexplicable and debilitating case of writer's block. Still, I feel the need to put something online. So, here goes: Back in September, I posted some tunes by Tanzania's late, incomparable Mbaraka Mwinshehe, with a promise of more to come. Thanks to our friend Cheeku, here they are: Five more tracks from the Ukumbusho series, pressed by Polygram Kenya in the 1980s (Polygram's successor, Tamasha, has recently reissued them in CD format, but as far as I know these are unavailable outside of E. Africa). Typically, these compilations feature no personnel listings or information on the original recordings. I suspect, though, that these tracks are from Mwinshehe's career with Super Volcano rather than his earlier band Morogoro Jazz.

"Shida," from Ukumbusho Vol. 1 (Polydor POLP 536, 1983) has already been featured on at least two other blogs,
Benn Loxo du Taccu and Steve Ntwiga Mugiri. Still, it's such a great song I couldn't resist putting it up again. Enjoy, and if you've heard it before, enjoy it again:

Mbaraka Mwinshehe - Shida

East African musicians don't seem as given to fawning praise songs as Nigerians (paging Oliver de Coque!), but they do produce enough of them, including, I assume, this one, also from Ukumbusho Vol. 1. Don't know if it's fawning, though. Love the guitar that kicks in toward the middle of the song:

Mbaraka Mwinshehe - Dr. Kleruu

Here's a scorcher from Ukumbusho Vol. 7 (Polydor POLP 566, 1988). The guitar work and vocal banter are exceptionally free and easy but what closes the deal is the wild "Hugh Masekela-ish" (is that a word?) trumpet playing toward the end:

Mbaraka Mwinshehe - Nipeleke Nikashuhudie

As I said before, the Ukumbusho series was assembled haphazardly, with tunes from various points in Mwinshehe's career thrown together willy-nilly. Although "Baba Mdogo" is from Ukumbusho Vol. 8 (POLP 575, 1988), it's similar in tone to "Shida" from Vol. 1, above. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they were recorded at the same time. We adjourn this session with "Mashemeji Wangapa," also from Vol. 8, which echoes Orchestra Simba Wanyika in its overall ambiance.

Mbaraka Mwinshehe - Baba Mdogo

Mbaraka Mwinshehe - Mashemeji Wangapa

For more music like this, check out Buda Musique's excellent Zanzibara Vol. 3: Ujaamaa, or this earlier compilation of music by Mbaraka Mwinshehe.
In the course of researching this post, I came across this polemic, in regards to the above-mentioned Zanzibara 3, by Alastair Johnston, who is responsible for the essential Muzikifan site:

". . . Now I don't want to start ranting in the middle of this panegyric but I have an issue that needs to be raised: the tendency of (mostly white, I suspect) people to treat this music with a colonial mentality. "It's great, so let's just put it on the net for anyone to hear." This devalues the music. I am not saying it should be the exclusive province of people with great wealth who can buy the copies that turn up on EBAY, I am saying this music should be respected. Before throwing it onto a blog it should be researched and properly documented. Optimal copies should be tracked down. Anyone downloading should pay nominally for the privilege and the money should be put in escrow to go to the descendants of the composers. Then there will be some parity with Western artists who get their royalties. I am sick of seeing sites with crappy-sounding singles ripped from cassettes and a note saying, "This is cool, I don't know anything about it but look here..." and a link to my pages. I've given up asking these clowns to respect my copyright, but ultimately they will kill the demand for CDs (& their crucial liner notes) and there won't be anyone, like Budamusique, taking the trouble to produce a magnificent package like this. You have to buy this, for the music, for the package, and to safeguard the future of the music!"
Alastair raises a valid point here, and I hope people can respond to it in the comments. I often feel very conflicted about posting the music I do on this site, for exactly the reasons Alastair brings up. I won't knowingly put up music that is available through the usual outlets: Amazon, Sterns, iTunes, Calabash or even the lesser-known World Music™ purveyors. And I'd like to recompense the artists in some way, but how? (Needless to say, I'm not making any money myself from this site.) It seems to me, though, that when I post stuff like these tracks by Mbaraka Mwinshehe, or the earlier Somali Mystery Funk, or some exceedingly rare tunes by Area Scatter, it has the potential to sell more CDs or downloads in the long run. In other words, there will be no market for the music if no one even knows that it exists. That's what I think, anyway. Your thoughts?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Merry Christmas!


