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’ |
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!
A) 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!
A) 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!
A) Mombasa Vikings ‘Kibe Kibe’ |
B) Mombasa Vikings ‘Mama Matotoya’
David Waciuma a BIOGRAPHY – he was born in 1945 in Naaro Village, Kandara Muranga County. He went to Naaro / Kirunguru Primary Schools where he did his KAPE. He then proceeds to the Duke of Clocester High School (Nairobi High School) After Independence he was the first lot to be taken to Denmark to be trained as Air force cadet. Around 1964 he came back and said the place was too cold for him. And then in 1965 he was taken again to Egypt Cairo for the same cause. After one year he came back again because of fighting in the collage not completing his scholarship … yet again! His good mother (Wangui Waciama) again talked to Dr. Kiano and he was taken to Canada for full Scholarship to do same cause for 3 years, and then later he joined his brother in America. This is where he started and polished his music career and formed a band. Now in 1971 he came back and told his parents he wanted to become a musician then his older brother whom he was with in USA (Dr Wanjohi Waciama) bought him musical instruments. In 1972 he formed his first band The Monks Experience as a lead guitarist he made an impact to the young and old in the boogy euphoria. He was mostly performing in a club on top of a tall building in the Nairobi KICC, but then he moved to Florida Club along Koinage Street – Nairobi. In 1976 he met the love of his life Anne Kamwende, a student teacher in Kilimambogo Teachers Collage. They tied the knot in PCEA Ting”ang”a Church on the 11th Dec 1976. Then after that he changed from secular music to Gospel music in 1977 and formed RAPTURE VOICES further on he started attending evangelical meetings and getting more socialised in that comunity, eventually he became less active in playing music. David and Anne were blessed with two girls and two boys. David Waciuma died in December 2016. Editors note: The best tracks from David Waciuma and the Rapture Voices are back now as a remastered limited seven inch on Afro7 records. Head over to the shop to secure your copy!
A) David Waciuma & Rapture Voices ‘Devil Go’ |
B) David Waciuma & Rapture Voices ‘Jesu Kristo’
When thinking of urban coastal Kenyan musicians whose careers run decades deep, taarab performers may be the first who come to mind. Indeed, taarab taps into a poetic tradition that goes back centuries and it may be the longest surviving thread in popular music across the Swahili coast. Sadly, in recent years the thriving scenes of Mombasa and other coastal towns have become increasingly quiet, for a number of reasons including economic decline, the ageing of the live musicians who came up in the 1960s and ‘70s, Congolese and later Nigerian music becoming popular, and the recent clampdown on terrorism which adversely affected public life in Mombasa.
There’s another Kenyan coastal sound, one that came up in the seventies and survived it all, a genre that even enjoyed commercial success abroad but has often remained ignored and despised by western critics. Afro7 previously released an EP re-introducing one of the finest examples of this school: Them Mushrooms, a band that played its part in the introduction of coastal dances like cha-cha to the masses; then the second volume of Kenya Special included Hinde, a song from the mid-eighties by African Vibration which even made Kikuyu people in Nairobi speak a bit of the coastal Giriama language at the time, as it became an anthem of sorts. Taarab music has been the essential wedding music of the Swahili coast, but these new bands made their living recording for the club and radio, and performing in hotels. Even though the different currents in Mombasa taarab all borrowed from a multitude of local and foreign genres, Them Mushrooms, Safari Sound Band and the likes created a type of pop music with a modern sound led by keyboards and drum machines that was soon embraced by the eclectic Kenyan audience and foreign visitors alike.
One of the most prolific bands in this field has been Mombasa Roots. They recently hit their 40th anniversary, not a small feat in the Kenyan musical landscape that is full of pitfalls. When they started out in 1977, the group was made up of the brothers Ebrahim, Suleiman and Ethiopian drummer Tamrat Kebede, among others; another Juma brother, the late Ahmed Juma, joined the next year as he left the Mombasa Vikings. In 1979 the band, trying their best to come up with their own compositions, recorded their first single in their residence at Muthaiga (Nairobi) with the assistance of Nabil Sansool, the Syrian born producer who, later on, would assist in elevating the production values of Kenyan coastal music. On What Is It That You Want / My Everything, which was released on the Mombasa Roots imprint, the band was still carving out their own niche, and it wasn’t a big hit. Unlike other bands, they invested in their own instruments and the equipment from the start, which helped them finetune the sound that propelled them to fame by the mid-eighties.
It was a string of singles, released in 1984 and 1985, and ultimately compiled on their first lp ‘MSA-Mombasa’ (1987), that landed the work of Mombasa Roots in discos, bars and jukeboxs in the remotest corners of the country. ‘Disco cha-ka-cha’ was a sensation when it came out, a bold attempt at reinterpreting a semi-traditional female wedding dance for the clubs, but it worked well. Up to that point, the most common way for urban Kenyans and foreign visitors to hear traditional Kenyan music had been through performances during ceremonies or aimed at tourists. Their version of ’Kata’, a sparse and hypnotic rhythm with the right touch of keyboard, is still well remembered after three decades. The chakacha dance songs helped them gain popularity among the taarab audience, but It was their version of ‘Kasha langu’, a Swahili evergreen first recorded in the 1950’s, that got them a lot of new fans; it’s still a part of Mombasa Roots’ live set today.
From its inception, Mombasa Roots played the live circuit on the coast and upcountry in clubs aiming at local audiences and foreign tourists, too. In the years to come they accepted gigs abroad, which led them to places like Germany, Dubai and Ethiopia, where they have been regular guests for the past twenty years. And despite most of the founding members leaving the group (Tamrat and Emile since passed away), Mombasa Roots is still going strong today. The band performs in different venues seven days a week with a diverse line-up of young musicians led by veteran Ebrahim Juma, playing own compositions and covers. The latest Afro7 release is a tribute to these pioneers of Kenyan pop music. The EP combines the first Mombasa Roots Band single from 1979 with three of their biggest hits from the mid-eighties: the melancholic ‘Kasha Langu’, the poppy disco of ‘Karibishe’ and the chakacha trance groove of ‘Mezea tu (Lele mama)’.
Head over to our shop to secure your copy, in shops on the 13th of April, but we’ll start shipping out preorders as fast as we have them.
A1) Karibishe A2) Mezea Tu (Lele Mama) A3) Kasha Langu|
B1) What is it that you want B2) You’re my Everything