Absalom Nyinza, popularly Abbi, Abbi is one of Kenya’s finest Afro-fusionist, who launched his second album Indigo in August 2007.
With roots in Kenyan people’s traditional instruments and tunes, he fuses contemporary instruments from the world today, such as West-African jembe, kora along with piano, violin, sax, flute, bass, guitars and drums. Abbi takes his Kenyan beats into a newness, experimenting with other genres as salsa, jazz, reggae, and pop. Furthermore, he likes mixing different languages and sings in both English, Swahili, Luhya (his mother-tongue), French, Luo and Maasai. His music has taken him on tours and festival-performances several times such as the North Sea Jazz and Mundial festival.
Abbi began his musical career in 1993 as an a cappella singer, and ventured into Afro-fusion some years later. His first solo-album came out in 2003 titled Mudunia? This album lead to two Kisima-awards for Best Male Artist and Most Promising Artist.
Job Seda, better known as Ayub Ogada was born in 1956 in Mombasa on the coast of Kenya. At the age of six he accompanied his father, who was studying medicine in the United States, and his mother when they took their musical act on tour. When he returned to Kenya, he attended a Catholic school, and then an English boarding school. This education and his outstanding ability with percussion led him to a position with the French Cultural Centre in Nairobi, composing modern and traditional music for productions.
A member of the Lou people of western Kenya, Ayub Ogada played the traditional lyre of his tribe, the nyatiti. Alongside this instrument, Ayub used his warm and sensual voice to create a close bond between himself and the audience to expose social issues.
In 1979, Ayub co-founded the African Heritage Band; after six years, two albums and several lucrative movie roles, he decided to move on. Ayub found himself in the UK in 1986, where he was quickly snapped up by London’s African music set.
For a time, Ayub played with Taxi Pata Pata, along with guitarist Zak Sikobe, who is also from Kenya. A multi-talented artist, Ogada also acted in the film Out of Africa opposite Robert Redford, and also in the films The Kitchen Toto and The Color Purple.
He was part of Peter Gabriel’s Secret World Tour in 1993. Ayub toured as support artist with The Drummers of Burundi throughout Australia, Spain and the UK in 1999.
In July 2005, Ayub Ogada played at the Live 8 concert Eden Project as the opening act with his band, Union Nowhere. They released the album Tanguru in 2007. That year, Ayub moved back to Kenya.
In 2012, Ayub Ogada recorded an album with English musician Trevor Warren titled Kodhi: Trevor Warren’s Adventures with Ayub Ogada, released in 2015.
Eric Wainaina grew up saying that he was going to be a doctor, but his love for music reigned supreme. Shocked at first by his career choice, Eric?s family supported his decision to venture into music from the very beginning. Whilst growing up, he was influenced musically by artists such as Papa Wemba, Youssou N’Dour, Lokua Kanza and Paul Simon.
Eric first stepped into the world of music in the early 90s with Five Alive, originally an a cappella group that performed in churches, functions and clubs. Eric was a founder member of this popular group in 1992. Even then his flair for writing was evident. He is credited as songwriter on eight of the twelve songs on their album.
Dominating Kenya’s airwaves in 1995, Five Alive even went on to tour Europe the same year. This experience convinced Eric of pursuing a professional career in music. When the group disbanded in 1997, Eric went on to join the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston USA, where he majored in Songwriting and Record Engineering.
During his years at Berklee, where his degree equipped him fully in the area of songwriting, arranging and production, Eric worked to produce a sound that would be distinctively Kenyan both in the music and the content of the lyrics. Making sure that he released a new track every time he returned home for vacation, Eric Wainaina was always assured of a place on Kenya?s music charts. The sound he created includes benga rhythm with modern harmonies. He describes Berklee as a musically charged atmosphere which challenged him to invest in his Kenyaness.
Eric’s notable releases include Kenya Only, a song that instantly made him Kenya’s favorite modern musician. After the 1998 terrorist bomb blast in Nairobi where over 200 Kenyans lost their lives, Kenya Only, originally written as a call to national unity in the wake of the divisive politics of the Moi regime, was adopted as the unofficial song of mourning receiving extensive radio and TV airplay nation-wide. He returned to the top of Kenya’s musical agenda with Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo in 2001, a song that launched his crusade against corruption in the country.
With the chart success of Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo and his noble message sinking into every segment of Kenyan society, Eric received accolades internationally. The song earned him a Kora Award for Best East African Artist. Transparency International supported him as an artist who would help educate people on the negativity of corruption. In 2001, Africa Almanac.com listed Eric Wainaina among the Top 100 Africans of the Year 2000, alongside high profile names such as Nelson Mandela, Joseph Kabila, Yash Pal Ghai, Baaba Maal and Ousmane Semb?ne.
