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ClassicsOnline Home » KENYA Golden Sounds: Swahili Rumba
"The band leader, Twahir Mohamed, was a very talented arranger as well as sax player...the music is bright and upbeat (I hesitate to say "infectious"!)...The choruses are rich and melodic and as a bonus the topical song lyrics are translated. This album is another reminder of how great Kenyan pop can be: a sparse but joyous music from a country fiercely backsliding into desperate economic times."
The Music of Kenya
Kenya’s musical landscape is unusually diverse for a single
country in Africa. Alongside the
traditional music of Kenya’s various ethnic and linguistic
groups, there is an active and, thriving popular music scene. Various Kenyan pop music styles compete
for the ears of the population.
All these styles draw on elements of traditional music—things such as
local melodies, rhythms, language, and indigenous instruments—and these are
mixed with the instrumentation of typical pop bands anywhere; guitars, bass,
drums, keyboards, sax, trumpets, and so on.
In one of the hottest areas of the Kenyan pop scene today,
hip hop and R&B styles from abroad have been adapted to the African setting
through Swahili lyrics, local topics, and the addition of local rhythms and instruments. These styles are particularly resonant
with young adults and teenagers.
On the other hand, older adults and people living in rural areas might
prefer benga music. As a pop
style, benga originated with Luo musicians from the area around Lake Victoria
in western Kenya. It quickly
spread to other tribal groups throughout Kenya from the mid-60s onwards. The melodic lines are very much
influenced by local musical traditions and the lyrics, sung in local languages,
are closely tied to the events and cultural values of the community.
On Kenya’s coast, taarab is a popular coastal style melding
Indian Ocean influences (from Arabia, Egypt, and India) with coastal musical
traditions. While taarab is widely
available in recorded forms, its performance is especially important as part of
the women’s entertainment at wedding ceremonies. Naxos World will highlight taarab music in an upcoming
Another delightful form of Kenyan music is the
finger-picking guitar style of the 1950s and 60s spearheaded by Luhya musicians
coming from western Kenya.
Although benga music largely supplanted this style, it has experienced a
small resurgence over the last few years, especially as bar and hotel
Finally, there are rumba pop bands. Though the word rumba is often
associated with Congolese groups, the rumba style is popular throughout Eastern and Central Africa, not to
mention its importance in West Africa with such pop bands as Orchestra Baobab
from Senegal. In Kenya, especially
in the cities and larger towns, rumba music flourished in an environment that
brought Kenyan musicians together with Congolese and Tanzanian artists. In this genre are such groups as the
various Wanyika bands (Simba Wanyika , Les Wanyika, Wanyika Stars, and Orchestra
Jobiso), Maroon Commandos, Bora Bora Sound, Everest Kings, and Golden Sounds
Band. This Kenyan version of rumba
is usually sung in Swahili with the songs divided into two distinct parts: the first part slow and melodic, the
second part faster with instrumental solos and sometimes a new vocal
chorus. One of the great
attributes of this music (especially to listeners who can’t understand the
words) is the way in which the music evolves throughout the song. Apart from the lyrics, the music will go
through a series of subtle and not-so-subtle changes that keeps songs sounding
fresh and interesting over the length of seven or eight minutes. Most Swahili rumba groups also feature
brass instruments such as saxophones and/or trumpets, giving the bands a chance
to add ornamental flourishes during the verses and instrumental solos in the
faster portion. Despite these
additional instruments, one notable characteristic of Swahili rumba has been
its relatively sparse and open sound.
The Golden Sounds Band featured on this CD share most of these
characteristics except for the sparse sound. Their complex vocal harmonies, interlocking guitars,
and sizzling saxes produce a full, rich sound.
Golden Sounds saxophonist and bandleader, Twahir Mohamed,
has been a part of the Nairobi music scene since his arrival in 1984 from
Tanzania. Twahir hooked up with
Samba Mapangala and Orchestra Virunga and played with the group over most of
the group’s active years in Nairobi.
After Virunga disbanded in the early 90s, Twahir joined forces with
Shabani Dogo Dogo (d. 1999) in Bora Bora Sounds. In fact, Bora Bora became the backing band for Samba when he
toured the United States and Europe in 1996. Later that same year, Twahir and several of the musicians
from Bora Bora formed the Golden Sounds Band. The group has been a favorite in such Nairobi night clubs as
Coco Beach and Makuti Park.
Depending upon economic circumstances, Golden Sounds Band has had as
many as 16 members including dancers.
Core members of the group are as follows:
golden sounds band
Twahir Mohamed, saxophone and leader
Ramadhani Issa, keyboards
Juma Iddi Mikulandi, drums
Rashidi Mwenzingo, vocal
Msichoke Kombo, bass
Farida Mahfudh, vocal
Miraji Shakashia, solo guitar
Mwinjuma Muumini, vocal
Tindika Umba, vocal
Rashidi Matawa, rhythm guitar
Zena Mahfudh, dancer
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KENYA Golden Sounds: Swahili Rumba