East African Music - African Radio
Return to Projects Page
Doug Paterson's Music Projects...
Vijana Jazz Band
The Koka Koka Sex Battalion
Our Vijana Jazz Band compilation is the fourth CD release of materials from Nairobi's AIT Records (now called AI Records). The album is available on most digital download services. It's also available in CD format in Europe. From the USA, the release is available from Amazon.com.
Here are my notes about the band and music:
Time was running out and I hadn’t yet completed my mission, an assignment from a Tanzanian friend studying in America to “bring back the latest hits from Tanzania.”
This was in 1975 when, as it turned out, it was a lot easier to buy Tanzanian records in Kenya where they were manufactured, than it was in Tanzania and while it wasn’t hard to find lots of great African vinyl in Nairobi, it meant I had to devote my last two days in Africa to an intensive listening campaign in record shops and sidewalk kiosks. But what started off as a favour to my friend ended up, for me, as a lifetime passion for East African music and I owe at least a part of that passion to a couple of songs featured in this collection. For more than 35 years I’ve had the songs Magdalena and Utatugomabanisha on call and playing on-demand in my head, so that now it’s my distinct pleasure to be able to share these two and fourteen more by the Vijana Jazz Band.
Vijana Jazz got their start in late 1971, an example of the emerging model of musical sponsorship through various governmental bodies that was taking hold in Tanzania. Band members were salaried employees of their sponsor-managers. The Swahili word vijana means “youth” and reflects Vijana Jazz’s management by Umoja wa Vijana, the youth wing of mainland Tanzania’s ruling political party, TANU. Two years later, Vijana Jazz acquired the services of vocalist/composer Hemedi Maneti, who took a fundamental role in shaping the group’s sound and went on to lead the band from 1982 until his death in 1990. Although Kenya and Tanzania were on divergent development paths in the early to mid-70s, the East African Community partners were still on relatively good terms (though less so with their Ugandan partner under the brutal dictator Idi Amin). Kenyans and Tanzanians could travel freely and work in each other’s countries. It was a time when the citizens of both countries felt a sense of brotherhood and optimism for the future. Tanzanian music was enjoyed in Kenya on radio, in clubs, and it was a significant component of the record industry. Tanzanian bands frequently made the 24 hour trip from Dar-es-Salaam to Nairobi to record songs that would be released on disc over the course of the year and our compilation centres around this fondly remembered time in East African history.
As I scoured the AIT Records archive for Vijana materials, I was puzzled by a set of songs under the artist name “Koka Koka Sex Battalion.” I knew those words as a frequent shout-out in Vijana Jazz songs such as the Utatugombanisha, but this required a little more digging. As I suspected, Koka Koka Sex Battalion was indeed Vijana Jazz, but under an assumed name. This turned out to be a scheme of the studio producer who, working with the band, tricked the label bosses into commissioning more songs than budgeted. The producer made more money with each song recorded and the band got more upfront money, but the label did not want to release too many songs from the same group so was not amused when the scam of one band for the price of two was discovered. Thirty-six years later their loss is our gain.
As is the case with Tanzanian dance bands, each group tries to distinguish itself from the others with its unique mtindo (style). In 1975-76, Vijana Jazz recorded at least three studio sessions in Nairobi for AIT Records’ Moto Moto and Africa labels. This was the era of the koka koka mtindo, in its earliest form it was highly rhythmic with congas and what sounds like beating on a hollow log in something akin to a clavé beat. The instrumental, Koka Koka No. 1, is a perfect example of this. In later recordings, koka koka lightens up on the ‘log’ sound and moves to a more subdued snare drum tapping out a marching drum sound in a similar beat (for example, in the last half of Pili Nihurumie). This is a precursor to a Tanzanian sound that came to dominate the “Swahili rumba” of Nairobi from the late 70s through the 80s with groups like Les Wanyika and Issa Juma’s Super Wanyika. Interestingly, in a song like Stela wa Kenya, I hear what might be a Kenyan benga influence in the way the lead guitar fills in at end of vocal phrases, and in later solos while the rhythm guitar is quietly but actively chording and embellishing. Vijana Jazz seems particularly attuned to the Kenyan audience in these recordings with not only Stela but several songs referencing Kenya, Kenya’s President Kenyatta, and various Kenyan institutions.
Our album focuses on songs recorded in Nairobi at the famous Hi-Fi Studios in 1975-76 where most of the great benga singles were captured. Prior to this release very little of Vijana’s koka koka era has been available anywhere. Although koka koka was Vijana’s signature mtindo, also prominent in the later Nairobi recordings were frequent references to kamata sukuma, kamata meaning “grabbing hold of” and sukuma meaning “pushing” or “moving.” I don’t think kamata sukuma ever became an official mtindo of Vijana Jazz but it did merit a shout-out along side koka koka in many songs including three in our collection: Salima Utakujajuta, Pili Nihurumie, and Kamata Sukuma No. 2. The latter actually spends the entire song talking in a joking way about the meaning of kamata sukuma.
“The Koka Koka Sex Battalion” has not only the big hits of the time, for example Magdalena and Niliruka Ukuta, but also contains songs that give one a broader sense of the group stylistically in 1975-76, something like you might hear in live performance. It includes songs in Tanzanian languages other than Swahili, together with songs that draw on folkloric tradition like Dibweze Zogolo Jangu. In addition we’ve included three songs from later periods which provide a glimpse of the evolutionary trajectory of the band in the late 1970s towards the pamba moto style that defined Vijana Jazz for the 1980s.
The compilation notes also include a transcription of all the Swahili lyrics and translation into English.
Find Koka Koka Sex Battalion on iTunes
Find Koka Koka Sex Battalion on Amazon
Information on this release and a free download are available from the Stern's website via the Tradewind link.
East African Music - African Radio
Return to Projects Page
To contact Douglas Paterson, send email to DPaterson@EastAfricanMusic.com.
Last updated 23 September, 2012.