NGOMA Classic 3 – Mega Benga

KENYA COVER

The climate in Nairobi is cool and perfect all year round, despite being on the equator, due to its high altitude. The East African Rumba sound is also often cooler, sans the fiery horn sections of Congolese Soukous.  The focus here is on a reduced palette of rhythmic guitar and vocal refrains over driving, insistent 4 on the floor kicks.  The motorik, hypnotic motifs and modular progression of this original minimalist dance music here is mostly from 1950s to 1970s, and i play it in the seamless style of techno.

There is a lot more going on here than the predominantly Luo popular style known as Benga: also golden classics from the Kikuyu, Kamba, Luhya, and other tribes of Kenya. Grooves so sweet they ache the heart as they move the feet… Sounds difficult if not impossible to find outside of East Africa.

In the words of Osumba Rateng, a master Benga musician, from Benga: The best of cultural integration, by James Allen and SingingWells:

“I started playing music in school, and I had a cousin, Aoka Meja, who had a guitar. We copied the style of Adero Onani, who played traditional music on the guitar. In 1958, I got my first acoustic guitar and played Rumba. In 1965, I started to play Benga.

Benga was influenced by the beat of the nyatiti, and we interpreted that on the guitar. We also borrowed from the orutu, which followed the voice of the singer … I formed Sega Sega, and we … did a huge amount of studio work. And as Benga became popular, the three of us played on a lot of other people’s songs. This meant that our Luo sound was getting on a lot of records. The early ‘60’s was mostly about studio work, but by ’70 to ’71, when Benga was really at its peak, the Sega Sega band was very big. We were always performing at events and functions. We did okay, and I made enough to buy my farm and build the house in which I still live . . .”

and the following is from the liner notes of “D.O. MISIANI and SHIRATI JAZZ, THE KING OF HISTORY, CLASSIC 1970S BENGA BEATS FROM KENYA” (Sterns Music):

“Guitars had started gaining popularity in Kenya in the 1950s and it wasn’t long before Benga started taking form in the Luo speaking areas surrounding Lake Victoria in the early 60s. Misiani (commonly known as the “King of HIstory” and father of Benga, whose band is also on the cover of this mix – Zhao) was actually born across Kenya’s southern border in Tanganyika in 1940 in the Luo community of Shirati. His earliest years as a musician brought him numerous clashes with uthority and several escapes to safer ground to avoid punishment. It seems he and his music were very popular with schoolgirls and young women, but the parents weren’t too keen on his seductive love songs and the authorities didn’t appreciate the fights among the young men over the girls. Misiani recounted several times that his guitars were seized and smashed, and that he had to leave the village quickly. He would disappear for a while, wait for things to settle down and then return.

The songs of the early 70s have a lighter percussion with the beat kept by tapping on the rim of a snare drum. They also mastered a rhythmic clicking sound using the electric guitar pick-up that is heard in a number of pieces. From about 1976 this sound changes with the use of a full drum kit and the deeper sound of the kick drum, with now the high hat receiving most of the attention from the drummer’s sticks. The saxophone heard in some of the earlier songs is gone. By the late 70s, we’re into the mature benga sound exemplified by ‘Wang Ni To Iringo’ that propelled benga through the 80s and into the 90s.

Misiani was a composer without fear in an environment that threatened free speech and critical thought. In his early years, it was his love songs in his home village that had got him in trouble, and in the Shirati Jazz years (essentially the rest of his life after leaving the village), he was known for biting commentary on Kenya’s political, social, and economic institutions. However such criticism was never direct. His songs convey meaning at a deeper level. He would use a theme such as a verse or parable in the Bible, a piece of African history, a prophecy, or an animal fable that would allow listeners to draw a meaning relevant to the current events of the day. Periodically, when one of his songs could be interpreted as presenting the government or a politician in an unflattering way, the authorities would pick up Misiani and take him off to jail. At one point he was deported to Tanzania. Another time he was arrested – though not convicted – of being an illegal Tanzanian immigrant. Nairobi’s Nation newspaper quotes him in 2006 as saying: “Tell me, is there anything wrong with singing about what’s going wrong in our society? I just sing about what is happening and if some people are not happy, I can do little about it.” It is in this arena, I think, where Misiani really merits his King of History title. With its multiple layers of meaning, it accurately portrays both the status and the mechanism by which he achieved that status: keep it sweet, keep it entertaining but, at all times, keep it relevant.”

These tracks came from many different sources, sorry for lack of artist and title for some:

01 Kakai Kilonzo & Les Kilmambogo – Kilinga Munguti
02 Kakai Kilonzo & Les Kilmambogo – Ngungu Na Muol
03 Les Kilmambogo – Serah Ngungembeti
04 Kakai Kilonzo & Les Kilmambogo – Mutwawa Niwatwawa
05 Ken Wa Maria – Unknown
06 Ken Wa Maria – Unknown
07 Unknown Kamba Song
08 Ken Wa Maria – Syaamba Kala
09 Ken Wa Maria – Kuu Ni Ilovi
10 Unknown Kikuyu Song 1
11 Unknown Kikuyu Song 2
12 Unknown Kikuyu Song 3
13 Osito – Jehova Kings
14 George Ramogi – Unknown
15 Owino Misiani & Shirati Jazz – Piny Ose Mer
16 (Luo) Emily Makaya – Fagilia To Ipar Odi
17 Elisha Nyarugenya – Mazadijo
18 Princess Julie – Dunia Mbaya
19 Princess Julie – Unknown
20 (Luhya) Misiko – Come We Stay
21 Misiko – Khubekha Mukhali
22 Unknown – Unknown
23 Unknown (Mukunguni) – Pepo Mlume
24 Kapere Jazz Band – Lando Nyajomere
25 Jacob Omolo – Ogwang Lelo Okoth
26 Owiny Sigoma Band – Nyiduonge Drums
27 Kalambia Sisters – Katilina

