Thursday, May 22, 2008

Brother Charlly Computer & his Friends

Reader/listener Tim Clifford has a big interest in East African music and is responsible for two of the best installments in Matsuli's late, great "African Serenades" series. Tim's working on a detailed discography of East African music and I was happy to pass on to him a listing of titles in my collection. In response to one of these, he wrote, ". . .I can't wait for you to post the single by Brother Charlly Computer and the Gloria Kings as it just might be the best band name ever!"

Of course, I agree. I'm happy to post Brother Charlly, and why don't we listen to a few more Kenyan 45s while we're at it? Most of these are from around the same period, the early to middle '80s, and they are among the last singles pressed in that country (record piracy pretty much killed the format within a few years).

I know absolutely nothing about Brother Charlly and his band. They apparently didn't make many waves, but "Goodbye Hully!" and "Achieng Born-Zo" (Brother Charlly BRO 1) are prime examples of the benga sound, then at the peak of its popularity:

Brother Charlly Computer & the Gloria Kings -
Goodbye Hully!

Brother Charlly Computer & the Gloria Kings - Achieng Born-Zo

One thing the Victoria "B" Kings cannot be accused of is being one-hit wonders. Together with D.O. Misiani's Shirati Jazz they were the foremost proponents of benga in its salad days. The Mighty Kings of Benga (Globestyle CDORBD 079, 1993) is a great collection of their 45s. Here are two side of a single (Pamba Oluoro Chilo PAC 14) that is not on that release:

Victoria "B" Kings - Leo Odondo Mak-Awiti

Victoria "B" Kings - Wabed Gi Hera Chuth

Barrier 4's version of benga (this example being Elimu ELM 06) is somewhat more subdued than the above examples, and is also in Swahili rather than Luo:

Barrier 4 - Gharama Haihesabeki Pts. 1 & 2

I understand that the Mombasa Roots Band are one of those Kenyan groups that cater primarily to the tourist trade. Here's their infectious update of the coastal chakacha style (Polydor POL 561):

Mombasa Roots Band - Disco Cha-Ka-Cha Pts. 1 & 2

Malako, recorded by Samba Mapangala & Orchestra Virunga in the early '80s, is rightly considered an African classic (it was reissued in 1990 as Virunga Volcano [Sterns/Earthworks CDEWV 16]). Mapangala, who is originally from the Congo, had a thriving career in East Africa throughout the decade. Around 1990 he left for greener pastures abroad, first in Paris and more recently in the U.S. Sadly, his more recent efforts, recorded with Congolese expatriates, lack the spark of his earlier recordings. "Kweya" (Editions Virunga EDV 005) represents him at the peak of his Kenyan success. Even the cheap-sounding drum machine (something I normally abhor) is in good form here:

Samba Mapangala & Orchestra Virunga - Kweya Pts. 1 & 2

To close out, let's journey about ten years earlier than the previous records. Gabriel Omolo & the Apollo Komesha's record "Lunch Time" not only received a gold disc in Kenya in 1973, it was a smash throughout Africa. Here's the B-side of the Nigerian pressing (Philips West Africa APL 7-618). And if you want to hear "Lunch Time," you can get it on Kenya Dance Mania (Sterns/Earthworks STEW 24CD):

Gabriel Omolo & the Apollo Komesha - Tutakula Vya Ajabu

Update: Tim Clifford's two "African Serenades" compilations are available again, for a limited time, here. Get 'em while they're hot!

Update 2: They're already gone. Sorry!


kabuga said...

Oh John, your knowledge on all types of Afrivcan music is impressive.

Am thrilled by kweya and dico chakacha.

Tim said...

Hi John,

Had a wisdom tooth out earlier this week and hearing Brother Charlly and these other fine tunes has gone a long way to speeding my recovery.

During the course of my researches I have found a single that you might want to add to your Kilimambogo Brothers discography on Endo's site:

New Mwania Sound NEW 102 Kilimambogo Brothers Sulula Company Pts 1 & 2

Songwriting/principal performer credit is Joseph Mwania

Again, many thanks for the post. I'm about to discover whether it's possible to gargle and dance at the same time . . .

Anonymous said...

That drum machine on the Virunga track needs to be taken outside and beaten to death with a sledge hammer.

Aside from that, great things here!!! I am simply loving this compilation.

Anonymous said...


Yeah, I've always liked "Kweya" but it's almost like the drum machine is holding the band back; if you had a real drummer in there they'd really be kickin (the final third of the song is great)! I'm not too familiar with Samba's work from this period; did he use a drum machine often?

Anonymous said...

Not sure: Virunga certainly had drummer at various points in the life of the band - there was Nickens Nkoso ( ) and "Lava Machine" ( - do a search for the name n the page ) who was also in Shika Shika. Probably the drum machine was used at some point when the band was between drummers. Or they actually WERE looking for that distinctive 80s sound. Who knows.

These little pieces of history about the music are part of its appeal to me. In my nightmares, no one records these history and anecdotes that are such an important part of the culture around the music and they utterly completely lost forever.

Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly agree!

Africolombia said...

John b,

thank you for this music, this is the music y also the Highlife of Nigeria & ghana, my ears are delighting with these melodies.
Thanks again for enseñardos every day.

Fabian -

kabuga said...

Ntwiga and John,

I remember in 1985 when kweya was released a music critic in the Daily Nation lamenting that it did not measure up with previous Samba works.
But remember this was the time most notable local musicians were experimenting eg Moreno, Kenya Blue stars, Kakai Kilonzo, Ochieng Kabaselleh, Earthquake etc. Samba must have been bitten by the virus.