‘Harambe’ by Mac & Party was one of the most interesting recent rediscoveries of Kenyan taarab from the past decades. An English language taarab song with the prominent presence of an early synthesizer, it sounded unlike any other Kenyan music that came out during the 1960s and ‘70s. Initially, when trying to license the track for reissue in 2016 (Soundway’s ‘Kenya Special volume 2’ and the 45 RPM reissue on Afro7), we didn’t have much luck in finding out who had recorded and composed the song, or even when exactly it had come out. Comparing discographies of the original label, and listening to other songs that were close enough by catalogue numbers, it appeared to be the work of the late singer/composer Yaseen Mohamed. His sons were able to confirm that it was their father singing on those singles, that Mac & Party and Yaseen & Party were most likely the same band, and that the recordings were done in the early ‘60s.

A closer look at Yaseen Mohamed’s legacy reveals that he was an important figure in Kenya’s taarab music of the 20th century. Between his first 78 RPM record, which came out around 1947, and the last single released in the mid-sixties, his discography spans nearly 50 confirmed releases, and possibly many more collaborations that he was not credited for.
Yaseen was born in Mombasa in the 1920s. His parents were of Omani heritage. Growing up he joined the British colonial army, which allowed him to travel around the region and soak up a wide variety of cultural influences. During Yaseen’s youth, recorded taarab music had become popular across the region, pioneered by a group of musicians from Zanzibar whose musical output from the late ’20s and early ’30s set a trend.

Socio-economic changes in the colony during the 20th century, which transformed Mombasa from a Swahili town of less than 30,000 people, reigned by the sultan of Zanzibar, into a metropole in the newly independent country of Kenya, had a major impact on music culture. These changes were mirrored in the evolution of taarab between the 1920s and ‘60s. Yaseen’s early work is a patchwork of stylistic influences from Indian and Egyptian film melodies, Cuban son, and trendy dance styles such as the twist, mambo and samba, all thrown in the mix with a traditional taarab combo line-up of vocals, ud and percussion. He would later be quoted as saying that “there is no certain thing which is taarab. Even rock is taarab if people just sit and listen”.

By the early ‘50s, Yaseen had joined Assanand & Sons (Mombasa) Ltd., a shop selling musical instruments and 78 RPM records, which was quickly being developed into Mombasa’s most popular music studio. Yaseen was an all-round member on the team, recording his own music, performing as a session musician, acting as a studio technician, and scouting new talent for Mzuri, the in-house label. Apart from singing and composing he became a master of the taishokoto, a musical instrument of Japanese origin which was introduced in Kenya in the 1940s. During this time he started recording with his wife Saada (credited on releases as ‘Mimi’), who joined him on the stage during live single mic set up in the storage room at the back of the Assanand shop.

Yaseen, Mimi and their band were at the forefront of innovation in Mombasa taarab; their small-band approach with newly introduced instruments such as the (amplified) taishokoto, accordion, and the Clavioline, a predecessor of the synthesizer, sounded quite different from the big-band taarab approach of orchestras that were around during the 1940s and ‘50s. Their short songs (limited to 3 minutes per side for 78 RPM releases, and a bit longer when Mzuri started pressing on 45 RPM singles) appeared easy on the ear, but the lyrics were rooted in the intricate Swahili poetry that had been popular among the East African coast for centuries.

In 1962, Yaseen and Mimi got their first child, a milestone described in ‘Nimepata mwana’. From then on, Yaseen focused on working regular jobs, while music remained a hobby. They struggled to make ends meet though, living with their four children in a single-room apartment in Mombasa’s inner city. While Yaseen was of Omani heritage, Mimi’s parents were Digo, a people from coastal Kenya who were discriminated against during the colonial era. Yaseen’s close family didn’t accept Mimi and her kids into the family. In 1972, Yaseen left Mimi and the children to take up work in Oman, which had just started a transition from one of the middle east’s most traditional societies into a modern Arab oil-fuelled economy. Yaseen’s professional skills as an electrician and a mechanic were welcomed as he joined thousands from the Omani diaspora in East Africa in occupying the work force. Despite continuing to make music in his pastime, performing on national television and radio with his taishokoto, and composing a song for sultan Qaboos, he didn’t record any more music. Yaseen returned to Mombasa to visit his wife and sons every few years, and he intended to retire bring the family over to Oman, but he passed away in 1985. By that time, the Mzuri label and Assanand shop were long gone, and the production of taarab in Kenya had started a decline that has nearly decimated the Mombasa scene by 2019. A few of Yaseen’s songs were featured on foreign compilations, some of his recordings can be found on bootleg CDs in Mombasa, but only some of the older generation in Kenya are aware of the remarkable legacy and the impact that Yaseen and his wife have had on Kenya’s coastal music.

The full album LP with 4-page fold-out insert with extended liner notes and the single can be bought seperate through our music shop, with reasonable worldwide shipping prices, use this link to buy directly from us, we also have other Afro7 releases available.

