Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The History of Popular Kikuyu Music Documented

Reviewed by Bamuturaki Musinguzi

A NEW CD complied and produced by Ketebul Music, an NGO based in Nairobi, Kenya, contains a sampling of Kikuyu popular music through several decades and genres. From the blending of the Karing’aring’a or traditional rattles with the accordion in the 1940s, to the imitation of yodeling and country and western guitar in the 1950s.

The nineteen tracks are songs about love lost and love found; personal sacrifice in the struggle for independence; traditions altered and abandoned with the adoption of urban living; the challenges of survival in a money economy; songs in praise of honesty and hard work. Songs about life.

The narrative booklet, music CD and documentary DVD titled, “Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music,” will be launched later this month in Nairobi. This is a non-commercial venture and all the proceeds from this multimedia package will go into further research, development and documentation of East African music.

Sammy Ngaku’s 1948 love song ‘Rosanna’ praising a lady called Rosanna, sung in the yodeling style of early country and western music.

Mwangi wa Maguru’s 1957 song ‘Ndinakuruma’ is about a jilted lover’s advice to his girl friend. He bemoans the fact that she has left him and succumbed to immorality in the big city. He urges her to shun her evil ways and get back to decent living. All in good faith. Ndinakuruma: ‘I have not insulted you.’

Roman Warigi’s 1962 song ‘Kunda Ruru’ is about a carefree drunkard singing of his drinking prowess, proclaiming that he has enough money to buy himself several rounds. If he gets drunk he will just lie down where he is, fall asleep, and start drinking again as soon as he gets up in the morning!

In his 1966 song, ‘Ndari Ikumi na Inya,’ Joseph Kamaru advises young men to be wary of promiscuous young as an example. He discovered to his horror, that when she called him ‘ndari’ or ‘darling’ he was in fact one of fourteen, hence the song’s title.

In his 1979 song ‘Rugano Rwa Naivasha,’ SK Kimani narrates to his friend Jimmy how he was raised on the shores of Lake Naivasha by his parents, who were fishermen. He tells Jimmy how he met a girl called Jane and the woes he faced when he was knifed in the ribs by a jealous lover. By the grace of God he survived the attack and decided to go back home to Naivasha to be comforted by his father and mother.

Roman Warigi’s 1962 song ‘Muhiki’ is a tragicomic tale of a prospective groom who writes a letter inviting his ex-girl friend to his wedding only to panic at the last moment when he finds the ex more alluring that his chosen bride. Angry and betrayed the ex declares she will never speak to him again. His belated request to the preacher to wed him to both women is flatly denied!

This multimedia production is a must collection for those interested in how African rhythms and styles have been merged with western instruments.


Monday, September 6, 2010


“EVERYBODY do what you're doing, smile will bring a sunshine day. Everybody do what you're doing, smile will bring a sunshine day…,” goes the famous hit, ‘Sunshine Day’ by the legendary Afro-rock Ghanaian band, Osibisa.

One of the musicians behind this melodious song and trumpet maestro, Mac Tontoh - one of the great pioneers of the fusion of African and western music, is no more, he breathed his last on August 16, 2010, in Accra, Ghana. He was 69 years old.

According to his family Tontoh suffered a stroke, diabetes and was flown to London during the earlier stages of the stroke for treatment and his condition improved markedly two months earlier. He was able to attend an Osibisa conference whiles there. He however relapsed and admitted at the hospital due to complications of the stroke. Days after his return, the ailment escalated and was admitted to the Korle Bu Teaching hospital in Accra where he passed away whilst receiving medical treatment.

According to his elder bother Osei Teddy and band leader of Osibisa, a tribute concert by Ghanaian musicians is scheduled for September 30, 2010, in Accra and thereafter, burial and funeral celebration on October 2, 2010, in Kumasi.

Besides, the trumpet Tontoh played the flugal horn and cabassa, and he was a composer, arranger and producer at the same time. As a founding member of Osibisa he co-composed most of the group’s memorable hits.

