The Cranes were one of Uganda’s most popular teenage bands in the 1970’s. Founded in 1965, they metamorphosed at the end of the 1970’s into the Afrigo Band which is still, up to today, the number one band in the country. What’s love and Joy, both written by singer and guitarist Tony Senkebejje, appeared in 1974 on the only Cranes’ LP ‘Top Ten Hits’.
When the album hit the record stores in Kampala, bad luck had befallen The Cranes. A month before the recording of the album their bass player Jessy Kasirivu was killed because of President Idi Amin’s amorous association with his girlfriend. Senkebejje, scared for his life, fled to Kenya, only returning to Uganda 15 years later. The song What’s love describes how confusing love can be to a young soul and is partly inspired by Kasirivu’s death. Joy is a love song for Senkebejje’s wife Rachel who followed him to Kenya and who has been singing lead and playing guitar with him in their Simba Sounds Band ever since. Both songs feature prominently in the documentary Bwana Jogoo: the ballad of Jessy Gitta (2019 – 70 min – UG/NL/FR) which investigates the death of Jessy Kasisirvu at the hands of Idi Amin‘s State Research agents. Bwana Jogoo, directed by Dutch filmmaker Michiel van Oosterhout, showcases many great 1970’s songs from Uganda while letting Uganda’s musicians of yesteryears recount fond memories of one of their own, Jessy Kasirivu. These are the folks that worked and socialized with Jessy and knew him better than most. Their accounts of the events that led to Jessy’s disappearance are riveting and haunting. It lays bare a hitherto unexplored subject and one deserving of serious interrogation and scholarship – the naked power of authoritarianism and sexual predation.

Afro7A) The Cranes ‘What’s Love’
B) The Cranes ‘Joy’

It’s a been a long while with no posts at all, and what about all those dusty Kenyan 45’s that are lying around that need another review or a bigger audience? Well, there has been so much other stuff going on that we’ve (we? Well it’s just me, one guy) just haven’t had time to do it. I promise more focus on this in the future with a fresh blog post on a regular basis. We generally put up new vintage singles in our music shop every week, so check in on the shop through this link every Friday! What we have now is the last in line of a series of special DJ twelve inches we’ve been doing for the last years.

Let me tell you about this one: the label these songs originally came out on was CBS Kenya, a local franchise of the American Colombia records which focused on local artists and imports to the Kenyan market in the late seventies and early eighties. With local pressing facilities at hand, there’s a number of international big names whose music got released on the Kenyan CBS imprint, ranging from Madonna and ABBA to Queen, and even Pink Floyd. There are also West- and South African and Caribbean artists, such as Caiphus Semenya, True Tones and Bunny Mack. For this release we focus on disco, boogie and reggae by local artists. The familiar Black Savage band (see AFR7-LP-03) is featured as opening act on this EP with their very last recording. By the time ‘Fire’ was put to wax, only band leader Gordon Ominde was left of the original line-up. Here he teamed up with Ali ‘Rastaman’ Magobeni, another veteran of the Kenyan music scene, for a reggae crossover sound that could fit a hit in the Kenyan music market of early 80’s.

In the early years of CBS Kenya, before the ‘Fire’ single was released, Nigerian Desmond Majekodunmi was at the production helm running the CBS recording facilities. His Nigerian/American wife Sheila was a profiled singer in Nairobi at the time and the couple had several recording dates in Kenya. We’ve picked one that has a slightly quirky disco backing, but with the great voice of Sheila Majekodunmi in front. Read the full story of the Majeks in this write-up by renowned Nigerian music journalist Uchenna Ikonne, following Superfly Records’ recent reissue of their late 80’s Nigerian Polygram album.

Flip the 12 inch and you’ll find two great cuts by the mysterious OVID group. In coastal fashion, the lyrics to ‘Karibuni’ were aimed at tourists: “Welcome, welcome to Kenya”. The drum machine vamp and vocals serve as the intro to a more electric club cut with nice soulful vocals. ‘Operator’ is an uplifting reggae track.

All tracks on the 12 inch have been mastered by Frank the Carvery for club play. Get your copy where good music is bought, or online through our shop.

