Sunday, August 22, 2010
Thursday, June 24, 2010
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:
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 out of print.
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.
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.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
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!
Monday, December 31, 2007
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!