Tontoh co-wrote ‘Sunshine Day’ with Osei and Amarfio, ‘Music For Gong Gong’ with Osei, ‘Welcome Home’ with Osei and Amarfio, he arranged ‘Nkosi Sikeleli Afrika’ with Osei, ‘Dance the Body Music’ with Osei, Amarfio and Gyan, ‘Celebration’ with Osei and Amarfio, ‘Cherry Field’ with Osei and Amarfio, ‘Kilele’ with Osei, Amarfio and Ayivor, ‘Uhuru’ (the BBC Network Africa signature tune) with Osei and Amarfio, ‘Fire’ with Osei, Amarfio, Mandengue and Ayivor, ‘Home Town’ with Osei, ‘Akwaaba’ with Osei, ‘Ayioko’ with Osei and Amarfio, ‘Life Time’ with Osei, and ‘Too Much Going On’ with Osei.

“…A founder member of Osibisa he (Tontoh) looked deeper into musical traditions of his own people, the Kete and Adowa styles. His new fusion of jazz and traditional rhythms confirms of his status as a truly vital force in world music,” Tontoh’s biography reads on Osibisa web site. “…Such an energetic performer will be greatly missed. May he rest in peace.”

“Mac’s contribution is unmentionable. He was a founder member and his passion and strength helped drive Osibisa to the success it is. His love for everybody shone through,” Osei told me.

Osei admitted that: “Osibisa would not be the same without his influence. Although the band has continued touring without him for some time his contributions both live and on recordings is immense.”

As to the impact of Tontoh’s death on modern live African music, Osei, said: “This is a great blow as he organised young musicians and helped them to achieve great goals. He was a mentor to many young up and coming musicians.”

In regard to Tontoh’s legacy, Osei mentioned, “He contributed heavily in fusion music and particularly in traditional Ghana and African Music.”

On his part a former member of Osibisa, Besa Simons says Ghana has lost a great hero in the name of Mac Tontoh. He noted that Tontoh was a symbol of Ghanaian and African cultural heritage who always portrayed the sense of Africanism in everything he does including stage performances. Besa who was a Keyboardist in the Osibisa band and a close ally of the late Tontoh added that the late Tontoh was a motivator and an inspiration to more young musicians.

Tontoh's friend and compatriot, Carlos Sekyi described the late Tontoh as very strong, full of joy and the live-wire in any group that he was a member of. Mr. Sekyi told Myjoyonline.com in Ghana that Tontoh’s death is great loss and that, “Ghana has lost an icon, he is a legend and he is gone. It is sad news.”

The Ghanaian musician Nana Kwame Ampadu says the late Tontoh played a pertinent role in promoting Ghanaian and African heritage through music on the international platform.

Nana Ampadu told Adom 106.3 fm that he has known Tontoh in his early youthful days and saw him to be a one of the few excellent trumpeters the nation has ever produced. He added that he always loved to see Tontoh playing his trumpet and so were lots of music lovers in Ghana and beyond.

Tontoh was born on December 25, 1940 in Kumasi and was called ‘Kwaku Bronya’ meaning Kwaku Christmas. He received his basic education in Kumasi.

Tontoh tuned into jazz broadcasts on VOA and the BBC World Service from an early age, and as his father played trumpet in the local church, he was lucky enough to receive encouragement from his parents to pursue a career in music, at a time when playing a horn in a band was not considered a serious occupation in Ashanti society.

Tontoh started playing the trumpet at the age of 17 with “The Comets,” based in Kumasi and led by his elder brother Osei. The Comets became very popular in Ghana and Nigeria during the early 1960s for highlife and jazz, and Tontoh soon emerged as one of the leading and most progressive Ghanaian hornsmen, fusing the modern jazz styles of trumpeters such as Miles Davis and Clifford Brown with West African highlife.

Following his move to Accra, Tontoh spent a brief period with the Brigade Band of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, which played mainly at state functions, before joining the now legendary Uhuru Band. Uhuru, the first big band of its king in Africa was a big band which played its own brand of highlife as well as hits from American composers such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Glenn Miller.

Uhuru were very popular all over West Africa, and their fame spread when they played at Malawi’s independence celebrations in 1964 and toured Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in 1965. During his time with Uhuru, Tontoh also ran a smaller jazz combo, the Bogart Sounds Sextet, made up of the pick of Uhuru’s sidesmen.