Afro7LINK TO SONG SNIPPETS from Yaseen & Party Compilation LP
LINK TO SONG SNIPPETS from the Single Mac & Party Zandale and Kiss to Kiss single

Even though African music of the past four decades is being rediscovered, catalogued and reissued by foreign labels at an accelerating speed, music from the East-Central African nation of Burundi remains somewhat of a blind spot to collectors who are not from the region. Western audiences have long associated the country with pop hits by singer Khadja Nin (based in Belgium since 1980) or even with Burundi Black (1971), the worldwide hit by French pianist Michel Bernholc (alias Mike Steiphenson) that sampled a recording from 1968 of traditional Burundian drumming. There are two vinyl releases from 1980 and 1987 that hint at the unknown history of Burundian pop music, records that have gained grail status among collectors, even though the story behind those LPs has never been told in full.
The first is a 7-LP box, released by Radio Nederland in 1980 (only 80 copies were made), containing the 100 entries to a band competition that the station organised for undiscovered talent from the Francophone African region. Among them was Amabano, the group that would become one of the two winners of the Concours du Moulin D’or (Golden Windmill contest), and who were invited to pick up their trophy, tour and record an album in a well-equipped studio in the Netherlands. The four tracks featured on the promotional vinyl are dreamy, mid-tempo psych-funk grooves with a touch of jazz and rumba, sung in the Kirundi language. The other LP, by the same group, was released in 1987 on the Soviet Union’s Melodiya label in two different editions, each limited to 1000 copies, and now near-impossible to find. ‘Gasuku’ was not a delayed release of their previous Dutch recordings, but a new set of songs, put to tape by a Soviet team that had travelled Burundi for the occasion. Like their 1980s contest entries, the ‘Gasuku’ album had a musical approach that was deeply rooted in psych, funk and rumba of the 1970s.

The remarkable story behind these records started in East Africa in the ’70s, when young musicians Africanova (Antoine Marie Rugerinyange) and Niki Dave (David Nikiza) were involuntarily exiled due to the civil war in Burundi. Both started a string of gigs with bands in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. Africanova even was a member of the Suicide Revolutionary Band, a large army ensemble, along with Idi Amin’s later wife Sarah, until life under Idi Amin’s reign became too unpredictable. They ended up working together in a seedy nightclub in Kenya, in Nairobi’s River Road. Africanova was a multi-talented musician with a penchant for Congolese rumba, while Niki Dave would become known as a singer specialised in soul and funk. Their band was called the Afro Kids and featured members from Burundi, Congo and Kenya. By 1977 they found themselves recording a full album, which remains unreleased, and two singles, including the psych-funk title ‘Shoreza inyange’, which would make them superstars in Burundi and Rwanda. On the strength of these hits, they were invited by the state-owned national radio of Burundi to come back home for a tour. The first gig, using the new name of the Explorers, was sold out, and many more followed. The band’s unprecedented success quickly became an argument for the government, proving to the thousands of exiled Burundians in neighbouring countries that Burundi had become a safe place for them to return to.

In 1978, the Explorers signed with the Ministry of Information to become the state-sponsored house band of the national radio station. They picked the new name of Amabano, and musically their base of funk, soul and rumba, sung in a multitude of languages, absorbed a lot of influence from Burundian traditional music, and the Kirundi language would be heard in many of their songs. Winning the Moulin D’Or award, and the subsequent European trip in 1980, elevated their status as Burundi’s number one orchestra. In the next five years, they would feature prominently on radio, television and representing the Burundian state during international conferences. At the time, Burundi did not have professional music studios, and the only alternative to travelling abroad to record was to use the limited facilities at the radio station. Although Amabano received carte blanche to order their preferred musical equipment from abroad, there was nobody around to produce an album according to their standards. They contemplated another trip to Europe to record a full album, as their previous effort with Radio Nederland remained unreleased. Ultimately it was through the friendship of a Burundian government minister and the Russian ambassador that another plan was put into practice: a Russian team would come down to Bujumbura, record the band and then mix the album back in the USSR. The session was indeed released in the Soviet Union, by the state-owned Melodiya which was equally at home releasing major Russian pop bands and small-run pressings of regionally known bands by ethnic minorities within the USSR. It’s not known what the intended audience was for the Amabano LP, but it did nothing to catapult the band to international fame; the musicians were not even aware of the album’s release, although a copy was sent to Burundian radio.

While the Soviet Union was about to experience radical political changes that would affect the Melodiya label, back in Burundi there was also a change of leadership that resulted in the total lack of promotion of the Amabano album. The regime of president Bagaza was removed during a military coup during the same year the LP came out. Under the new government, conditions were not very favourable for Amabano. In 1990 the band left the radio and split up. The former band members continued to be active as musicians, and Africanova had success as a solo artist and running a music studio before he moved to Ivory Coast, and later to Canada. Niki Dave had left the band shortly before Amabano travelled to the Netherlands, and continued making music until his untimely death in 1992.

Today Amabano and its members are fondly remembered by many for their musical legacy that unified people in Burundi as well as neighbouring Rwanda across ethnic, economic and age boundaries. Apart from cassettes and CDs of their recordings in the studio of the Burundian national radio, their music has remained out of print until the current re-release of the Amabano LP (now called ‘Amsterdam Ticket’ after one of the songs on the LP, composed by Manu Dibango for the Radio Nederland contest), and the accompanying 45 RPM reissue of a single by the Afro Kids.

The full album LP with insert and the single can be bought seperate through our music shop, with reasonable worldwide shipping prices, use this link to buy directly from us, we also have other Afro7 releases available.

Afro7LINK TO SNIPPETS from the Amabano ‘Amsterdam Trip’ LP
LINK TO SNIPPETS FROM Niki Dave & Afro Kids Shoreza Inyange and Amayaya SINGLE

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’
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