Afro7A1) Black Savage ‘Fire’
A2) Sheila and Desmond Majek ‘Got the Feelin”
B1) OVID ‘Karibuni’
B2) OVID ‘Operator’

The mid-seventies in Nairobi were a time of tremendous growth. In the first decade after independence, the city’s population doubled and the economy grew at a rapid pace. Pop culture experienced a boom, live music thrived around the city and young, aspiring musicians were exposed to a wide variety of local, regional and international influences. This was the time Nairobi developed into a musical melting pot that nurtured artists who are well remembered even outside Kenya, such as Les Mangelepa (still performing!), Matata, or Joseph Kamaru. The music industry increased its capacity and by 1975 local pressing plants were able to produce over 10,000 records per day. Amidst the proliferation of Kenyan music being released by hundreds of bands and solo artists, some of the most interesting records did not receive proper distribution or promotion, and four decades down the line they remain ungoogleable, unmentioned in discographies and generally unheard.

One band whose recorded output has been all but invisible until recently, but who are well remembered by people who were young in 1970s Nairobi, is Black Savage. Their music was released on an LP and three singles between the mid-70s and the early 80s, and has remained out of print ever after. The early years of the band, whose members met during their secondary school years in Nairobi, are well described in the liner notes accompanying the current reissue compilation by Afro7. Band leader Gordon was the son of professor Simeon Ominde, who had led the reform of Kenya’s educational system in 1964 upon independence, and who was teaching at Makerere University in Uganda in 1956 when his son was born. Gordon Ominde’s earliest memories included Louis Armstrong’s concert in Kampala in 1961, where – at the age of four – he was invited on stage and started conducting the band. Musical inspiration also came from his sisters who were singers, and from attending musical classes, although at Lenana – a former whites-only boarding school which was gradually being reformed to cater to Kenyans of different backgrounds – music education meant studying Beethoven and Mozart. Together with a group of younger students who shared an interest in music, including original Black Savage members Job Seda, Jack Otieno and Ali Nassir, he started practice sessions using the musical instruments that the school provided. After completing school the band decided to rejoin and pursue a career in music, despite all odds: obtaining their own instruments, finding rehearsal space and getting the approval of their families would all have been challenges in mid-seventies Kenya.

In 1973, two Kenyans of Indian heritage who had run a successful photo business since the mid-50s, gave Kenyan music a boost by investing in a 24-track recording studio, and by acquiring EMI, Pathé and other label licenses for recording and distributing local and international music. In the next few years the Sapra studio, record plant, tape duplication facility and colour printing business would become the go-to spot in Nairobi’s Industrial Area for musicians and labels from all around East Africa. The studio was built and – as the owners struggled to find a sufficiently trained local engineer – also run by Detlef Degener, a German who had come to Kenya to construct studios for training journalists. Between 1975 when Sapra studio opened and the end of 1978 when the company went bankrupt, he recorded hundreds of bands from as far as Zambia (many Zamrock albums were produced under his guidance). Black Savage also came to record at Sapra for their debut album, which was to be released by EMI.

‘Something for someone’ provides a refreshing look at Kenya’s musical landscape of the mid-seventies. Black Savage weren’t drawing their primary influence from rumba or benga but from psych and folk rock, funk and r&b. All songs were in English, and the lyrics were politically and socially aware, breathing the activist vibe of the international ‘summer of love’ generation. The band released three more singles. ‘Do you really care/Save the savage’ is two sides of semi-acoustic protest folk, ‘Grassland/Kothbiro’ embraces the group’s Kenyan identity through the music and language, and ‘Fire/Rita’ (released around 1982 on the short-lived Kenyan CBS label) sounds as if the group attempts to reinvent itself – as a reggae band.

Given the rarity of the original vinyl releases, the lack of airplay and the absence of biographic info on the band, one could conclude that Black Savage ended up all but forgotten. It’s reassuring that the musical paths of the band members didn’t end there, though. Job Seda (who changed his name to Ayub Ogada) and Jack Otieno (today known as Jack Odongo) joined the African Heritage Band. Job then became an actor (Out of Africa), joined the UK record label Real World and scored Hollywood soundtracks. Jack went on to produce numerous Kenyan bands throughout the 1980s and 90s, and is still active as a gospel musician. Gordon Ominde continued his studies but ultimately chose for a career as a musician, and his music took him to England and to Germany where he started a family; he died unexpectedly in 2000. Mbarak Achieng is credit for composing Black Savage’s Kothbiro, which Ayub Ogada re-recorded and which ended on the soundtrack of the Constant Gardener. The memory of Black Savage as Kenya’s most prolific rockers of the 1970s remains vivid in the hearts of thousands of Nairobians, and the current Afro7 reissue is a worthy first attempt at introducing their best work to an international audience.