Still searching for new horizons, Mac left Ghana for Europe in 1968. At first he stayed in Hamburg, Germany, playing in various jazz clubs in the St. Pauli area. Then, after a rendezvous with his brother Osei and drummer Sol Amarfio in Tunisia, the trio traveled to London in 1969 to form the band which was to set the world alight with its ground-breaking fusion of African music and western pop and rock: Osibisa.

During the 1970s and 1980s Osibisa toured virtually every corner of the globe, and “Mac became a complete performer, playing not only his trumpet but also marimba, percussion and digeridoo, and he established a rapport with audiences which few could equal,” btinternet.com notes. The band’s music sold in millions the world over.

Apart from his activities with Osibisa, Tontoh also became part of the London “scene” of the 1970s, playing horn sessions for rock luminaries the Rolling Stones, Peter Green and Elton John.

Osibisa played before 25,000 people in Harare during Zimbabwe’s independence party in 1980. In 1983 Osei and Tontoh collaborated with an all-star Ghana line-up on the highly acclaimed album Highlife Stars 1.

After more than twenty years of living in London or on the road, Tontoh decided that it was time to return to his African roots for fresh inspiration. In 1992 he moved back home to Ghana and, with the help of producer/engineer Mike Swai, set up his own recording studio in Accra.

According to btinternet.com, Tontoh and Mike then set about searching for and collaborating with some of the most dynamic and talented young Ghanaian musicians. The first product of this new phase was Tontoh's first solo album, Rhythms and Sounds (1994), which featured a jazz-tinged contemporary take on some classic Ghanaian highlife styles together with some hard-hitting African funk whose energy and punch recalled Mac's early days with Osibisa.

Rhythms and Sounds re-established Tontoh as a musical force to be reckoned with in Ghana, and several tracks from the album have become national institutions through their frequent use by Ghana Broadcasting Corporation Television (GBCTV).

Following the release and successful promotion of this first solo album, Tontoh decided to look deeper into the musical traditions of his own people, the Ashanti.

Tontoh decided to form a new band, “Kete Warriors” and went to his home town, Kumasi, to look for drummers and singers who were well versed in the Kete and Adowa styles of the region. He brought his new group to Accra.

“…The new fusion of jazz and traditional Ashanti rhythms which emerged from this group confirmed Mac’s status at home as a truly vital force in contemporary Ghanaian music,” btinternet.com notes. They performed at various national events in Ghana including the funeral of the recently deceased Asantehene (King of Ashanti), Otumfuo Opoku Ware II.

Tontoh toured the UK with the Kete Warriors in 2000 and 2001 to a rapturous reception from British audiences. Since returning to Ghana after the group’s successful run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August 2001, Tontoh had taken a break from making music and concentrated on his work with the Ghana National Commission on Culture. The Kete Warriors are now forging ahead in their own right with the blessing of their master.

Tontoh performed for the 2008 CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Award finalists and judges in Accra in July 2008 with the “Kete Warriors,” at the residence of the group executive chairman of Safebond Africa Limited, Krobo Edusei Jnr. “I am bringing up these young musicians and they are the best coming out of Ghana now,” Tontoh told me then.


Friday, July 30, 2010



QWELA band fuses rumba, reggae, jazz, blues, gospel and afro soul rhythms marking it as one of the most sensational youthful act to emerge on Uganda’s live music circuit.

The band does not disappoint it’s fans at its weekly live performance at the Barbeque Lounge, Centenary Park in Kampala where they churn out their very best including popular jazz cover songs.

The evening would not end without the group playing the crowd’s favourite hit “Tana Tana,” off Qwela’s ten-track album Kidepo (House in the Country). Written by Joseph Kahirimbanyi alas Joze, the band leader, the song dwells on nationalism and gives thanks to God for blessing Uganda. It also mentions that it does not cost man much to show an act of kindness and yet it is worth a world of difference.

The title track Kidepo is about a volatile time in Northern Uganda when the Lord’s Resistance Army was ravaging the countryside, killing and mutilating Ugandans. The song also decries the civil wars in Sudan and Somalia.