Eric’s first album, Sawa Sawa (2001) remains one of the highest selling solo albums in Kenya. In writing the record Eric was making a decided attempt to break away from the all too common American influences in new African music. Challenged to be relevant he dedicated himself to spending six hours a day writing over five months. The result was a record which won critical and popular acclaim. His adaptation of a Kikuyu folk tune Ritwa Riaku was added to the playlist of every radio station in the nation, as was the eponymous track Sawa Sawa, which, six years down the line, still receives regular airplay.
He has been acclaimed for his outstanding skill and dynamism as a live performer in both his tours and festival performances. He has toured in Switzerland for four consecutive years and has performed at Holland’s Festival Mundial (2003) as well as Harare’s International Festival of the Arts (2003) receiving outstanding reviews for both performances.
Eric’s second solo album, Twende Twende (2006) has been very positively received. The title track is a duet with Zimbabwean legend Oliver Mtukudzi, and it features other notable guest artists such as Kanji Mbugua and MC Kah of Ukoo Fulani Mau Mau.
Sawa Sawa (Sound Africa, 2001)
Twende Twende (2006)
Love and Protest (Rainmaker, 2011)
Jabali Afrika is a Kenyan band with a unique mixture of African rhythms. This is a truly multi-faceted band whose members are not only adept at composing songs, playing a variety of instruments, and blending their voices into a harmonious sound but, are also talented dancers and choreographers.
The band’s origin can be traced to the Kenya National Theatre Dance Troupe. In 1993, feeling unnecessarily censored, some of the members of the troupe became dissatisfied with the choices in their repertoire. In their frustration, Joseck Asikoye, Victor Elolo, Justo Otongo, Evans Chagala and Robert Owino broke away from the troupe and formed what is known as Jabali Afrika. The name was picked because the word Jabali is Kiswahili (Kenya’s national language) for rock. This word was significant to the original members because they used to meet on a large rock in order to discuss how to advance their musical careers. Therefore, Jabali was an ideal name for the band. Since then, Chagala and Owino have left the group, and the band is proud to have added Bernard to the lineup.
Through Perseverance, Jabali Afrika began to enjoy its first taste of success when the band was invited to play percussion in the United Radio and Television Network of Afrika (URTNA) awards. Not long after, the band launched its unique sound on Nairobi’s National Talent Search (Star Search). The band went on to win the best traditional adaptation award in Kenya in December 1994. As a result of this achievement the band earned recognition al over Africa, as well as Europe, and seemed unbeatable. In the spring of 1995, the band was invited to headline the African Heritage Festival tour of Germany and Austria.
To date, Jabali Afrika has toured Europ, Japan and the United States.
The band has also released two CDs in Europe, and two in the United States entitled Journey and Remember the Past.
Kenge Kenge breath new life into Kenya’s Luo musical roots, continuing its evolution, from the hand-made instruments of the past, through the popular guitar-based benga, and now returning to both re-explore the acoustic origins of benga and embrace their Luo musical heritage.
The band was founded in the early 1990s by the late Amdo Jawaya and Samuel Nyariwo and the name translates from Luo into “fusion of small, exhilarating instruments”. They started out as musicians for the Catering Levy Trust Choir but by the late 1990s had acquired new members, including their current leader, George Achieng, and began to create a more contemporary sound, focusing on the benga rhythm.
Introducing Kenge Kenge is an album of high-energy music and pulsing beat. The band works with traditional Luo instruments, from which the benga beat originally drew its sound, using the orutu (one-stringed fiddle) and the nyangile (gong), plus percussion, drums, horn and flute.
Suzzana was born in Kasaye of Nyakach Division in Nyando District, near the lake city of Kisumu. As a young girl, Suzzana was blessed with a grandfather who was a prolific Nyatiti player. It was her privilege to watch him play this traditional music instrument to his elated audiences, little did she know that one-day this instrument would be her calling in life.
In high school, Suzzana was a natural actor and vocalist competing in inter schools music and drama festivals bagging several trophies for her school at provincial and national music festivals.
After high school in 1998, she joined a Nairobi based singer, Sally Oyugi, as a back -up vocalist. Two years later, she parted ways with Sally to team up with a local band in Nairobi, Bora Bora Sound, with whom she performed for one year.
In 1999, She went back home to Kisumu to team with up with another local band. This marriage lasted just one year and in 2001 she branched off to become a solo artist. It was during this period that one Eric Ounga, a young business entrepreneur with a keen ear for music, spotted her talent. Within days, Ounga had acquired a box a guitar and a coach for the budding songbird. This development so excited Suzzana that in less than a week; she had composed her first song, Uyie!
