Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Benga. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Benga. Sort by date Show all posts

Thursday, September 13, 2018

More Coastal Sounds From Kenya?



Here's an LP that my old friend Steve Kamuiru brought me from Kenya back in the early '90s. I have been unable to find out anything about Aziz Abdi Kilambo, but from his name and style of dress I would speculate that he is from the coastal area of Kenya. Somebody correct me if I'm wrong! Likewise Orchestra Benga Africa's sound has a more languid (coastal?) rumba feel to it. Talanta (Polydor POLP 615, 1991) is an enjoyable excursion indeed!

Aziz Abdi Kilambo & Orchestra Benga Africa - Talanta




Download Talanta as a zipped file here. Other recordings by Aziz Abdi Kilambo are available for streaming on Amazon, Spotify and other platforms.


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!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Kickin' Kikuyu!



Daniel Kamau's Kikuyu-language benga sounds a little different from the Luo, Kamba and Swahili versions of the music this blog has featured in the past. Together with the late Joseph Kamaru he was one of the great innovators and popularizers of the Kenyan sound in the '60s, '70s and '80s. In addition to addressing current issues in his music he participated in the political process as councillor of Gatanga ward north of Nairobi from 1979 to 1992. The Daily Standard of Nairobi had this to say in 2009, when the great maestro was 42 years into his career:

Daniel Kamau, popularly known as DK, proudly clings to the title of pioneer of Kikuyu benga music. At 60 and with over 1,000 songs to his credit, DK is unwilling to hang up his cherished guitar. He is scaling new heights by not only producing music videos of his past hits but also releasing new songs. 
When Sunday Magazine paid him a visit one afternoon, DK was busy working on a new video at a music production studio in downtown Nairobi. The soft-spoken man who meets us does not look like a celebrity but the large number of visitors seeking audience with him proves he is no ordinary person. 
"I am recording my 1,013th song and also editing videos for the song "Muiritu wa Nyiri" (Girl from Nyeri), which I released last year," he says as he ushers us into the studio. DK has been a leading figure in music ever since 1967, when he dropped out of Karatina High School while in Form Two due to lack of school fees. 
And so successful has his music career been that the artiste never regrets dropping out of school. At the time, he was already deeply entrenched in music as he had started to sing while in primary school in his home village of Mabanda in Gatanga District. He had learnt how to play the guitar at just ten. 
"I had three older brothers who were musicians and owned a guitar that they used to entertain people in the village. But they never allowed me to touch it as they feared it would spoil me and prevent me from pursuing my education," DK recounts. 
But determined to realise his dream of being a musician and satisfy his curiosity, DK says he would often sneak away with the guitar while his siblings were away and teach himself how to play it. "I would hide nervously in a thick bush behind the main house, praying that they would not come back home and find me toying with their treasured tool of work," DK says. 
He perfected playing the guitar and earned instant eminence when he finally performed in public for the first time. "On Madaraka Day in 1964, my brothers turned up for a public performance too drunk to perform. I offered to play the guitar, only to be become the talk of the village for a week as no one could believe a young boy could be so skilful," he says. 
After dropping out of school, DK says he just had one dream - to hear his voice on radio. He subsequently wrote a letter to a Voice of Kenya presenter, Mrs Kabeberi, requesting assistance so that he could produce his own music. 
"Mrs Kabeberi directed me to musician David Amunga who co-owned a production studio. He helped me release my first record in 1968," he recounts. The album contained the songs "Mami Tiga Guthura" (Mum don’t hate me) and "Kenyatta wa Muigai." DK went on to release five other records with hits such as "Surusuru ni ya ki?" (Why the gossip) and "Muiritu wa Thukuru" (Schoolgirl). But he felt short-changed when he was paid "a meagre Sh450" for all his toil. He shifted to Sokota Productions in 1969 and released three albums that fetched him Sh2,500. 
He used the earnings to establish his own studio, DK Nguvu Sounds, which was located near Tea Room in downtown Nairobi. It is in this studio that he recorded hit songs "Njika na Njika" (Tit for Tat) and "I Love You" in 1970, with the latter getting cross-ethnic approval. 
In the same year, DK made history when his maiden benga hit, "Kanini," sold 9,000 records. His studio became an instant hit, attracting then upcoming stars such as Kakai Kilonzo and Joseph Gicheha. After just over a decade in music, DK had become an irresistible darling of the people in his home village and, inevitably, he says, he found himself entrenched in politics. "I was under pressure to vie for the Gatanga Ward civic seat in 1979. I gave in to the people’s request, contested and won. I was thus forced to mix music with politics until 1992, when I quit politics to fully focus on music," he says. 
With the advance in technology that has made video production cheaper, DK has now turned his mind to shooting videos of his past hits, a move he says has been influenced by public demand. He has already produced five videos of his past music, featuring "Kanini," "Ningwite Nawe" (I have fallen for you), "Kamugunda-ini ka Mahua" (In the flower garden), and "I Love You." And looking over his shoulder, DK admits that he is today a worried man - all because of modern trends in the local music industry. 
He notes that while in the past he could only record four songs in one year, he is baffled to see some modern artistes enter a recording studio and come out with 12 songs in a day. "It took time to record music in the 1970s through the 1990s as we performed as a hobby and our greatest desire was to hear ourselves on radio. Today, music has been turned into a business and this has badly lowered the quality. It is no a surprise that you need a presenter to say whose song is playing. In the past, the music needed no introduction," DK states. 
He is furious about the high level of piracy in the country, saying he was recently shocked to learn that his music was being sold online to Kenyans in the Diaspora without his knowledge. He is also bitter that a local ring tones firm has been illegally selling some of his top songs to mobile phone users for over five years without his consent.
I'm happy to present The Best of DK Vol. 1 (CBS 026), which features some of DK's evergreen hits.