The gospel track Fuata Njia Iie, is about the truth embedded within people and it is Jesus Christ. To find him is to find our way. To not find Jesus is to be lost.

Mwana Wanje sang in Rukiga, a Ugandan language carries a piece of advice that one should never let any anyone tell him/her that they are unable to achieve their dreams. They do not know you or what you are capable of.

Human Eyes is about how men make misjudgments based only on the limited information they have. But God who knows everything is the only one who can truly Judge.

Kidepo, their debut album released in 2007 that is full of heart felt African tunes and rhythms prove that Qwela is Uganda’s promising upcoming to youthful live acts.

Watching them live or listening to track after track of masterfully, performed and recorded music, poetry and stories one can not help but wonder how Qwela has been such a well kept secret up to this time. “These songs are pieces of life in the last decade,” says Kahirimbanyi, adding: “Each one represents an experience that has affected our lives or of some one else.”

Off their upcoming album they played Ingha and Tendeko.

“We are currently working on our next album,” Kahirimbanyi told me.

The 31-year-old Kahirimbanyi who does the lead vocals, song writing, guitars and percussion has two solo albums Yelele (2000) and Bagyenda Gye (2002). A graphic designer by profession he owns a multimedia company called "Miracle Worx" based in Kampala.

Kahirimbanyi formed Qwela in 2007 as a live band performing cover versions of classics. The band has Anita Asiimwe, Alice Nakato, and Sarah Tamba (vocalists), Emma Dragu (trumpet), Kirya Kuti Jackson (saxophone), Michael Ouma (lead guitar), Ricco Del Monte (percussion), Roy Kasika (drums), Sam Bisaso (bass) and Victor Uringtho (keyboard).

You can catch Qwela in Kampala every Tuesday at Catch the Fire in Bugolobi, or every Thursday at Barbeque Lounge in Centenary Park or every Friday at Emin Pasha Hotel in Nakasero. In 2008 the band performed alongside the Kenyan star Eric Wainaina at Emin Pasha. They have hosted Amp Fiddler and Ndambi from the US, Jona Soul from Denmark, and Claire Phillips from South Africa.

Qwela describes itself as a fresh afro-soul band from Uganda creating authentic Ugandan music and taking it to the rest of the world. Among its future plans is to tour Europe and America.

“I call our music afro fusion. We just follow our hearts and create a sound we like. It’s influenced by all the music we love and know,” he said.

"When I listen to the songs I have written, I can remember what I was going through at the time. I call them experiential songs. I would say this is about pieces of my life much as this is a debut concert for Qwela band," Kahirimbanyi told Daily Monitor newspaper.

Asked when he started singing, he tells of the time they lived in Kabale at a tender age. He played a guitar given to him by an expatriate, then a neighbour and the first song he learnt to play was the old Sunday school song “Oh God is good…”

"My family got tired of hearing me play that song as it was all I knew, but that was the beginning of my music. I considered music as a career in my S.5 (Senior Five). I always wanted to sing to perfection and mould people's lives long before I even got saved." The word Qwela spelt with a "K" in Rukiga means bright or holy. In South Africa, it's a Zulu word that means arise and it also means to make music with a flute (ikwelo.)

In Ntare School in 1997, Kahirimbanyi was part of Desert Streams a group of seven male students playing acoustic guitars. He derives inspiration from Daniel Winans, Hugh Masekela, Bob Marley, Tracy Chapman, James Brown, Sam Cook, Leni Williams and Selila Selota.

"I consider my music an African perspective of soul with contemporary and jazz beats. I only learnt music by listening to others sing. When it comes to graphic designing, I think I have a natural knack for it. I'm a creative person and like the challenges I find in it. It is fascinating," he told Daily Monitor newspaper.

He believes Qwela’s music will take time to be appreciated in Uganda. “I do think our music can sell here. I think it’s only a matter of time for people to learn about it and for us to get exposure, but so far so good,” he says.

Kahirimbanyi is optimistic about Uganda’s live music scene, saying: “It is up coming, so many excellent bands coming up and the skill levels are going up. I think the next decade holds very big promise.”


