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In July, 2003, I was on a Kenyan road trip to search out sounds for the Rough Guide to Kenyan Music. Stopping by Club Oasis in Kondele, just outside Kisumu I dropped in to hear the master, D.O. Misiani and Shirati Jazz. I hadn't seen the group in years so it was a nice surprise to see Misiani branching out, broadening his sound with female vocalists. That was my first and (so far) only time to hear Linet Aluoch who had become a cornerstone to the contemporary Shirati sound. In addition to recording with Shirati; since 2002, she also recorded a number of solo CDs which have been released by Matthews Juma's Equator Heritage Sounds label. Matthews is (much like me) a huge benga music fan and doing all he can to assist talented musicians in bringing benga music to Kenyans and the rest of the world. So when Matthews asked me to write some CD notes for Linet Aluoch's fourth CD, Sella, I was pleased to accepted the honor. As I attempt to explain below, benga has had a great run over the years in Kenya, Africa generally, and at certain moments on the world stage. But as the elder benga musicians have retired or passed on, there has been concern that the essence of the style might end with that generation. Rest assured, however, with new musical talents like Linet coming forward, it appears benga is on the right track with great potential for the coming years.
Doug Paterson, 12 November, 2010.
Linet Aluoch: Sella
(See it at CDBaby.com)
It's been a common theme over many years in the Kenyan press and a topic of discussion for Kenyan music lovers: "Why hasn't Kenyan music made a significant impact on the world music scene?" Why aren't Kenyan musicians better known in the international music market?
Perhaps it's a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. For well over 40 years, Kenyans have been enjoying their unique style of pop music, benga. Yet, few Kenyans are even aware that their music has been enjoyed by millions more, far and wide, in Africa, Europe, and the Americas. In the 1970s, benga music found a receptive home in southern Africa, French speaking west Africa, Nigeria, and France. Benga records were reproduced in New York in the early 80s and, later, came on the market in the European discovery of "World Music" in the 80s.
On the home front in Kenya, benga music has had its ups and downs since it evolved in the mid-60s. Currently, benga music is in a transitional phase as, in recent years, many of the benga greats have passed on, and the most famous of the benga practitioners, D.O. Misiani was tragically killed in a road accident in 2006. Yet there is reason to be optimistic that benga music could have a long and happy future as "next generation" musicians like Linet Aluoch come to the fore. Linet's new CD, Sella, is her fourth and it is clear that she and members of her Karapul Jazz Band have captured the vitality and spirit of the master benga musicians of the past. Of course for Linet, this is not a surprise as she learned her craft from the masters. Out of school, she began as a vocalist and dancer for Osito Kalle and his Victoria "D" Band. By 1998, she was ready and took the opportunity to become lead vocalist for D.O. Misiani's Shirati Jazz. With Shirati, she was able develop her skills as a song writer and the group featured a number of her compositions. She performed in Europe with Shirati Jazz on their 2005 tour. Then, following the death of her mentor, Misiani, the time was right in 2007 to put together the new group, Karapul Jazz. Today, Linet and her band perform regularly at Club Oasis, on the outskirts of Kisumu.
Putting on my reviewer's hat for a moment, I think Sella marks a new high in Linet's development as a composer, vocalist, and band leader. Technically, the sound is crisp, clear, and with that rich active bass we love in Luo benga. Musically (and shall we say spiritually?), this group has recaptured the essence of great benga and I'd say Linet and group are ready to take Kenya's unique genre, benga, into the next decade.
CD notes ©2010 Douglas B. Paterson.
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To contact Douglas Paterson, send email to DPaterson@EastAfricanMusic.com.
Last updated 12 November, 2010.