Download The Best of D.K. Vol. 1 as a zipped file here.


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.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Disco Benga!




Those listening to the album Muungwana (CBS ACP-CBS 1203), by Kenya's Sylvester Odhiambo & the Ambira Boys, may be reminded of the 1973 smash "Lunch Time" and other hit records by Gabriel Omolo & his Apollo Komesha. That's not surprising, as according to the liner notes Mr. Odhiambo sang on many of those recordings.

I have no idea what Mr. Odhiambo is singing about here (no doubt in keeping with Kenyan fashion the lyrics are pithy and ironic), but Muungwana is an infectious example of mid-'80s Swahili benga - propulsive, fast-moving, the synthesizer giving the music a sophisticated "disco" sheen. Enjoy!






Download Muungwana as a zipped file here. "Lunch Time" and other recordings by Gabriel Omolo & the Apollo Komesha, featuring Sylvester Odhiambo on vocals, may be found on the compilation Kenya Dance Mania (Sterns/Earthworks STEW 24CD), and I posted the flip side of "Lunch Time" here.

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 out 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.

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!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A Couple of Rochereaus



Just about everyone in the United States who started collecting African music in the 1970s and '80s is familiar with the productions of Brooklyn's African Record Centre, with its labels Makossa, Star Musique and others. Back in those days it was pretty much the only source in the US for authentic African music, by which I mean the sort of stuff that's listened to in Africa itself. The ARC licensed many recordings by Fela Ransome-Kuti (later Fela Anikulapo-Kuti), then only known to a small but devoted coterie. It released a raft of funky Ghanaian guitar-highlife records, recordings by Franco and other "Zaïrean" artists, 12" benga records produced by Kenya's indomitable P.O. Kanindo, and an amazing series by the US-based Sierra Leonean group Muyei Power, some of which have been gathered into a retrospective by London's Soundway Records. 

These recordings would make their way through obscure distribution channels to record stores throughout the land, where perplexed clerks would stash them in the "International" bin along with records by Nana Mouskouri and Heino. "World Music™" had yet to be born!

By 1983 I had already been a fan of Fela's for a while, King Sunny Adé had made a splash, and in 1981 and '82 Mango Records had released two compilations of African music, Sound d'Afrique and Sound d'Afrique II: Soukous, both of which were revelations but especially the second, which showcased the music of the Democratic Republic of Congo, then called Zaïre. So, during a trip to New York City I had to make a pilgrimage to 1194 Nostrand Ave. in Brooklyn, this Mecca of African sounds.