As you would expect this time of year, things have been super hectic around here, and I just haven't had time to post. There's not a lot of African Christmas music out there, but I did manage to dig up a couple of tunes for your holiday enjoyment. Our first selection is by Kenya's Kilimambogo Brothers Band, "Shangilia Christmas Pts. 1 & 2," (Les Klimambogo LES 22). The second is side 1 of Ebenezer Obey's (left) 1972 LP Odun Keresimesi (Decca WAPS 62), also known as A Christmas Special From the King of Juju.

I'll try to get in another post in the next couple of days (I've got a couple in the hopper; I'm just working on the finishing touches), but if I don't: Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, a festive Kwaanzaa, whatever!

Les Kilimambogo Brothers - Shangilia Christmas Pts. 1 & 2


Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey & His International Brothers Band - Odun Keresimesi / Irinse Lo Jona Obey O Jona / Irin Ajo / Ile Oba To Jo


Update: I just found out that Eid Al-Adha begins Thursday, December 20 this year. My very best wishes to all of our Muslim friends, and I apologize for overlooking this earlier.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

It's Taarab Time!




Taarab, the intoxicating Afro-Arab-Indian music from the East African coast, has been surprisingly available lately, if you know where to look. John Storm Roberts opened our ears about 25 years ago with his Songs the Swahili Sing (Original Music OMCD 024), and then Globestyle Records in the '80s kept things moving with a series of fascinating releases documenting the styles of Zanzibar and the Mombasa coast. These recordings may still be found with an assiduous search. Recently Buda Musique has launched the ambitious Zanzibara series, which promises new revelations.

With everything else I've had going on, I'm just getting around to posting some of this music. I just finished digitizing about 24 hours worth of East African 45s that I've had stashed away on 10" tape reels, including a couple of taarabs. They were dubbed for me by Ron Sakolsky many years ago, and they're primo examples of the style.

The Black Star Musical Club, from Tanga, Tanzania, was founded in the 1950s, and played a crucial role in establishing the modern taarab sound. Werner Graebner writes in the liner notes of Nyota: Classic Taarab Recordings from Tanga (Globestyle ORBCD 044, 1989):

. . . It was the strong cross-fertilization between taarab and dance music, the interchange of musicians and instruments, which produced the excitement of the new style and made it acceptable to the broader public. the Black Star Musical Club introduced guitar and bass guitar into taarab, the guitar often being played in the style well-known through Tanzanian and Zaïrean dance music. The normal line-up of the group featured the following instruments: 2 guitars, accordion, organ, taishokoto, bass guitar, rika and manyanga. Influences on the rhythms came from dance music (samba and rumba) as well as from local ngoma (dances of the different ethnic groups resident in Tanga and the vicinity). . .
Werner credits Black Star vocalist Shakila (née Tatu Saïdi) with establishing a new vocal style shorn of the melisima and vibrato characteristic of classical taarab. Shakila and her husband left Black Star in 1971/72 to establish a new group, Lucky Star Musical Club, which is featured along with Black Star on Nyota.

Here are two recordings from 1973 by Black Star Musical Club, sides A & B of Melodica 7-6247. I don't know who sings lead on "Mno Nasubini," but I suspect the vocals on "Alpenzi Na Kiumbe" are by Sharmila (Jalala Rashid, above), who took Shakila's place in the band:

Black Star Musical Club - Mno Nasubini


Black Star Musical Club - Alpenzi na Kiumbe

Tupendane S. Club represents an older tradition in taarab, that of the big orchestras. I know nothing about the group or the lead vocalist, Mohamed Juma, but Ron Sakolsky suspects they are from Zanzibar. This tune is Sides 1 & 2 of the 45 Zombe ZM 4:

Mohamed Juma & Tupendane S. Club - Pendo ni Pepo ya Dunia Pts. 1 & 2

More taarab can be found at Sterns or on Amazon.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Tanzania Hit Parade '88




Note: This post was updated on September 20, 2008 to incorporate a translation of the song "Marashi ya Pemba" by reader/listener Xodi.

Judging from the feedback I've gotten on the last couple of Tanzanian posts it seems that people just can't get enough of the classic Muziki wa Dansi sound - massed horns, a subtle yet propulsive beat, vocals to make you cry - and who can blame them? I present to you, then, four of the bands that made it happen in Dar es Salaam back in the '80s: Mlimani Park, Vijana Jazz, Maquis Original, and two versions of the International Orchestra Safari Sound (Duku Duku and Ndekule), from the LP Tanzania Hit Parade '88 (Ahadi AHDLP 6005, 1988).

Like those Mlimani Park tracks I posted a couple of weeks ago, this is a Doug Paterson production, and Doug has a great background article on the artists by Werner Graebner over on his site. Enjoy!

