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.
|A3) Black Savage Band ‘Sharpeville’|
This song rekindles memories of the fiery wave of the black consciousness movement that swept across the African diaspora from 1960s through to the ’80s. The Rift Valley Brothers band’s lyrics are seemingly a clarion call imploring local Kenyans to come to terms with their rich African roots and home-grown heroes. These were likely inspired and penned in praise of Kenya’s liberation struggle and key Mau Mau frontline freedom fighters. Several unsung and long forgotten ‘bush’ generals are saluted for their sweat, gallantry and bloodshed. But the underlying message is undeniably emphatic on the pressing need (especially for the younger generation) to embrace selfconsciousness and pride in their African heritage.
A) Rift Valley Brothers ‘Mu Africa’
B) Rift Valley Brothers ‘Uhiki Wa Nduru’
As early as 1950s, electric guitars were a phenomenon in the Madagascar islands. In subsequent years, it was typical for lead guitarists to layer their strumming with dazzling riffs on a song hurtling along a frantic pace. This could have been the basis which likely influenced the late Jimmy Mawi’s style, long before he packed his bags destined for the Kenyan capital where he pitched tent in the mid 70s. Unwittingly, he was just coming ‘back home’ as at some point – Madagascar supposedly opted to break away from East Africa’s fold. More significantly, the islands have on instances been described as the country “..where old rock albums go to die..” This uncanny aphorism perhaps resonates with the groove that infuses hard-to-find, rare – until recently, handful tracks credited to Mawi. The not-so-popular Madagascan guitarist virtuoso’s insistent dance-frenzied, Afro-funk singles Black Star Blues, Let Me Keep Away From You, I Want Get Up and Black Dialogue – are already making a grand comeback on the global disco trail. Mawi’s name is undeniably as unfamiliar as his previously out-of-circulation songs, but which are now available on limited editions 10″ Vinyl on Soundway records. Incidentally, rave reviews blatantly draw parallels between Mawi’s “..rough heartfelt frenzy..” vocals expression with his first-name sake Jimi Hendrix’s bluesy funky-rock elements. These 45s were initially recorded some 40-years ago, during late 1970s in Nairobi, then East Africa region’s musical hub.
A) Jimmy Mawi ‘Vero’|
B) Jimmy Mawi ‘Broken Love’
With a good dose of Reggae and Eddy Grant’s magic touch, Nigerian born Sonny Okusun had a big international hit in 79 with the political fueled ‘Fire in the Soweto’. 2 years earlier he had released ‘Papas land’ a key Africa record that had impact spanning from west to east. Kenyans own pop star Slim Ali’s version features great horns, wah-wah, moog, and sassy vocals .. this is the version I personally come back to. Released on the mystical World Records label, responsible for catering the Kenyan music market with domestic artists but also acts ranging from pre-War Señor Soul to Kylie Minogue.
|B) Slim Ali ‘Papa’s Land’|
MOTO MOTO, a subsidiary label of A.I.T records, a Kenyan distribution source for Tanzanian bands. Acts like Orchestra Dar International, Vijana Jazz, Jamhuri Jazz Band and Urafiki are frequently featured. Check out our sales selection for a roundup with audio snippets. If you have special interest check out the book on the subject of Tanzanian popular music written by Alex Perullo. We feature a 45 that was dug up by extraordinaire French digger and DJ Grégoire de Villanova. A great funky doublesider with kick ass guitar, heavy organ and drums in the mix. Some are put off by the slightly mannered vocals, but we think it rocks just as hard .. black black is beautiful indeed! Psst! If your destined to find the song on vinylt there is is also a slightly cheaper French RCA pressing.
|A) Sunbust ‘Let’s Live Together’
B) Sunbust ‘Black is Beautiful’
JOSEPH KAMARU – 1965-2013 48 YEARS IN MUSIC – AND STILL GOING ON! Backing up a dozen releases and half a million records sold, this is a name on the Kenyan music scene you cannot avoid. Like his kikuyu counterpart Daniel Kamau, JK also had his own vinyl record label imprint with KENYA UNITED SOUNDS. The success of his seventies outings ensured him a prolific career mastering all the ups and downs of the Kenyan music scene to this day. He has been performing Gospel music the recent years. Read the Daily Nation post “The memoirs of a musical maverick” and see the K24 feature “Where are they now” on YouTube. The Über funky driven ‘Mukurara Nake’ a is not a political fueled track but merely the classic emotional interaction between a man and a woman. Sung out in the Kikuyu language a man comes home to find his girlfriend in bed with another man, the disdained man is not angry, this is something he has been suspecting for some time… as the lyrics goes: Since we have known each other a little over 1 year you should know when I am mad. Look at my eyes and see proof that I am not mad. No matter what you do even if you lock the door with chairs and locks, I will still leave so the two of you can sleep together. I was so prepared, I had dressed up for you, brushed my teeth so I can kiss you but sadly now I will go home and sleep alone staring at the roof. Stop pretending that you don’t know your other lover just because am here. Stop making him look bad in my eyes because no matter what you do am leaving. Thanks to Moses Mungai for the translation.