Suzzana?s restless spirit was at it again. She had realized that her future was in the music industry and if she had to succeed, then she had to return to Nairobi where she would face real challenge and competition. She also wanted to join a professional music school to help her develop her theoretical skills in music composition. She joined the Kenya Conservatory of Music at the Kenya Culture Center. During this period, she signed a contract to play at a club in the posh Karen area of Nairobi. This is where the then Chairman of Kisumu Centennial Celebrations met her and took an instant liking of her style of music. Because of this encounter, she was invited to perform at a special function recognizing Raphael Tuju, Chief Executive of Ace Communications and a TV personality in Kenya for his Say Yes to Children Grammy Award achievement.
It was at this venue that Suzzana’s invitation to compose a theme song and sing it at the Centennial opening ceremony was confirmed. It was a golden opportunity for her to perform to a sixty thousand capacity crowd at the Kisumu in the presence of three Heads of State from East Africa. She received a prolonged applause and standing ovation for her song: Kisumu Ber!
In 2002, she entertained Jimmy Carter, former US President together with Bill Gates Sr. during their visit to Kenya. In May of that same year she performed at the Miss Tourism Nyanza finales in Kisumu.
She composed and launched a CD for Kenya Women Political Caucus in November 2002. In the same month she participated at the Kora Africa Music awards ceremony in South Africa. Her song ?Kisumu 100? earned her entry for Africa?s most promising female Artist.
The first ever Eve Woman of the Year Award was held at the Nairobi Safari Club on 7th March 2003. The nominees, among others were, Suzzana Owiyo, Water Minister Martha Karua, Health Minister Charity Ngilu, Ass. Minister for Environment Prof. Wangari Mathai, Lynn Kituyi, Lucy Rao and LSK Chairlady Raychelle Omamo; each one of them being distinguished and recognized in their different fields.
In the same year, she was nominated for Kisima Awards and won an Award for most promising female artist category in Kenya. In June 2003 she represented Kenya in Paris among other Kenyan artists where she staged a colorful performance during the Kenyan week festival in Paris courtesy of Alliance Francaise de Kenya.
In August she performed at the Pan-African Music Festival in Congo Brazzaville (FESPAM). She was chosen to represent East Africa and performed alongside big names like Youssou N’Dour, Koffi Olomide, Rebecca Malope, Meiway, etc.
In December of 2003 she went to represent Kenya in Jibuti (also known as Djibouti) festival called Fest Horn, backed by a full band. In the same month she staged a charity concert in aid of Mama Ngina Children’s Home, Kisumu.
In July 2004 she performed in Holland at the Festival Mundial that was held in Tilberg.
Zein L’Abdin, from Mombasa, was one of the pivotal figures of the Mombasa taarab scene. He was born on the Island of Lamu where he grew up immersed in the many strands of music brought to the Swahili coast by seafaring traders from the Arab world, India and as far afield as Indonesia.
Taarab is a celebratory social music greatly enjoyed by East Africa’s Muslim and non-Muslim populations alike.
Seattle-based Kenyan Afro-folk vocalist and songwriter Naomi Wachira has a new album titled Song of Lament. We talked to her about her songs and the new recording.
Your new album is titled Song of Lament. What’s the meaning behind the title?
“Song of Lament” was written at a time when I was sensing so much fear around me, especially because terrorism has been on the rise and also because of the refugee crisis. I was also in a hopeless place personally, so I was lamenting a lot. The album is compilation of songs that mourn some of the harsher realities of life, but also looks forward to what can bring a difference, which I believe to be empathy, kindness and living from a place of recognizing our shared humanity.
As an Afro-Folk songwriter, what topics are you more interested in or concerned about? I’m mostly interested in writing music that empowers and inspires all of us. As an artist, I get to write words that will influence other people, and that is something I take seriously because I desire that what I write has a positive impact on the listeners. Whether writing about romantic love, or lessons I’ve learned from my mistakes, or what I hope for the human race, the overarching theme will always be love and hope.
Tell us about the musicians who participated in Song of Lament.
What I love about Seattle is that the music community is very close knit and I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the best. Teo Shantz (drums) is a good friend of mine and has been playing with me since 2014. Masa Kobayashi (bass) started playing with me in 2015 and plays for quite a few other bands, one of them being Clinton Fearon. Andrew Joslyn on strings and Owour Arunga on trumpet are friends I’ve known for the last 5 years and both play for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis among a long list of other bands they contribute their talents to. The only two I didn’t know prior to the record are Dave West (Organ) and Tommy Sandovallegos (percussion) who were brought on by my producer.