Vijana Jazz Orchestra - Mundinde

Maquis Original - Clara

Reader/listener Xodi writes: "Marashi ya Pemba - this brings back lots of memories - my translation is probably not the best nor is it quite complete but I think it conveys the essence of the song:

at dawn the sea breeze hit me
i saw the star in the east
to live on an island mama has its own sweetness
mafia pemba zanzibar - our islands

the day I get to pemba
the wife of the sultan shall organize
that I get to explore all its sections - till the last

the perfume of Pemba
Cloves!

I will not be left behind - I will get on a plane to Pemba
I hear it is very nice (there)
that in the evening there is a seabreeze/light wind
that it smells strongly of cloves
International Orchestra Safari Sound (Duku Duku) - Marashi ya Pemba

International Orchestra Safari Sound (Ndekule) - Christina Moshi

Vijana Jazz Orchestra - Chaurembo

DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra - Hasira

Update: You know what would be really nice? If someone who knows Swahili could fill us in on what the lyrics are all about. C'mon! I know you're out there!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

By Request: Mbaraka Mwinshehe




A reader/listener requested some music by Mbaraka Mwinshehe, and I'm more than happy to oblige! Mwinshehe was the great Tanzanian guitarist and vocalist who thrilled East African audiences from 1965 to 1979 with the famous Morogoro Jazz Band and then with his own Orchestra Super Volcano. He tragically perished in an auto accident in January 1979.

Mbaraka became known to many outside of Tanzania and Kenya in 2000 with the release of Mbaraka Mwinshehe & the Morogoro Jazz Band: Masimango (Dizim 4702-2). Polydor Kenya had previously released at least ten volumes of Ukumbusho (or "remembrance"). This LP series gathered together many of the singles and LP cuts that Mwinshehe made over the course of his career.

Unfortunately, the Ukumbusho volumes do not provide information on the individual recordings and seem to jumble together tracks from various points in Mwinshehe's career. Of the five songs featured in this post, "Daktari ni Mimi" (from Ukumbusho Vol. 3 [Polydor POLP 542], 1983) and "Mama Chakula Bora" (from Ukumbusho Vol. 4 [Polydor POLP 550], 1985) were apparently recorded with Morogoro Jazz, while "
Vijana wa Afrika," "Jasinta" and "Mtaa wa Saba" (all from Ukumbusho Vol. 2 [Polydor POLP 537], 1983) were probably made with Super Volcano.

Mbaraka Mwinshehe - Daktari ni Mimi

Mbaraka Mwinshehe - Mama Chakula Bora

Mbaraka Mwinshehe - Vijana wa Afrika

Mbaraka Mwinshehe - Jasinta

Mbaraka Mwinshehe - Mtaa wa Saba

Several months ago our friend Zim Bida was kind enough to send me rips of almost all of the Ukumbusho volumes that I don't have. Would you believe that I haven't even had time to listen to them all yet? Rest assured that I plan on posting more of this great music in the future!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sikinde Ngoma Ya Ukae!




With our laptop out of commission for a while, the household is down to one functional computer, which the kids have commandeered for their own uses. I've been working on several posts at once, but I just haven't had time to rip some of the tunes I've wanted to use. Fortunately, I have a fair number already digitized. So this will be a quickie, but a goodie.

Like just about everybody, I love the Tanzanian band DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra, led by Michael Enoch (above). We were very fortunate indeed when a wonderful "Best of" compilation of their hits was released some time ago (Sikinde [Africassette AC9402] in the U.S.). I believe it may still be in print. One CD, however, just isn't enough to embrace all of the "best" of this prolific congregation. Fortunately, I have in my posession the two-volume Best of DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra issued in Kenya and produced by our friend Doug Paterson of the East African Music Page.

So, here are five tunes from those LPs. "Mume Wangu Jerry" and "M. V. Mapenzi 1" are from Best of DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra Vol. 1 (Ahadi AHDLP 6002, 1986). The other songs are from Best of DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra Vol. 2 (Ahadi AHDLP 6006, 1988).

DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra - Mume Wangu Jerry

DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra - M. V. Mapenzi 1

DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra - Matatizo ya Uke Wenza

DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra - Majirani Huzima Radio

DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra - Naheshimu Ndoa

Discography of DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Some Seldom-Heard Tracks by Remmy Ongala




Swahili music was terra incognita to me until one day in the summer of 1984. I was visiting Edmund Ogutu, a Kenyan friend of mine. He'd brought out a stack of East African 45's and was playing them for me. I certainly enjoyed the sounds of the Kilimambogo Brothers and DO7 Shirati Jazz, similar in some ways to other African music I was familiar with, yet refreshing in their rustic straightforwardness. Then Edmund brought out a red-label Polydor 45. The song was "Mariamu" and it was by a Tanzanian group called Super Matimila. From the first bars I was completely transported. Here was something that clearly shared the DNA of Congo music but had mutated in various subtle ways. Obviously the fact that it was in Swahili rather than Lingala was one point of difference, but what really struck me was the singer, who had a jazzy, improvisational vocal style that was cool and warm, friendly and reserved at the same time. Looking at the record label I discovered that this person was named Remmy Ongala. Edmund couldn't tell me anything about him.

