About this Recording
76055-2 - KENYA Golden Sounds: Swahili Rumba
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The Music of Kenya

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 release.  


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 entertainment. 


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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