Rootsganza (Converge Records, 2003)
Only a tiny amount of Kenyan music has made it to the US market, despite a great musical diversity in this country of 31 million people of 47 ethnicities. I won’t attempt to summarize Doug Patterson’s detailed account of Kenyan music , but suffice it to say that this is only the third Kenyan CD I’ve actually laid my hands on, and one of the others is oud music recalling Kenya’s time under Arabic rule.
Jaliba is Kiswahili for “rock” – not the musical genre, but the conglomerated mineral, specifically a large rock upon which band members used to meet. And their music is founded upon the African rock of rhythm blended with vocal harmony.
Opening Rootsganza is “Amatingalo,” a broad tribute Africa. Growly male voices run through the countries singing “viva Kenya…Uganda…Tanzania…Zimbabwe….” You get the idea. The singing isn’t polished, but it fits beautifully with the variety of songs about country, family, and love. Following the funky drumming of “Percussion Discussion” is “Sweetness (Utamu),” a beautifully harmonized a capella choral song. The piano-and-strings ode to motherhood “Letter to Mama,” is sweet nearly to the point of sappiness, with the refrain “Sweet mama, Super woman / I love you forever.”
There’s plenty of variety in the 16 tracks, including lead vocals by sweet-voiced Lois Mutua on “Forever Young” and “Nabhangu.” Making a social comment on joblessness and police brutality is the Caribbean-flavored “Eastlands Yard,” while “Grandma’s Milk Gourd” simmers with Afro-beat energy. Jabali Afrika is now based on the US east coast, so keep an eye out for live shows. Sitting on a festival lawn soaking in these warm, loose sounds would complete a summer’s evening. Or just pop in this CD for a rare glimpse of Kenyan tunes.
(c) 2003 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media