Awengele was a self-styled ‘boy band’ comprising four members, all of Luhya origin (West Kenya). Barely out of school, they were all pursuing careers – as an engineer, civil servant, a cartoonist and marketeer – and played music in their free time, doing regular shows at schools and public events, but never on the club circuit. Inspired by the afro-rock of Osibisa as well as Santana and the Motown hits of the mid-seventies, their style was defined by the musical instruments at their disposal: guitar, bass and a drum kit. Through their manager Joe Kuria they got to record a single for the Akili label, adding an organ to the mix. Kenyan 45s typically mentioned the style of the song on the label, and their self-titled debut listed both ‘rock’ and ‘Maasai’. The latter referred to the vocal style used on the chorus, which was obviously inspired by Maasai chants, and to the song’s lyrics which were in Luhya with a few words of Maasai thrown in; the flipside was in English. Kenya in the 1970s counted a handful of other bands playing rock (never as many as Zambia or Nigeria though). These included Black Savage and Jimmy Mawi, who was an inspiration to the group as they often played together. However, Awengele’s fusion of soul, funk and psych-rock was one of a kind. This and many more great tracks from Kenyas musical golden era 1970s & ’80s are out now on Soundway’s Kenya Special:Volume II, get your copy from the publisher!
A) Awengele ‘Awengele’|
B) Awengele ‘Loving Day’
A studied lawyer, Chris Kariuki took his hobby of music quite seriously, from the early ‘80s right up to his death in 2001. His earliest recordings while barely out of college were with the boogie-funk Gravity who recorded two singles for the CBS label. In the ‘90s he took up the artist name of Njoroge Benson (or ‘Joroge’) and recorded two singles, right at the very end of the vinyl era in Kenya. The dancehall-inflected ‘Gichichio’ and its b-side ‘Nyinyukia’ came out on an obscure label, Odyssey records. During Kariuki’s Gravity days, boogie funk may have been the sound of the day, but by the early ‘90s the Nairobi dancefloors were tuned to (American and European) house, hip hop, dancehall and everything in between. A series of locally released compilation LPs with foreign hits is a reminder of that. ‘Nyinukia’ is one of only a handful of Kenyan songs from the era that reflect that sound, including the keyboard stabs that are very similar to the piano used on Ultra Naté’s 1991 hit album ‘Blue notes in the basement’, and about a thousand other house songs from the early ‘90s. The drum pattern borrows a bit from the new jack swing groove. Njoroge Benson’s lyrics here are in English, but the title and chorus (‘Nyinyukia’ is Kikuyu meaning ‘take me home’) indeed take it home.
A) Njoroge Benson ‘Gichichio’|
B) Njoroge Benson ‘Nyinyukia’
By the time multi-instrumentalist Francis Njoroge released his first solo single, he’d already been recording for more than a decade. An early trace of his musical activity is found on a classic Zamrock album ‘Soweto’ by Rikki Ililonga, recorded in Nairobi and released in 1977. A founding member of Afro disco/funk/rock group Makonde, it’s the track ‘Manzara’ (catapulted to b-boy classic by Afrika Bambaataa and Jazzy Jay back in 1977) that’s become Francis’ most well-known song worldwide, although until recently he was not even aware of the fact. When Makonde broke up in between a European tour and a US gig that never happened, he joined the African Heritage Band, one of the hot new names on the Nairobi live scene at the dawn of the 1980s. Shortly after a European tour he quit the band to take up a gig at a new night club in town. Together with fellow Makonde veteran Sammy Kasule he then formed a new group called Radi whose music leaned on boogie-funk. Another project in the ‘80s was Jabali, whose ‘Folk Song (Kanyoni)’ was an audience favourite. Musically it sounds like a stepping stone towards the sound on ‘Dai’, with its drum machine, synth bass and poppy arrangement. The latter was a full-on dancefloor oriented track that came with a dubby remix on the flipside. And where ‘Folk song’ mixed English and Kikuyu lyrics, Dai (‘riddles’) was all Kikuyu: a lyric urging the young generation to maintain the tradition of telling riddles. Originally released on the small Turbo label as a 45, it had disappeared into oblivion until last year when we dug up a copy in a Kikuyu ex-DJ’s private collection in a wooden cottage outside Nairobi.