I have to say the store was everything I'd hoped for, crammed to the gills with not only ARC's own productions but even more mysterious imports actually pressed in Africa! I wasn't exactly flush with cash at the time - I could only afford five LPs. I got a couple of Sunny Adé Nigerian pressings, and a French reissue of Fela's Coffin for Head of State. What would the fourth and fifth ones be? I liked the Zaïrean music I'd heard - could the clerk make a recommendation? It turned out Makossa had just released a number of recordings from that country, including the one the clerk handed over - Kele Bibi: Rochereau Vol. 8 (Disco Stock Makossa DM 5001, 1982), by an artist I'd never heard of - "Seigneur Tabu Ley."

I'll admit I looked at this record with some skepticism. Who was this middle-aged, rather paunchy fellow in a cheesy Elvis-style white jumpsuit and cape? But when the clerk put the record on the turntable I was sold! I got that one and a second record, Mpeve Ya Longo: Rochereau Vol. 7 (Disco Stock Makossa DM 5000, 1982), this one featuring Tabu Ley and a female singer, M'Bilia Bel:


According to Wikipedia, Pascal-Emmanuel Sinamoyi Tabu was born November 13, 1937 or 1940 in Bagata, in what was then the Belgian Congo. He came by his nickname "Rochereau" after correctly naming the French general Pierre Philippe Denfert-Rochereau in a quiz at school. In 1956 he joined African Jazz, the musical congregation of Joseph Athanase Tshamala Kabasele, or Le Grand Kallé, considered the father of modern Congolese music, and notched a number of hits with the group before leaving with Nicolas Kasanda wa Mikalay (known as Docteur Nico) in 1963 to form African Fiesta. This group split in turn in 1965, Rochereau forming African Fiesta National, renamed Afrisa International in 1970. Around this time he also took on the stage name "Tabu Ley" as part of President Mobutu Sese-Seko's Authenticité campaign.

During the '70s Afrisa International vied with Franco's TPOK Jazz and other groups to popularize Congolese music around the world, making it the most widespread and popular style across Africa. During this period Afrisa performed at the legendary Zaïre '74 concert, during FESTAC '77 in Lagos, and at the Olympia Theater in Paris.

It was Rochereau's lovely voice that made him a star, instantly recognizable on such classic tunes as "Afrika Mokili Mobimba" and many others, but it was his stage show and musical innovations that kept him on top for many years. Elvis, of course, was an inspiration, but so were James Brown and other American R&B stars. He even did a cover of the Beatles classic "Let it Be"

M'Bilia Bel (born Marie-Claire M'Bilia M'boyo in Kinshasa in 1959) got started as a singer and dancer with Abeti Masikini. Here she was spotted by Tabu Ley and invited to join his female backup group, the Rocherettes.She performed with them for a few years before making Mpeve Ya Longo with Ley, her recording debut. She was an immediate hit and soon cut a solo album, Eswi Yo Wapi (Genidia GEN 102, 1983), with more recordings, solo and with Tabu Ley, to follow. The pair were soon married, with Bel as the junior wife in Rochereau's polygamous marriage.

The two albums showcased here, Mpeve Ya Longo and Kele Bibi, come at an interesting inflection point in the careers of the two artists. The following year, 1983, would see the release of several recordings on Rochereau's Genidia label that catapulted the pair to international fame, with more to follow over the next few years. A compilation on the Shanachie label, Rochereau (43017, 1984) introduced them to US audiences. A few years ago Sterns Music released The Voice of Lightness Vol. 2 by Tabu Ley (STCD 3056-57, 2010) and Bel Canto by M'Bilia Bel (STCD 3037-38, 2007), which showcase the best music of the Genidia years.

The sound of Mpeve Ya Longo and Kele Bibi is subtly different from the Genidia recordings. I don't know if it's because of different recording engineers or what, but the mixes here are looser-sounding, less polished and push the vocals to the forefront while making way for some really inspired instrumental jams. Truly infectious!

After several years and one child together, the personal and professional partnership of Tabu Ley and M'Bilia Bel came to an acrimonius end in 1987, allegedly over disrespect shown by Bel to Tabu Ley's senior wife, Mimi Ley. Whatever the reason, Bel's career on her own, after a promising start with 1988's Phènomené (Mbilia Production MCB 001), has declined over the years, although she continues to record and tour.

