Tag Archives: Kenyan music

Ongala Music Festival 2019 to Feature Rising East African Acts

Tanzanian group Ze Spirits Band

The second annual Ongala Music Festival will take place August 23 to 25 in Bagamoyo, Tanzania. The festival is named after celebrated Tanzanian musician Remmy Ongala. The event celebrates the rising talent of Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

For more information about the lineup go to ongalamusicfest.co.tz


Celebrated Kenyan Musician Ayub Ogada Dies at 63

Ayub Ogada – Photo by Andrew Caitlin

Kenyan musician Ayub Ogada, a virtuoso nyati player, died on Friday, February 1st, 2019. He was 63.

Ayub Ogada, respect Wuod Luo! You are the reason I picked up Nyatiti. Thank you for sharing this fantastic 8 strings instrument with the world. I celebrate you! Rest in Power,” said Kenyan musican Suzanna Owiyo.

In a testimonial, famed vocalist and world music producer Peter Gabriel said: “I was very upset to learn of Ayub Ogada’s death tonight. His was a prodigious talent and when he was on he could mesmerise anyone and everyone within his range with his sensitive and melodic Nyatiti playing, accompanying that legendary gentle and hypnotic voice.

“In the early days of WOMAD and Real World Records many people weren’t interested to listen to music from other cultures and whenever I was trying to convince them I would play Ayub singing ‘Kothbiro’ and invariably win them round.

“It was always a pleasure making music with him and getting to feel that warm sensitive and musical intelligence at work. We will all miss him greatly.

Read more about Ayub Ogada.


Artist Profiles: Abbi


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.


Mudunia (2003)
Indigo (2007)


Artist Profiles: Ayub Ogada

Ayub Ogada

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.

Ayub Ogada died on Friday, February 1st, 2019.


En Mana Kuoyo (Real World Records, 1993)
Tanguru (1998)
Kodhi: Trevor Warren’s Adventures with Ayub Ogada (Long Tale Recordings, 2015)


Artist Profiles: Eric Wainaina

Eric Wainaina
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)


Artist Profiles: Extra Golden

Extra Golden

Extra Golden is an international collaboration between Kenyan and American musicians. Americans Ian Eagleson and Alex Minoff were formerly of the band Golden; Kenyans are Otieno Jagwasi, Opiyo Bilongo and Onyango Wuod Omari joined in collaboration.

Since 2000, Otieno had been assisting Ian in documenting benga, a guitar-heavy kind of dance music (similar to Congolese rumba) that has been popular in Kenya since the 1960s. In 2004, Ian was in Kenya for a year-long visit to do research for his doctoral thesis on benga, and again was working closely with Otieno. This time, they had a portable laptop studio at their disposal, and did several recordings of Otieno’?s latest band, Orchestra Hit Sounds International, as well as many other groups that Otieno helped arrange. Alex and Ian had already planned on meeting up in Kenya to do some recordings, so this offered them a unique opportunity to explore some of the benga-inspired ideas that had been present in some of Golden’s music. In April of 2004, following a UK tour with his other group, Weird War, Alex visited Nairobi, and Extra Golden came to be.

The group’s future was uncertain after the unfortunate loss of singer/guitarist/co-founder Otieno Jagwasi in 2005. The release of the band’s debut, Ok-Oyot System, in 2006 seemed to be a posthumous affair, but an invitation to perform at the 2006 Chicago World Music Festival presented an intriguing opportunity for a US concert debut and a return to the studio. The group called on Opiyo Bilongo to fill the void, a singer/guitarist who has been a dangerous presence on the Kenyan Benga scene for over a decade. Guitarist Ian Eagleson had helped Bilongo record two albums with his group Bilongo Golden Stars back in 2004, sessions that are highlighted on Bilongo’s debut U.S. release, What Do People Want? released on Kanyo Records. Onyango Wuod Omari, whose singular drumming punctuated Ok-Oyot System, would also make the trip.

