Monday, December 31, 2007

East African Memories

Well, not my memories, as I've never been there, but today's selection of tunes is bound to provoke some nostalgia among those of the East African persuasion. As in my last post, these 45s, which were all issued in the early '80s, were excavated by myself from a cache of 10" tape reels that I dubbed more than twenty years ago, digitized and reprocessed for your listening pleasure. I think I got all of these recordings from my old friend Edmund Ogutu. Wherever you are, Edmund, thanks!

Sadly, Daniel Owino Misiani, founder of the influential Kenyan band Shirati Jazz (also known as the D.O. 7 Band and D.O. 7 Shirati Jazz), passed away on May 17, 2006, but he left a legacy of hundreds of memorable tunes. While Misiani and Shirati Jazz did not establish benga music, they did more than anyone else to popularize and codify that musical style.

"I'm Tired" (Bwana Otieno Weche PIC 3) is not at all representative of the Shirati Jazz style. It's a novelty tune, sung in Swahili and English rather than the group's usual Luo. I think that D.O. Misiani might not even be on it (the group occasionally recorded without him). In the future I'll probably post some more "typical" Shirati Jazz songs, but I'm sure you'll enjoy this one:

D.O. 7 Shirati Jazz - I'm Tired Pts. 1 & 2

The Maroon Commandos (above) were established by Habel Kifoto (center) as a military band from the 7th Batallion of the Kenyan Army, and are best known for their smash hit "Charonyi Ni Wasi," which was featured on the compilation CD Kenya Dance Mania (Sterns Eathworks STEW 24CD). The Commandos usually record in Swahili, but "Liloba" (African Beat PA 7226), which features Laban Ochuka on lead vocals, is sung in Luhya:

Laban Ochuka & the Maroon Commandos - Liloba Pts. 1 & 2

Tanzanian singer Issa Juma was a founding member of the group Les Wanyika in 1978, and graced their smash hit "Sina Makossa" (also available on Kenya Dance Mania) as lead vocalist. He soon split off from that group to form his own band, variously entitled Waanyika, Wanyika Stars, Super Wanyika, Wanyika Super Les Les etc. "Ateka" (Waanyikaa NYIKA 09), is an outstanding example of his work:

Issa Juma & Waanyika - Ateka Pts. 1 & 2

Les Volcano were originally the backup band for Tanzanian vocalist Mbaraka Mwinshehe. When he was killed in an auto accident in 1979, they continued under the leadership of Charles Ray Kassembe, and made a number of outstanding recordings, including "Uhangaika Bure" (Superphonics BOY 002):

Les Volcano - Uhangaika Bure Pts. 1 & 2

The Luhya people of western Kenya have produced a number of outstanding musicians, but the most renowned is probably Sukuma Bin Ongaro, who contributed a couple of tunes to the compilation Guitar Paradise of East Africa (Sterns Earthworks STEW 21), a few years back. Listen to "Mukamba Leya" (Upendo UPP 7-644) and you'll understand the reason for his popularity:

Sukuma Bin Ongaro & Sukuma Band - Mukamba Leya

The picture at the top of this post is from the Shirati Jazz release Benga Beat (World Circuit WCB 003, 1987).

Oh, and Happy New Year!


Comb & Razor said...

i don't even know these particular songs, yet they do evoke a certain nostalgia for me... i remember when music in this style was popular in West Africa... those ringing, sizzling guitars... those pumping basslines... the vocal harmonies...

>sigh< good times.

happy new year, btw... let's hope this is a really good one!

Zero G Sound said...

Wow, you are running really a cool site! Congrats & greetings!

John B. said...

Thanks, Zero, I'm a big fan of your site as well:

Anonymous said...

Hey John,

these are from kenyan radio -> reel to reel -> then digitized? And the sound this good? That's crazy, literally crazy!

thanks for these.

John B. said...

No, they're dubbed from Kenyan 45s onto reels, then digitized.

Anonymous said...

Happy new year to you john and some big thanks for all these incredibles treasures you share with us.

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

thanks John, these songs here take me back home, especially Ateka, It must be the soulfull and melancholy voice of Issa Juma in Ateka; reminds me of the peace and quiet that I enjoyed in Kenya growing up in a diverse community - which now heads towards ruins; cant help tearing; hope you have more of this kenyan stuff in the reels; would greatly appreciate it


John B. said...


There's plenty more East African music where this came from. Just hang in there - I'll put more up in due course.

BTW, you've probably seen this site, but if you haven't:

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