East African Music - African Radio

Local Styles, Current and Past

Abana ba Nasery

Abana Ba Nasery: Classic Acoustic Recordings From Western Kenya
GlobeStyle CDORB 052

Abana ba Nasery CD Cover
From western Kenya, this trio keeps alive a style of music they pioneered in the 1960s and early 70s. Their sound was innovative for the time, being one of the first groups to produce a two-guitar weave. To this they added three-part harmony and a rhythm line created by scraping the ribs of a Fanta bottle with a metal rod.

These are the original recordings made back in the late sixties and early seventies. A charming collection of finger-picking acoustic guitar music from Bunyore, Kenya.

!Nursery Boys Go Ahead! The Guitar and Bottle Kings of Kenya
GlobeStyle CDORB 076/Xenophile [USA]

Abana ba Nasery CD Cover
This CD captures the crisp ABN sound in new recordings made on their 1991 tour to the UK. It also places the trio in some interesting collaborations with European artists, some which really get rockin.’


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Rujina Kalando
Equator Heritage Sounds, EHS 9801

Not much is known about the late Oguta Bobo Otange but that he’s a compelling accordion player from among the Luo of Western Kenya and his music covered the gamut of topics from serious social commentary to the lighter side, to love, to paying respects to those who died or praise to those deserving.

Squeeze-box fanatics, here’s your chance to get some rare recordings of African accordion with Oguta Bobo singing and playing. The songs are traditional in melody and rhythm but contemporary in lyrics of the time (the 1960s). And for those who understand Luo, the songs are filled with humour.


Kickin' Kikuyu-Style
Available from CDBaby

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University of Nairobi graduate in 1990 and with postgraduate studies in the US, Sam Chege is not the typical Kenyan musician. Raised by his grandmother in rural central Kenya, Chege received a solid grounding in Kikuyu music and oral tradition. For over 10 years he was a music journalist writing about Kenyan music in newspapers and magazines. His own music is rooted in Kikuyu musical traditions which have been fused with other local Kenyan and Congolese styles. "Kickin" is a great example of Kikuyu benga music with its solid pulsing kick drum, interlocking guitars (with seriously delayed reverb), providing an interesting contrast to the Luo benga of D.O. Misiani, George Ramogi, or Victoria Kings. Lively, fun music with excellent sound quality. Audio clip of "Mwari wa Munyao."

Kabaselleh, H.N. Ochieng'
and the Lunna Kidi Band

From Nairobi with Love
Equator Heritage Sounds EHS 9701

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Unlike Sanduku ya Mapendo, one of my top choices above, this CD is more suitable for die hard fans of Kabaselleh and Luo music. It’s songs are unusually long even for Kenyan pop (13 – 15 minutes each) and without enough musical variation for my tastes. Beware of saccharine keyboards as well.

Kapere Jazz Band & Others

Luo Roots: Musical Currents from Western Kenya
GlobeStyle CDORB 061

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Today's versions of the traditional music of the Luo people, suggesting the foundations of the benga style. Artists include:  Kapere Jazz Band, Ogwang Lelo Okoth, Paddy J. Onono,and Orchestra Nyanza Sucess.

Kakai Kilonzo & Les Kilimambogo Brothers

Image of CD cover:  Kakai Kilonzo & Les Kilimambogo Brothers
Best of Kakai Volume 1

Shava SHAVACD011-2

During the 1980s, benga music in local languages was still a powerful force in Kenya's music industry. Though sometimes very popular within their local tribal groups, such regional bands were at a distinct disadavantage for appealing to the broader population. The music of Kakai Kilonzo had a sound that was very much "Kamba" music, his ethnic group. Yet, most of his lyrics were in Swahili language, understood by most Kenyans. Clever lyrics and interesting music made Kakai a favorite throughout Kenya. This CD features some of his best loved hits of the 80s, recorded before his passing in 1987. These songs were recorded with 45 rpm singles in mind. In the vinyl editions, side one fades out and side two fades in with part two of the song. In this Shava CD, parts one and two for each song have been combined. The Best of Kakai Volume One is a welcome addition for benga music fans. You'll enjoy songs such as Mama Sofi (audio excerpt), Sera Kamama, Baba Mkwe and Mpenzi Mary and with sound quality that is superior to the original vinyl.

Fundi Konde

Fundi Konde Retrospective
Vol. 1 (1947-56)

RetroAfric, RETRO 8CD

fundi.gif (23273 bytes)One of Kenya’s early renowned guitarists and the creator of many of what Kenyans consider "the classics." His heyday was in the 50s but he was rediscovered by Kenyans in the 90s through his collaboration with Them Mushrooms in remakes of his music. More recently, he has also enjoyed a musical renaissance performing with the Tanzanian group of veteran musicians, Shikamoo Jazz.