For several months and through almost interminable hassles, Eagleson and guitarist Alex Minoff worked feverishly with Onyango Jagwasi (brother of the late Otieno) to make Extra Golden’s concert debut a reality. After countless international phone calls, a great deal of hustling and some help from people in high places (the office of Illinois Senator Barack Obama helped the group clear their final visa hurdles), Opiyo Bilongo and Onyango Wuod Omari got their visas just a few hours before their scheduled departure. This would be the first journey outside of East Africa for both benga stars.

Six weeks of memorable performances followed at both rock venues and private Kenyan functions. Afterwards, Extra Golden retreated to an isolated location on Lake Wallenpaupack in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. As with Ok-Oyot System, the band recorded using their ?Nyathi Otenga Flying Studio,? but the session for Hera Ma Nono couldn?t have been more different. Instead of three hours in an open-air Nairobi nightclub, the group had five days in a private house. They had access to a variety of guitar amplifiers and effects, and perhaps the biggest difference was the drumkit. The set that Onyango used on Ok-Oyot System was, to be kind, broken. In Pennsylvania, he had a fully-functional kit with a large assortment of tom-toms. These new amenities helped to take the band?s sound in a new direction.

Hera Ma Nono is Luo for Love in Vain, is one theme that reverberates throughout the album. While on “I Miss You,” “Love Hijackers” and the title track, it refers to the love that exists between two people. This same theme applies in less traditional ways in other songs. “Jakolando” and “Brothers Gone Away” illustrate the cruelty of prematurely losing family members and friends. “Street Parade” praises the citizens and culture of New Orleans, who despite a passionate allegiance to their home are punished by its harsh ecology. In a more upbeat lyrical turn, “Obama” is in thanks to the senator and others who helped Extra Golden reunite to make this recording. Such songs of praise are benga custom, and in keeping with that custom. Obama’s wife and mother received thanks as well. Finally, “Night Runners” contemplates the jajuok, the creepy, nocturnal creatures of Luo folklore.

Through it all, Hera Ma Nono shows that, while the defining element of Extra Golden may be its cross-cultural cooperation, styles of rock and benga are not quite as disparate as some may believe. Both arose from people cranking up electric guitars and singing melodic songs over propulsive rhythms in an attempt to entertain an audience. Though they may have to cross seas and petition governments just to play a few shows, the members of Extra Golden go about their work with a few simple goals in mind – to write songs that tell stories of life, love and loss; to praise people and places that are dear to their hearts; and, most of all, to create a sound that people of different backgrounds and generations can enjoy.


Ok-Oyot System (Thrill Jockey Records, 2006)
Hera Ma Nono (Thrill Jockey, 2007)
Thank You Very Quickly (Thrill Jockey, 2009)


Artist Profiles: Jabali Afrika

Jabali Afrika

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.


Journey (CultureHub Recordings, 1996)
Remember the Past (Jabali Afrika, 1999)
Rootsganza (Tropic / Converge, 2003)
Mayosi (2006)
Rebellion 1963 To The Future (2012)
Nakumbuka (CultureHub Recordings, 2017)


Artist Profiles: Kenge Kenge

Kenge Kenge

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.


Introducing Kenge Kenge (World Music Network, 2007)


Artist Profiles: Suzzana Owiyo

Suzzana Owiyo
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.


Mama Africa (ARC Music EUCD 1875, 2004)


Lusafrica Announces New Logo and Sublabel The Garden

Blinky Bill

Lusafrica, the seminal record company founded by José da Silva that introduced Cape Verdean and other lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) artists to worldwide audiences, is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

The label has a new logo and also a new sublabel called The Garden that will introduce emerging world music artists. The first act on The Garden is Blinky Bill, from Nairobi, Kenya. He’s a musician, electronic music experimentalist, DJ and producer.

Blinky Bill’s album “Everyone’s Just Winging It And Other Fly Tales” is scheduled for release October 19th, 2018.