Heart of Light

Congo_new

“Heart of Light” – the last words uttered publicly by democratically elected first president of newly independent Congo Patrice Lumumba at his inauguration address, 3 months before his murder by Belgium and CIA, because he dared to oppose the Western forces of oppression and planned to keep the wealth of the Congo for the Congo.  Freedom and hope was killed in 1961, with disastrous consequences that last until today, but The Heart of Light can never die…

Rumba traveled back to Africa via Cuba and Haiti in the 40s and 50s, later developing into the faster and more dancefloor sound of Soukous, arguably peaking in the 60s and 70s, and lived on well into the 90s with a more streamlined and modern sound. This mix is only a tiny slice of this glorious legacy from the later periods: 4 on the floor, with enough bass for modern dance floors.  Excluded are examples from the ocean of older, incredibly varied recordings, of supreme beauty and artistic merit but many of which sadly have poor sound quality, as the best musicians in the world were, and are, often recording under the worst conditions and with the worst equipment.

Despite being the biggest African music export in history, African Rumba is still criminally under exposed in the Northern Hemisphere.  Yet this music is crucial, and should be very important to anyone interested in Dance Music, anyone interested in Pop, in Rock, in Soul,  in Jazz, in Funk, in Reggae, etc.  Objectively speaking, in terms of raw musicianship, in terms of composition and arrangement, and if we break down the rhythms and melodies to mathematical patterns and study them, these highly evolved structures are perfectly designed and executed in every way.

Also check out the related but different beautiful grooves of East African Rumba and the sound of Benga, in NGOMA Classic Vol. 3 here.

I grew up with Industrial Noise, Punk, and Metal, and it wasn’t until my late 20s/early 30s until i was emotionally mature enough to appreciate amazing sounds like this. Please leave your cynicism at the door and embrace this light, for the truth is, something Africans have known all along, that ultimately the most powerful revolutionary force, of which the powers are afraid, that can break every chain and destroy every oppression, is not anger — it is love.

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01 Sam Mangwana – Liwa Ya Niekesse
02 Orchestra Makassy – Kufulisika Sio Kilema
03 Papa Noel – Bel Ami
04 Kosmos Moutouari – Liberte
05 4 Stars – Mayanga
06 Kanda Bongo Man – Ebeneza
07 Mpongo Love = Femme Commerçante
08 Unknown – Zoum
09 Sam Mapangala – Dunia Tuna Pita (We’re Just Passing Through the World)
10 Kanda Bongo Man – J.T.
11 Bilenge Musica Du Zaire – Wazazi Wangu
12 Empire Bakuba – Nazingi Maboko
13 Alain Kounkou – Soukouss Grands Effets
14 Nyboma – Maya
15 Elali – Mawa (Ngai Mawa)
16 Synthez – Virée aux Antilles
17 Fifi Map – Libala Ya Bomwana
18 Africa Maestro – Na Decide
19 Bicko Tchéké – C’est chic
20 Kanda Bongo Man – Sango
21 Meiway – Nanan
22 Luambo Lwanza Makiadi & L’Orchestre TPOK Jazz (Franco) – Casier Judiciare

Sound culture in the Heart of Light

and here is a repost from the old blog, of classic Congolese Rumba, literally the sweetest sounds i have ever heard.

tracklisting: volume 1 / volume 2.

Big big thanks to Bolingo69 for the original upload.  It is criminal that these heavenly sounds are out of print and commercially unavailable anywhere.  Here are both volumes together on mediafire.

And I’ve been meaning to do an official NGOMA volume of modern dance floor Soukous for some time…  it will happen soon.  But until then, there are lots of awesome tunes in this episode of Radio Ngoma:

RADIO NGOMA 1-8

the first 8 volumes in this Reboot.fm radio series.  for tracklisting please go to the soundcloud pages for each show.  to download of course simply click the downward aarow on the right side of the player for each show.

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before you listen and download: how much are these products worth to you?  if possible, please make a donation.

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RADIO NGOMA 1 – Live from Krakow

RADIO NGOMA 2 - Mid Tempo Trip Around the World

RADIO NGOMA 3 - Moody Booty

RADIO NGOMA 4 - Righteousness and Rudeness (Reggae Special)

RADIO NGOMA 5 - Ancestral Rhythms

RADIO NGOMA 6 - Afro Futurism

RADIO NGOMA 7 - Global Dub Resistance

RADIO NGOMA 8 - Trans-Atlantic Rhythm Passage


NGOMA MIX 5 – Nomad Boogie

here is one for the boogie: classic and soulful grooves designed for more intimate spaces.

STREAM:  MIXCLOUD // DOWNLOAD SINGLE TRACK:  MEDIAFIRE

i made this mix for smaller and “normal” local bars and clubs: really tried to make something both for the general public, meaning anyone from any walk of life, as well as the music heads. the ideal is a CD that almost any bar anywhere in the world can pop in their stereo at any given night and have people nod their heads, tap their feet, and maybe even get a little jiggy. how close the actual product ended up being to this ideal is yet to be tested, as well as my thesis that one does not have to succumb to lowest common denominators to appeal to everyone. (we will see, i have already started giving these out to local establishments in berlin)