That's where things stood for a couple of years, until I read an article by Ron Sakolsky in Sound Choice, a long-forgotten music magazine. Ron had lived in Tanzania and, having been similarly transformed by the music of Remmy Ongala, wanted to tell the great man's story. It turned out that Remmy was originally from Kindu, in the Congo. He began his musical career in that country (soon renamed Zaïre), and migrated to Uganda, ending up in Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania in 1978, where he joined Orchestra Makassy, a band led by his uncle. Three years later he departed to join Super Matimila and soon became its leader.

I got in touch with Ron and he sent me dubs of more records by Remmy Ongala, wonderful songs like "Ndumila Kuwili" and "Mnyonge Hana Haki." Finally in 1988, WOMAD Records in Britain released a full-length anthology of Remmy Ongala's East African recordings, Nalilia Mwana (
Womad WOMAD 010).

Remmy and Orchestra Super Matimila performed at the WOMAD Festival that year and in 1989 recorded their first "professional" album, Songs for the Poor Man (
Realworld CDRW6), followed in 1992 by Mambo (Realworld CDRW22). Both of these albums are fine, but to my mind the intimacy and immediacy, the soul of the Tanzanian recordings has been lost in the transition to a "professional," "modern" recording studio. Nalilia Mwana, which was never issued on CD, has long been out of print, and as far as I know there are no plans to reissue it, although an edited version of the title track appeared on 1995's Sema (Womad Select WSCD002).

It pains me that the general public is unfamiliar with the true, authentic sounds of Remmy Ongala and Orchestra Super Matimila, the music that is known and loved by millions of people in East Africa. To rectify this injustice I present several tracks from Nalilia Mwana and from another album that was issued only in East Africa, 1988's On Stage With Remmy Ongala (Ahadi AHDLP 6007). The song descriptions are from the liner notes:

"Nalilia Mwana" (I Cry for a Child) is the lament of a woman who cannot give birth: "Mola, I cry to you, Mola, I beseetch you, what did I do to deserve this misfortune. A child isn't something that you can buy... To the mother a child never grows up. Even if it were lame, or ugly like Remmy, it would still be a child."

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Nalilia Mwana

Our next selection is also from Nalilia Mwana. "Sika Ya Kufa" (The Day I Die) tells the sad tale of a man who is dying: "Beauty is finished, youth is finished, intelligence has left. But the house I built remains and my children are crying. A corpse has no companions - all my friends run away from me. Whereas we used to eat and drink together. Now they are frightened of me. Now I am like the devil."

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Sika Ya Kufa

"Ndumila Kuwili," (Don't Speak With Two Mouths), our last from Nalilia Mwana, deals with that age-old problem, jealousy: "We used to be friends. We lived together like brothers. But I am surprised, brother - don't speak with two mouths. Playing off one person against another. Jealousy and discord are not the right way.""

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Ndumila Kuwili

"Kifo" (Death) was my favorite song on Songs for the Poor Man, so when I received a copy of On Stage with Remmy Ongala, which includes the original, I was curious to hear how the two versions compared. This is a case where, in my opinion, the "remake" is an improvement on the original, which is a mighty fine tune already. The lyrics: "Death, you took my wife. My child cries every day. 'Father, where is my mother?' But I can't find the words. The tears just fall down my face. Because of you, Death."

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Kifo

A remake of "Narudi Nyumbabi," from On Stage with Remmy Ongala, was featured on Mambo under the title "I Want to Go Home," and here the original is clearly superior. There's just something about the "low-tech" nature of the recording, and the Swahili lyrics, that just expresses the poignancy of the lyrics so much better: "I want to go home. I need to go back home. The place that is our home. Good or bad still home."

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Narudi Nyumbani

A couple of years ago I convinced Doug Paterson of the East African Music Page to compile a discography of Remmy Ongala's many recordings for the East African market. If you'd like more information on these, you are encouraged to consult it here.


Update: Thanks to reader Daan42, who passes on a link to an article about Remmy Ongala's current activities here.