Wednesday, July 7, 2010


JULY 7, 2010

NOT TO MISS out on the world’s most loved sport Ugandans have devised all sorts of means to watch the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

While some traders have seen their business boom it’s also an excuse for husbands to return home late.

In cases where a home has one television set and it’s only the father interested in soccer and the rest preferring to watch soaps like La Tormenta, cartoons and the popular Nollywood movies – coinciding with a world cup match, the father will be forced to walk into a sports bar or a kibanda to avoid fights at home.

It’s a period of escapades for unfaithful men even those that are not soccer fans to cheat on their wives commonly referred to as “away matches” under the guise of watching the World Cup.

The real fun of watching the world cup is in the cinemas, makeshift video halls (bibandas) and sports bars. However, one has to be careful to show the side he or she is supporting because you will be accused of not being a Pan-Africanist especially if an African team is playing.

Mr. Joseph Ssennyondo, a resident of Kampala prefers to watch football in sports bars. “I prefer the sports bars because at home one can be lonely. Yet in the sports bars there are cheers and noise similar to that in a stadium and the lots of friends and beer,” Ssennyondo said.

However, due to the prevailing poverty millions are not part of this fiesta. Many can not watch the world cup while others can only listen in on live rebroadcasts on the various local FM stations. Thousands can not afford a transistor radio, television set, newspapers, magazines let alone DSTV.

In case of power black outs owners of cinemas, bibandas and sports bars have stand by generators but this means eating into their profits.

According to the 2002 Uganda Population and Housing Census there are 231,366 (4.5 per cent) households with TV sets and 2,490,165 (48.6 per cent) with radios. About half of the households (49.2 per cent) in the country reported that “word of mouth” was their main source of information, followed by the radio (47.8 per cent).

Less than 1 per cent of the households reported the print media (newspapers and magazines) as their man source of information. The same proportion was recorded for those who reported that the television was their main source of information.

Businesses are cashing in on the global event with the prices of imitated jerseys of the countries taking part going for Ushs5, 000 ($2.1) compared to Ushs20, 000 ($8.7) or Ushs40, 000 ($17.4) for original jerseys of popular teams like England, Argentina, Brazil and France. On the streets of Kampala, taxi and bus parks one will be bombarded with cheap and poor photocopies of the World Cup fixtures at Ushs100 ($0.04).

In the various sports bars, bibandas and streets soccer fans can be seen dressed in imitated jerseys of the participating teams. You would not be surprised if some may not even locate the teams they are supporting on the world map.

Dealers in new and used television sets have not made a kill either because competition is so stiff that if one raised the price of the TV sets people will not turn up to buy. The dealers partly blame it on poverty.

Several companies are engaged in promotions were winners get all sorts of prizes. In most of these promotions participants have to predict the final scores of each match.

The managing director of Manhole Video Club, in Kibuli a suburb of Kampala, Mr. Abu Mutasa says in the turn-up for the World Cup in his club is poor.

“Turn-up is not good because Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) TV is showing the matches free of charge. We only get a good response during the English Premiership and Champions League. And we have seen big numbers turn up in this World Cup when there is a black out or English Premiership players are in action,” Mutasa said.

Mutasa also believes that at Ushs500 ($0.21) to watch a match in a kibanda is not much but people prefer to catch the action on UBC TV.

For the ardent football fans its: “Let the best nation win the 2010 World Cup.”


Friday, June 25, 2010



UNKNOWN at home he has mastered fusing funk, soul, rock and afro jazz to critical acclaim on the world music scene – a result of working with numerous acts and influences.

Ugandan born, Kaz Kasozi is an artist who has horned his craft working with musicians and bands of varying styles and genres from around the world including the Osibisa band since the age of sixteen alongside his own solo material and a foray into new media art and experimental film.

Based both in London in the United Kingdom and Kampala, Kaz is a multi-instrumentalist and a producer/arranger who has worked within the UK in the past 21 years. He plays various instruments of which piano, guitar and bass are primary.

In 1998 he released his debut album The Quest a top 10 seller download in the Afropop genre on iTunes and CDbaby; peaking at number 4 in 2005.