|Kamaru Celina Band ‘Mukurara Nake’|
In all its splendor here is the original Kenyan ‘AFRO-ROCK’ label pressing from the mid-seventies. Let’s follow the lifespan of this song: 1977 – second pressing released in France . 1978 – Used in BBC documentary on African Music. 2001 – Compiled on Duncan Brooker’s Afro-Rock volume 1. 2005 – A remixed NYC/Cuban version with hip-hop vocals is released on Yerba Buenas Island Life album. 2006 – opens up the Last King of Scotland film, as soundtrack. 2010 – Afro-Rock Vol. 1 re-released by Strut with additional unissued material by the same artist. It could be interesting to know what Ismael himself gained from all this renowned fame. Ironically enough it seems from this deleted article that it was Kenya’s large on-going acts of music piracy that shelved his career back in the day. And sadly enough the article also tells us that Ismail Jingo passed away in Mombasa some years ago. In the light of its day ‘FEVER’ was obviously inspired by its West African contemporaries. With its catchy refrain, funky base and killer horn section it was unquestionably a hit record when it was released and to this day. Allegedly a dead rare original LP from Jingo also exists.
|A&B) Jingo ‘Fever’|
There is something very appealing about these early Ethiopian Philips singles. Especially with the picture sleeve. They often come with a very high price tag, if it’s in the right condition. Musically a league of it’s own. This monster of a doublesider showcases Mulatu Astatke at his creative peak. He had just returned back to his homeland from the US ready to shape what later became the Ethio-Jazz sound. Here in a collaboration with the renowned Ethiopian singer Tilahun Gessesse, who he also recorded several other great singles with. You can find them over at Peter Piper’s great Modern Ethiopian Music Discographies. ‘Emnete’ was reissued on 10′ SNDW10001 by Soundway. ‘Tezalègn yétentu’ is avaiable on éthiopiques-17: Tlahoun Gésséssé from Buda Musique.
|Gessesse & Mulatu ‘Tiz Alegn Yetintu’
About time we posted something proper funky. A Killer ghetto production with a huge break, catchy horns and a infectious moog lick high up in the mix. And wait till the trumpet solo hits in the end. We’re suspecting this might be a cover of something coming out of the US in mid seventies? The WRC label is a weird one, with local cover productions, reggae hits and a lot of mediocre disco stuff. We’re glad Nairobi native George Fombe produced this one, as nearly everything that has his name on is gold. Where is he today and who said Kenya can’t be funky?
|A) Silver Survivors Experience ‘Funky-Station’|
We haven’t found any information on the label nor the artist here, looks like a private one off. Great label design, is that a horn upside down? The music speaks for itself here, a religious Kikuyu duet with a great slab of horns and funky guitar drive. In tradition of similar sounding Kikuyu groups at the time (Lulus band, Rift Valley bros) the sound on the b-side is nearly all instrumental. Note the funky change-up at 1:35 and wait for the bass solo! This smells of dancefloor potential. Probably from around mid seventies 75 or 76. Enjoy![audio:http://www.afroseven.net/songs/Band-sauti-popote-ithui-riu-pt12.mp3|titles=Band sauti popote – Adam Na Hawa pt1&2]
We have been up and down the coast of Kenya’s Swahili land scouting for records but we never came across this little 45. It was just a few years ago tropical master digger Rickard Masip turned up a copy in his own homeland of Sweden. Obviously a souvenir brought back from the Reef Hotel Mombasa (still running today!). A killer funky instrumental double sider. Percussive, organ, wah-wah and tribal vocal chant. Infectious! The band also released a full album by the name of the Vikings ‘African songs’, recorded in Switzerland. Both songs from the single are featured on the lp but the 45 take sounds earlier and better to our ears. [audio:http://afroseven.net/songs/mombasa-vikings-kibe-kibe.mp3|titles=mombasa vikings – kibe kibe]
One of many Lulu’s band singles. A prolific Kikuyu group that recorded for several labels, the groups private D.K. Undugu Sounds was run by the groups leader Daniel Kamau. Expect excellent loud pressing and tight production, simple funky aural esthetics’s as tight drumming, catchy vocals and a thousand dollar guitar riff! Perfect for the dancefloors of 2012.
|B) Lulus Band ‘Nguinio Nuu’|