Who can you cite as your main musical influences?
I’ve always looked up to Tracy Chapman and Miriam Makeba both from the longevity of their careers, but also the content of their work and the fact that they wrote about issues affecting society.
Does the traditional Kenyan music have any influence in your music?
I don’t think that traditional music per se has had a lot of influence in my style, because I grew up listen to all genres of music, which I think comes through in how I write.
Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.
My first record was an EP “African Girl” which I released in 2012. I worked with a friend of mine and we recorded in a tiny bedroom and a warehouse. I feel like from the beginning of my career I’ve always known that I wanted my music to be simple, with an emphasis on the lyrics being more prominent than instruments. I’ve always favored sparse production on songs, because again, I want people to hear the words.
The greatest evolution has been to trust my own vision of what my album should sound like. It has been about believing that what I hear is valid and I don’t need to seek approval from someone on how the album should sound. Song of Lament is an album I’m so incredibly proud of not only because of the content, but because I got to have every song exactly as I wanted it to be and I’m grateful to have worked with a producer who trusted that vision.
What musical instruments do you use in your arrangements?
I’m very simple and often play solo with an acoustic guitar. On the record, for the pretty basic songs, I had a drummer and bass player accompany me with some additional percussion. But I also tried different things, such as strings and horns, which I hadn’t done before.
If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with who would that be?
I recently got to see Mokoomba from Zimbabwe and loved them so much that I hope to someday collaborate with them.
What music are you currently listening to?
With my daughter around, all she wants to hear is pop music, so currently we’re listening to Top 40 – especially because we’re on the road a lot.
Do you have any upcoming projects to share with our readers?
Because Song of Lament just came out, that will be my focus for now.
Kenyan Afro-Folk singer-songwriter Naomi Wachira has a new album titled Song of Lament that addresses injustice and the refugee crisis. Although news stories made her grieve, she desired “to create art that would serve society at large and hopefully lessen the chaos around us.”
Naomi Wachira currently lives in Seattle (Washington State, USA) and recorded Song of Lament with Dave West on organ and Rhodes; Teo Shantz on drums; Masa Kobayashi on bass; Tommy Sandovallegos on percussion; Eric Lilavois on percussion; Owuor Arunga on trumpet; and Andrew Joslyn on strings.
Earlier recordings include her first EP African Girl (2012), the self-titled album Naomi Wachira (2014) and an acoustic EP, I am Because You Are (2015).
Adam Solomon is a 2005 Juno Award winner in the World Music Album category. Adam was born in Mombasa, Kenya, and began performing at an early age, playing kivoti (flute) and Kayaamba (shaker) at village celebrations and festivals. He established his career playing lead guitar and singing on recordings and videos with Kenya’s most popular bands and musicians, such as Joseph Kamaru, Professor M.B Naaman and the Nine Stars Orchestra, Super Wanyika Stars of Issa Juma, Lessa Lessan vocalist of Dr.Nico, Super Mazembe ya Mushosho, Kanda Bongo Man and Mombasa Roots band.
Adam formed his band Tikisa in 1995. Retaining his roots in traditional music, Adam’s compositions are comprised of a wide variety of African rhythms, from traditional chela, highlife, soukous, reggae, and samba to bossa nova and traditional 6/8 beat chakacha. Adam sings in six languages: Swahili, English, Lingala, Duruma, Giriama, and Arabic. “The Professor,” as he is known in musical circles, is highly respected as a lead guitarist and vocalist. In addition, he is experienced as a bass and rhythm guitar player and keyboard player. Adam Solomon & Tikisa have performed across Canada and the US in clubs and major festivals.
Adam Solomon was a co-founder of Canada’s great pan-African band, The AfroNubians, with whom he toured western Canada in 1993 collaborated on two CD releases: Tour to Africa and The Great Africans. His touring credits also include workshops with African super stars Papa Wemba from Congo and Ismael Lo from Senegal.
Adam Solomon moved to Canada and was a co-founder of Canada’s great pan-African band, The AfroNubians, with whom he toured western Canada in 1993 collaborated on two CD releases: Tour to Africa and The Great Africans. His touring credits also include workshops with African super stars Papa Wemba from Congo and Ismael Lo from Senegal.
Adam Solomon has released several albums. Safari Afro-Pop music won Best Release at Toronto African Music Awards and Best New Performers of the Year.
In 2004, Adam collaborated with other well-known African musicians on a CBC-sponsored project called the African Guitar Summit, which eventually garnered the 2005 World Music Album Juno Award, Canada’s top music award.
As well as his career as a band leader, Adam also established a reputation in music education and as a valuable contributor to programs in African Heritage education.