Gravity – Lost in love Towards the end of the 1970s, which had been a decade of abundance in Kenya’s homegrown music industry, CBS (Columbia) set up a well-equipped studio in Nairobi and started releasing records locally. Apart from reissues of European, American and South African hits of the day, they also recorded regional acts. Some of the most interesting output on CBS was produced by Nigerian-born Desmond Majekodunmi, better known as Des Majek, who had moved to Kenya with his wife Sheila who was a gifted singer (together with her husband she would released two singles for CBS Kenya). His early engineering credits in the UK included albums by Fleetwood Mac and Thin Lizzy, and before he started out with CBS in Nairobi he produced a few records for bands in Nigeria. In the early ‘80s Gravity, a group of college students, recorded three singles, two of which for CBS with Des Majek. Group members included Chris Kariuki, better known as Njoroge Benson and Anthony Ndungu, who would later provide lead vocals for the African Heritage Band. While the ballad ‘Goodbye Masai Girl’ catapulted Gravity into the local pop charts, it’s the modern soul / funk on the b-side that makes today’s boogie heads’ hearts skip a beat, and collectors pull out their wallet.
Matokenya – Mrs. Onyango Unknown to them, Kenyan disco group Makonde became an unlikely hype on the dance floors of uptown New York, not long after their first international record was released in France in 1977. ‘Manzara’, a raw disco anthem led by a looping clavinet, a distorted bass and the vocals of Greek-Tanzanian band leader Taso Stephanou, was hand-picked by Afrika Bambaataa and Jazzy Jay for its huge percussive breakdown 2/3 into the song, which made it the perfect record for b-boys to perform their moves to. And so a Kenyan song became a part of the early history of hip hop culture, a fact immortalised on a bootlegged cassette recording of Jazzy Jay deejaying in 1978. While Makonde enjoyed some celebrity in Kenya towards the end of the ‘70s, and group member Sammy Kasule kept using the Makonde name when he moved to Sweden, they were soon forgotten by most until the new millennium when diggers rediscovered the Manzara 12 inch (‘Soseme Makonde’) and the group’s second album ‘Matata Riots’ (EMI, 1978). Only recently, their first album reappeared on the radar – the original issue of their ‘Manzara’ hit. ’Dawn in Africa’ was formally a split title, with four Makonde songs on the a-side and the b-side credited to a group named Matokenya. However, at least some of the credits were shared between both groups, including the Demis Roussos-style vocals by Stephanou, and indeed Matokenya’s sound is very much in line with the early Makonde work. ‘Mrs Onyango’ (likely a tribute to Shaban Onyango’s wife), like ‘Manzara’, is a brilliant merger of distorted disco percussion, fuzzy bass, a trumpet that sounds much like the Makonde horns and a guitar riff that appears borrowed from a rumba song.
Jabali – Folk Song (Kanyoni) The previous Afro7 12-inch release featured Dai, a song by Francis Njoroge. Nowadays seen around Nairobi with his jazz funk outfit, Francis’ early studio credits include Makonde, Radi and Jabali. In the latter project he was joined by Joe Kuria, a versatile artist and music manager who in the ‘70s had coordinated Afro-rock band Awengele (featured on the Kenya Special Volume 2 compilation). The Jabali sound was a precursor of what we hear on ‘Dai’, joyful pop with a disco groove and smooth keyboard licks. The vocal melody and the lyrics were inspired by a famous Kikuyu traditional, Kanyoni Ka Nja (‘little bird’) here sung by Chinese kids. ‘Folk song’ is still remembered by many who grew up listening to Kenyan radio in the ‘80s. Jabali also recorded an LP which remained largely unnoticed and is by now near-impossible to find.
A1) Gravity ‘Lost In Love’|
A2) Matokenya ‘Mrs. Onyango’
B) Jabali ‘Folk Song (Kanyoni)’
“One of the best Kikuyu disco tracks I’ve ever heard…!” Rickard Masip said having found few copies of ‘Family Planning’ on his last trip to Kenya in 2013. Often the continuing search for something fresh and original can be a striving fare, especially when you have to look through thousand and thousands of dirty old singles. Even though there are many Kikuyu Benga singles, few have the magnitude of By Law’s KIRU1 and KIRU6. Over a hypnotizing groove with a heavy backbeat, Family planning tells us the story of a family dispute between husband and wife, set in a traditional Kikuyu rural setting. The bone of contention in the marriage is that the wife has had enough with giving birth to more kids. They have 8 kids so far but the arrogant and rude husband is still not satisfied and wants more. Though grim it may seem the outfall is the man accept the humble argument of the wife. Notice the slight shift to a more Soukouss driven beat towards the end of the track. The bass heavy ‘Mumbi’ is in more positive fashion a classic love song about the authors passion for a woman he named the song after. He goes on tour to Nyeri where she is from and tells all the other guys to lay off his true love. Massive thanks to Moses Mungai for the translation! Both these tracks are now officially licensed and available as 12-inch through our own in-house label Afro7 records, limited to 350 copies in a heavy custom silk pressed sleeve. Both tracks extended and reworked by Finnish supreme Didier Selin. Buy it now!
A) Kiru Stars ‘Family Planning’|
B) Kiru Stars ‘Mumbi’
First feature of 2014 is a doublesided Kikuyu Disco burner. Private production by Jimmy Wa Eunice distributed by Centre Music store Nairobi. Steady beat with little variation, it’s the stone hard groove and the basic but very infectious melody line that sets the mark. Guitarist steps it up a notch and starts his improvisation in the last part. Turn the single around and you have another track that is just as good as the first one. If anyone have any information about the producer or the band, or the record store for that matter please leave a comment.
A) Kahurika Brothers ‘Muka Wa Mikora’
B) Kahurika Brothers ‘Kairitu Roiko’
We’ve been busy updating the shop side of things this summer, you can now actually order original Kenyan sevens directly from the blog. You’ll find the different categories under music shop on the right. There are only a 100 singles added so far, we will add more during the next months. The elusive Almasi label is always interesting as the styles in the music differs from each release. Can’t find much information about the band but it’s pretty certain they originate from the town with the same name in the Rift Valley province. Note that in seventies Kikuyu Benga the foremost and predominant instrument used is the guitar, it’s nice to hear an organ in the arrangements for a change.
|A) Nyahururu Success ‘Wendo wa Mithaiga’|