His second album Naked and Blue: a story of love and hate was released in 2005 to much acclaim. It was in the top 10 selling Afropop CDs at CDbaby for over 6 months. It includes songs in Luganda and English and crosses styles from funk and soul to afro-ethnic sounds. This genre defying work covers a wide scope in musical styles while maintaining a unified sound.

The album was produced using live instruments with minimal processing to cultivate an organic sound. Kaz's skills as a multi-instrumentalist weave a rich sound canvas, creating a true world fusion work; he plays 11 instruments on this album. The 13-track album has songs like, Ndingi dance, Ombalagadde, Nsaabala, Kati Oze, I do still and Dance away the Pain, among others.

Naked and Blue has been described as "a Ugandan classic and timeless piece..." by Music Uganda and "A gem with very infectious African 'Ethnic-soul'!" by Tw records review (2005). "...hard edged, rock driven afro-funk style, irresistible and unique," by World Music Network (2007).

Kaz has also been described as "the most ground breaking Ugandan musician yet," by CDbaby. His sounds have been likened to Prince, Manu Dibango and Richard Bona.

The song "Nkukyaye" taken off his Naked and Blue album appears on African Rough Guide Compilation released in May 2008. African Street Party is a new compilation album released by World Music Network as part of their Rough Guide series. The album features various African artists and bands with vibrant music.

“I find it frustrating not being known at home maybe because I am based in the UK,” Kaz told The EastAfrica newspaper, quickly adding: “It is not surprising because even some locally based musicians are not appreciated and known at home. I have now decided to come home often for performances, maybe I will be recognised.”

The Jazzmoss album, a collaborative work between poet/singer Louisa Le Marchand (songs and lyrics) and Kaz (music arrangements) was released in 2008 on the Discovery Records label.

His latest album tilted Blue Yonder Tena, yet to be released is a twin album to his previous Naked and Blue; both albums are part of the same project, titled Blue Magma.

In the late 1990s he began to produce work for other artists. To date Kaz has produced and/or arranged music for more than 30 artists and has been credited on over 70 commercial releases. The Ugandan artistes he has produced include Rachel Magoola, Sarah Tshila, Isaiah Katumwa, Essence Kasozi and Maurice Kirya.

He is also one of the co-founders and sponsors of the UgArts organisation established to promote musical talent in Uganda.

Kaz is building a recording a 32-track studio in Kampala that he hopes to open in 2010. Most of the necessary equipment has been shipped from the UK. He says the studio that will be called The Sound Kitchen same as the mobile facility that he operates in London has been delayed due government bureaucracy.

Kaz has worked as a music director for acts performing at prominent London venues such as the Royal National Theatre, the Jazz Cafe, and The Zenith in Paris, among others. He has performed at London African Music Festival, in Japan and the 2009 Bayimba International Festival of Music and Arts in Kampala including charity shows.

Kaz believes that people should make music that says something. “Today’s music doesn’t say much. I no longer listen to Ugandan music on radio because ninety percent of this music can’t speak to me, it’s not genuine. There is too much copying and looping. It’s difficult to interpret, and creativity is lacking,” he told The EastAfrican.

Kaz partly blames the corporate world for current state of affairs arguing: “The corporate world has been a disservice to the industry because they prefer to support solo artistes (hip-hop) instead of sticking to certain performances (live bands) to elevate the industry to a higher level.” He however, adds that, “We should make genuine live music otherwise if all that is available is CD music – that is what will be promoted.”

A short African musical film Kyazze Tekizzikayo, directed by Kaz and written by Essence Kasozi based on the Walumbe myths from the Kintu and Nambi legend of the Baganda in Uganda has showed at many festivals.

He co-produced a short film about music on the streets of London in 2006 with Guy Rahamim titled "Footnotes,” - an analytical observation/study of musicians busking on the streets and on the public transport system such as in tube stations and in the trains. The film features popular Israeli singer/songwriter Hadar and her band, among others.

Since 2002 Kaz has been working on his documentary provisionally titled, The Development of Ugandan Music which has been delayed by key players that are yet to accept to participate in the project. The documentary will look at the traditional instruments all the way to modern western instruments, the stars and recording processes as used in Ugandan music production and entertainment.