This CD features early Kenyan pop music from one of Kenya’s most famous guitarists, songwriters, and vocalists. Many of the tunes are rumbas though a couple sound as though they are precursors to reggae. Imagine a vocal line something like a mellow, two-part "Chattanooga Choo Choo." Add a smooth, jazzy electric guitar, a bass, and maybe a clarinet and you have at least one of the enticing variety of sounds on this CD.


En Mana Kuoyo
Real World

ayub.gif (13923 bytes)Ayub Ogada has been exploring and bridging cultural boundaries over the last two decades. While he has been intensely interested in his Luo cultural traditions, he has been exposed since early childhood to other cultures and urban life. This mingling of cultures was evident in his musical productions at Nairobi’s French Cultural Centre in the 1970s; in the renowned African Heritage Band, which he co-founded in 1979; and in his initial entry into the London African music scene with the group Taxi Pata Pata in 1986. It is also quite evident today in his approach to his solo music on the nyatiti, a traditional lyre of the Luo people.

Ayub Ogada begins with Luo tradition: the nyatiti harp, praise songs, indigenous rhythms... Then he infuses his own creative genius for a quiet, largely acoustic CD with beautiful melodies and captivating rhythms. For those who know Daudi Kabaka and George Agade’s "Western Shilo" on Before Benga Vol. II (above), his "Chiro" provides a new rendering of that popular and lively Kenyan tune.

Order: En Mana Kuoyo from Amazon.com

Henry Makobi

New Memories: Guitar Music from Kenya
Music & Words

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Recorded in 1991 in a Nyahururu hotel room, Makobi brings the 1950s finger-picking era alive with his superb renditions of old George Mukabi, Losta Abelo, and Ben Blastus, John Mwale and Jean Bosco songs.

Jean Bosco Mwenda

Mwenda wa Bayeke: African Guitar Legend
Rounder 5061

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Although not a Kenyan, this Congolese guitarist was immensely popular in Kenya, spent time there circa 1959-1960, and influenced many Kenyan guitarists.

D.O. Misiani & Shirati Band

Usually credited as one of the founding fathers of benga music, Daniel Owino Misiani has been doing this so long, it’s probably time to refer to him as one of the grandfathers of benga music. He’s still playing after more than 30 years.

Benga Blast!
Earthworks STEW13CD
Piny Ose Mer/The World Upside Down

GlobeStyle CDORB 046

blast.gif (15686 bytes)piny.gif (19785 bytes)Both CDs are fine collections from the definitive name in Luo benga, D.O. Misiani. Benga Blast! has the rough, unpolished (monaural) sound of the old Pioneer House studios. Piny (Peen' yee), on the other hand, is an original Globestyle recording made in Nairobi. It is clean, polished, and in stereo. While the musical content is pure Shirati, the mix is a bit unusual for the group.

Order: Piny Ose Mer from Amazon.com

Benga Beat
World Circuit WCB003 (LP only)

Although critics say it's got no soul, I love it--great guitars.

George Ramogi
and C.K. Dumbe Dumbe Jazz Band

1994 USA Tour--Safari ya Ligingo
Dumbe Dumbe Records, Dumbe 01

1994 USA Tour 2 (Cassette format only)
Dumbe Dumbe Records

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Since the early 1960s, George Ramogi helped fashion the sound Luo pop music with his benga and rumba styles. It was in 1965 that Ramogi and colleagues started the Luo Sweet Band, later changed to Continental Kilo Jazz Band (or C.K. Jazz). The nucleus of this group had been performing together, on and off, right up to Ramogi’s death at the age of 52 in 1997.

In 1994, a small group of Kenyans in the United States pooled their resources to bring Ramogi and band to the US to perform. The "Safari" CD, recorded in the US, is an outgrowth of that tour and, in fact, contains praise songs (as is common) for several of the individuals who organised the tour. Although not a very polished production, it’s certainly authentic benga and it has it’s moments of greatness.  The cassette contains more songs from the same recording session and somewhat better audio quality.

Victoria Kings

The Mighty Kings of Benga
GlobeStyle CDORB 079

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One of the great benga groups from Luo country, western Kenya. The group started in the early 70s with Ochieng Nelly as bandleader and was soon joined by long-time musical partner Collela Mazee. They were one of the top selling recording groups of the golden age of benga in the late 70s and early 80s. A new perspective on benga (i.e., not Shirati Jazz) with one of the other great Luo groups from western Kenya.

Order: The Mighty Kings of Benga from Amazon.com


To contact Douglas Paterson, send email to DPaterson@EastAfricanMusic.com.

Last updated September 7, 2002.

East African Music - African Radio

Copyright 2002 Douglas B. Paterson, All Rights Reserved.


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