Following Bel's departure, Rochereau hooked up with two new female singers, Faya Tess and her sister Beyou Ciel, and continued to record and tour internationally. After the fall of Presidnet Mobutu Sese-Seko in 1997 he took a cabinet position in the new government of Joseph Kabila and followed that up with several other positions over the years. He passed away on November 30, 2013 in Belgium and was buried in Kinshasa after an official mourning ceremony.

Here is Mpeve Ya Longo: Rochereau Vol. 7:





Download Mpeve Ya Longo as a zipped file here. And here is Kele Bibi: Rochereau Vol. 8, the record that made me fall in love with the great Tabu Ley:





Download Kele Bibi as a zipped file here. I have Vols. 5 and 6 of this series also, and I might post them in the future.While researching this post I came across this rare video, which reunites Rochereau with his old partner, Docteur Nico. I suspect this was recorded in the early '80s, shortly before Nico's death, but he's in stellar form! Turns out this was uploaded by Stefan Werdekker of the excellent WorldService blog. Thaks, Stefan!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Welcome to Maroon!



Mwakaribishwa na Maroon! That's Swahili for "Welcome to Maroon." It's also the title of today's featured recording (Polydor POLP 600, 1989) by Kenya's legendary Maroon Commandos. The Maroons have been around since 1970, founded by Habel Kifoto (that's him on the left above) as the offficial band of the 7th Kenya Rifles of the Kenyan Army, based in Langata Barracks, Nairobi. 

The Maroons' modest goal in the beginning was to tour the country entertaining homesick troops, but it wasn't long before their infectious blend of rumba, benga and traditional music caught on with the general public. Their first hit was "Emily" in 1971, and then an unfortunate traffic accident in 1972, which killed one member, sidelined the group for several years until they came roaring back in 1977 with "Charonyi ni Wasi," which is included on the collection Kenya Dance Mania (Sterns/Earthworks STEW24CD, 1991). Written by Kifoto in his native Taita language, it is a sad melody of nostalgia and hard times in the big city. I shared another great song by the group, "Liloba," in an earlier post. That one, by the way, featured the vocals of Laban Ochuka, who later founded the Ulinzi Orchestra, the subject of a future post.

About a recent performance, Daniel Wesangula wrote in the Daily Nation newspaper:

Three nights a week 20 Kenyan soldiers take a break from the rigorous routine that defines their military life from sunrise to sunset. On these nights they let another side of their personalities take over as they mingle with civilians through music. Hands trained to hold weapons hold guitars, trumpets, drumsticks and microphones. Feet accustomed to marching in formation and jumping in and out of trenches tap lightly, keeping beat to the music. 
Voices conditioned to bark out orders in military drills croon words that have entertained generations. And the faces that seldom crack the faintest of smiles soften and become warm. During the two hours on stage there are no ranks, no obligatory salutes. During this rehearsal, united by their common love of music, they are all equal.
After a ten-year recording hiatus, the Maroon Commandos returned to the scene in 2007 with a new album, Shika Kamba, and have continued to entertain East Africans up until the present. I was saddened to learn while researching this post, though, that Habel Kifoto passed away in 2011. He had retired from the Army in 2009, passing on leadership of the band to Diwani Nzaro and subesquently Sgt. David Kombo. Kifoto remained active in music, however, and is said to have recorded a new album just before his death.

Enjoy Mwakaribishwa na Maroon!





Download Mwakribishwa na Maroon as a zipped file here.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Ikenga Super Stars: Kickin' Ikwokilikwo!




The Ikenga Super Stars of Africa, led by Victor Okoroego, weigh in here with a funky slice of Ikwokilikwo. The Ikengas were born in 1973 as "The Nkengas" when they split from bandleader Osita Osadebe, in the process hijacking the master tape that became the legendary Nkengas in London (Orbitone OTO 06, 1973). This was but a prelude, though, to the group's massive hit, 1975's Ikenga in Africa (Rogers All Stars ASALP 2).*

The band continued kickin' it at least until 1984, when its output seemed to trickle out with the rather weak War Against Indiscipline (Rogers All Stars RASLPS 065)
. In the meantime the Ikengas established themselves as one of the most beloved Nigerian groups of all time, not only in their homeland but across Africa and in Europe as well. African music fans were delighted when a collection of Ikenga recordings, Great Hits Vol. 1 (Rogers All Stars RASCD 018), was finally issued on CD a couple of years ago.