The Full Black savage compilation Pre-order is in effect now, go to our shop now!
Hear one full track from the album below or check out our soundcloud page with snippets of all the tracks!

Afro7A3) Black Savage Band ‘Sharpeville’

The Sudanese London collective The Scorpios have been making waves the past few years after the Afro7 release of their acclaimed debut release. Voted album of the week last summer by Gilles Peterson, many have come to treasure this great album that shines more and more upon repeated listenings. A future classic for sure!

We’re really glad to be able to offer more music from The Scorpios, this is their new hot single straight off the press! Two sides of Sudanese magic recorded at the legendary Abbey Road studios, ‘Mashena‘ is a take on the classic Sisters Al Balabil tune. The new version is spiced up with a tight percussive backbone, huge drums, flute and the lovely vocals of talented Regia Ishag. One for the dancefloor! Flip the single and you’ll find a beutiful slowburn traditional gem Samha. Comes in bespoke jacket and lovely custom made labels. We only made 500 of this so head over to the Afro7 music shop to secure your copy of the single. Their second album will be out later this year but catch them live at UK’s WOMAD – World Festival at Charlton Park 26-29 July!

Afro7A) The Scorpios ‘Mashena’
B) The Scorpios ‘Samha’

Etuk Ubong (born June 25, 1992) is a trumpeter, composer and bandleader. Hailing from Akwa Ibom State in southern Nigeria, raised in Lagos, he started playing at the age of 14 thanks to his mother’s encouragement. The past years he has been very active in Nigeria but also seen on spots in London and other European countries. Check out his previous albums Songs of Life and his Miracle >(due out on vinyl over summer!)
Following the Nigerian musical tradition of powerful protest songs against injustice and corrupt goverments, Etuk has penned two original numbers targeting todays state of affairs. It never manifest, they never fulfill their promises. They are meant to Provide good roads, stable Light, Free Education, Free Health Care Facilities, Jobs and security. With this brand new Afro7 single Labeled Earth Music, Etuk Ubong and his band raises up a fierce rhythmical storm, drawing traditions from funk, high-life, jazz and afrobeat. Laced with tape effects, delays and spiced up rawness by Neo Funk’s new wonderboy Estonian Misha Panfilov, it’s a sureshot mover for this summers tropical dancefloors. Not to be missed, head over to our shop to grab your copy!

Afro7A) Etuk Ubong ‘Black Debtors’
B) Etuk Ubong ‘Collaboration of Doom (C.O.D.)’

Located on Nyali Beach, south of Mombasa city lies Mombasa Reef Hotel, maybe the grandest of all the classic Kenyan hotels, run and managed by the same family since the mid-seventies. Catering westerners to safaris and snorkelling, and providing local acts of art-acts and music, including the hotel’s then house band the Mombasa Vikings. A band name undoubtedly suited for the many Nordic tourist that frequently visited. If you wanted to bring back some of the magic, musical souvenirs was offered for sale after the nightly musical show and another way for the band to make some extra needed pesa.

Fast forward somewhat 35 year the original Beach Rhythm’s Mombasa Roots seven-inch vinyl single with these two tracks finds Sweden’s own Rickard Masip in some now defunct Stocholm shop, he was mindblown over the music of the b-side track Mama Matotoya, it’s not exactly afro-beat more of a hybrid, heavy percussive with a a tip of chakacha rhythm pattern, a flute solo ooozing with jazz sensibility.

The Ensemble consisted of Tony Rusteau on Reeds. Abdalla ‘Dala’ Hamisi on Percussions and vocals, the late Ahmed ‘Emil’ Juma on lead guitar (…of later Mombasa Roots fame) Keneth Lucas on bass, Clement Fernandes on acoustic guitar, Bernard Pu Cheok Chuen on drums and Bruno Da Silva (who still works at the hotel to this day) and Richard Rusteau on perucssion and effects. The band was a fine example of how good it gets with a daily playing schedule and excited crowds.

We’ve been a fan of this 45 for a long time and the original still is extremely rare (only two copies known to have been found in Sweden!) We had to make a replica and with the help of Carvery’s Frank Merritt and Racuba’s Adam Isbell it’s finally available again sounding fresh and better than it ever did. 100% officially lisensed from the original band members!

Mombasa Vikings Ensemble

Afro7A) Mombasa Vikings ‘Kibe Kibe’
B) Mombasa Vikings ‘Mama Matotoya’
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