A) Francis Njoroge ‘Dai’|
B) Francis Njoroge ‘Dai’ ReMix
One of the great Somali female vocalists of her time was Faadumo Qaasim, from the Benadiri ethnic group. She passed in 2011 but the composer Said Harawo is to this day still living in Mogadishu and working at the National theatre of arts. Though constant menacing threats of the Al Shabaab towards music and culture, it’s sad to say the fear has put restrains on his movements. He rarely leaves his house these days. The song Majogo means I am not here. It’s a love song. She is singing how she is unavailable for love. At the same time she says “I am so in love with you my body aches” Another classic case of being love sick. So instead of welcoming love, she would rather chase it away.Berflasana is sung by another artists who is sadly not among us anymore. Ahmed Sharief Yusuf, also from the Benadiri tribe with roots in Yemen, where he relocated after the civil war. Berflasana means we are going to farm. Somalis are typically nomad culturally, where farming is very limited. Back in 60s and 70s the government introduced programs to promote farming. This song talks about the pros and cons of farming. It says that we are going to farm if we want food. If we don’t farm we going be depend hand-outs or aid. This single is now available again from afro7.net. head over to the shop and grab your copy. Special thanks to Keynaan Cali for the translations!
A) Faduma Kassim ‘Majogo’|
B) Ahmed Sharief Yusuf ‘Berflasana’
Born in Nyeri in 1953, Rachel Wanjiru, aka Tanya Ria singing came at an early age, as a dedicated Christian in the Kikuyu tribe choir practice is day to day routine. It was in 1977 Kenyan music journalist Nick Ayub and producer Joe Rogoiyo took her to the studio and recorded Do the Smasher and Love You Didn’t Want backed up by the Trippers band(not to be confused with the Tanzanian outfit) led by Francis Njoroge on Keys, Berry on guitar, Charlie Muthemba on bass and Franco on drums. However it was a short-lived singing career, she was professionally a physiotherapist and that took over her time. Sadly Tanya Ria passed in 2013 only 60 years old. It was to her family great surprise they stumbled upon her mother’s recordings on afro7.net by googling her stage name. It was the first time they had heard these songs! Back on wax again as a limited single, with press out centre and silk pressed custom sleeve. Check out the tracks below and buy direct through our order page.
A) Tanya Ria ‘Do The Smasher’|
B) Tanya Ria ‘The Love You Didn’t Want’
SCREW RECORD STORE DAY! We would have had AFRO7 01 & 02 singles available by this date, but they didn’t make it. On the positive side, we got this one in our store: The Scorpios A west London based Sudanese band playing Traditional tribal songs about family, love and religion from central Sudan. The songs which were played at weddings get together’s, religious ceremonies and events. Many of the musicians moved from Sudan after the Islamist take over and play music coming from a 60’s and 70’s inclination. At that time there was a melting pot in Sudan with many western influences with roots in South American, Funk and Rock&Roll. Sudan was always the country at the Horn of Africa country most willing to mix these influences. The music consists of Arabic rhythms with guitars, heavy bass and synths and sometimes horns supported by heavy percussion and drums. The music consists of songs either sung by women or men depending on the nature of the songs. Much of this music is slowly being forgotten by newer generations from Sudan. This limited single is just a teaser for the full album coming later this year. Hear or download full mp3 tracks in the links below. If you like it head over to the store to grab your copy!
A) The Scorpios ‘Yaelhajarok (They Leave You For Me)’|
B) The Scorpios ‘Yadob Yadob (A New Beginning)’