Side 1 of this LP, Late Celestine Ukwu Special (Roger All Stars ASALPS 12, 1977), pays tribute to the great highlife musician Celestine Ukwu, who died in 1977 in an auto accident. It opens with the refrain "ariri," meaning "grief" and continues, "...we go about our lives but we don't know how close death is... Life is pleasurable but death spoils everything... The death that took Celestine Ukwu did something terrible to us." "Ego di Nogwu" on Side 2 is actually mis-spelled. It should be "Ego di Nugwo" ("There's Never Enough Money"). The refrain repeated throughout the song, "Ego siri ike, ego di nugwo," means roughly "Money is hard to get, there's never enough money." The song continues in that vein, stating approximately, "I'm not going to steal for money, I'm not going to kill for money... Make sure your hands are clean."

Neither of these tunes is on Great Hits Vol. 1. Enjoy! And once again thanks to my wife Priscilla for interpreting the lyrics.

Ikenga Super Stars of Africa - Late Celestine Ukwu Special

Ikenga Super Stars of Africa - Ego di Nogwu

* W
hich you can download here. And in case you were wondering, Ikwokilikwo (or Ikwokirikwo) refers to a fast-paced form of highlife popularized by Oliver de Coque and Godwin Kabaka Opara (of the Oriental Brothers and later Kabaka Guitar Band) in addition to the Ikengas. A product of the confluence of Congo music, benga from East Africa and the Igbo cultural renaissance that took place following the Biafra war, Ikwokilikwo was quite the rage in Nigeria in the late '70s. A discography of the Ikenga Super Stars is available here.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Let's Start!


First of all, let me introduce myself: My name is John Beadle, and I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. From January 1985 to June 2001 I produced and hosted a one-hour program, "African Beat," on WYMS 88.9 FM in Milwaukee.

For a number of years I have posted my discographies of African musicians on Dr. Toshiya Endo's African Music Home Page. I've also compiled a couple of "African Serenades" for Matsuli Music and contributed music to Comb and Razor. More than one person has suggested that I set up my own audioblog and after some resistance to the idea (I've got a lot of other irons in the fire) I couldn't think of one good reason why I shouldn't.

The thing that's so wonderful about the Internet is its democratic nature. We all contribute what we know - there are no "stars." I've learned so much from some of the other blogs that are out there and I hope to pass on some of the knowledge that I've gained over the years. Likewise I've heard some wonderful new sounds and hope to return the favor with selections from my collection.

The name "Likembe" refers to the Congolese version of the thumb-piano, an instrument that can be found across Africa, that in various versions is called the mbira, sanza, kalimba, ubo, etc. While the name is Congolese, that country probably won't be the main focus here; for one thing, there are quite a few places on the Web that deal with Congolese music already. I expect to spend a lot of time on Nigeria, as that's my main area of interest, especially Igbo music, but my interests run the gamut: Kenyan and Tanzanian music, Ethiopian funk and Senegalese mbalax, you name it. Maybe I can shed some light on some of the more obscure, little-known corners of African music, but I expect I'll learn a lot from you, too. And I reserve the right to write about things other than African music!

Like many, I was intrigued by the sounds of the Afro-Rock group Osibisa when I first heard them in the early 1970s. What really got me going, though, was, purely by chance, listening to Fela Ransome-Kuti's Live with Ginger Baker in 1973. Maybe you know the feeling: from that point there was no going back, as I spent every dollar I could spare on these strange and wonderful sounds from the African continent - Afrobeat, Soukous, Highlife, Benga, Makossa, Kwaito. . . and so on and on.

When I started "African Beat" in 1985 it seemed only proper that I should open my first show with the opening track from that 1972 Fela LP, which appropriately enough is entitled "Let's Start!" Likewise it seems a perfect tune to initiate this blog. Let's start!

Fela Ransome-Kuti & Africa '70 - Let's Start!