Friday, 13 May 2016

Swahili Special Hit Parade: (1983)

Government decrees to promote increased air-play of local music content are quite common, and they all have their good effects, as well as some unintended consequences. This  week the state-controlled South African Broadcasting Corporation issued a decree requiring ninety percent of the music featured on 18 of its radio stations be music created and/or performed by South African citizens.

This got me thinking about a parallel situation in Kenya in 1985 which contributed to dismantling the East African rumba scene.

Call it Swahili rumba or Soukous, in East Africa it is known as “Muziki wa Dansi!”. This compilation showcases four top bands and serves as a great introductory compilation to the genre and time. Nairobi was a huge magnet for African bands from the Congo, Tanzania and elsewhere, with a phenomenal live music scene which fed a burgeoning record industry. For example, the Simba Wanyika track "Shillingi" featured in this compilation sold 50,000 copies in Kenya in 1983.

In 1985 the Government of President Arap Moi cracked down on foreign bands in Kenya, and the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation further decreed that 70 percent of music played by all radio stations should be Kenyan music. It was also required that thirty percent of the music on vernacular radio stations would be music featured from other tribes and regions. 

Kenya's foreign music clampdown had the effect of many pan-African bands disbanding or leaving the country to play elsewhere. Kenya's current national music policy requires sixty percent local content on radio. But only last year local musicians took to the streets in protest, asking "how local is local": In August 2015 The Daily Nation wrote: 
"The protesting musicians are particularly irked that Kenyan airwaves are saturated with Nigerian pop. Three decades ago, the foreign dominance came from another part of Africa: Kinshasa, Congo DR (then known as Zaire). But what really is foreign music in today’s interconnected world?Kenyan musicians have been openly craving for collaborations with their Nigerian counterparts. The leading pop band in the country at the moment, Sauti Sol, have just released their new single, Shake Your Bam Bam, whose beat is taken from a Jamaican riddim, never mind that they claim it’s a throw back to the “Kenyan beat in the 90s”. The same song interpolates lyrics from a soukous hit by Awilo Longomba, while the video is directed by a Nigerian Clarence Peters.Given this confluence of styles and influences, would Kenyan radio stations play Sauti Sol and not Awilo, for instance?"
You can read the full article at the Daily Nation.

So, as of today the state-controlled South African Broadcasting Corporation requires that 18 of its stations present  90 percent local music content. With immediate effect nine out of every ten songs played between 05h00 and 23h00 must meet two out of four of these criteria:

  • The lyrics are written by a South African citizen
  • The music is composed by a South African citizen 
  • The music and/or lyrics are performed principally by musicians who are South African citizens
  • The musical work is a live performance recorded wholly in South Africa, or performed wholly in South Africa, and broadcast live in South Africa.

You can read the full text of the decree here

Personally, I might feel more comfortable if the decree also incentivised the playing of musics from other African countries too  - what better way to get to know and appreciate the wonderful diversity this continent has to offer.

As for Swahili rumba, it has achieved worldwide recognition and is selling very well - though I am not sure how much the Kenyan economy is benefiting. Doug Patterson has put together at least ten different CD compilations for Sterns. Check out Doug's site here. Doug tells me that when he heard the Maroon Commandos track on this compilation featured in this post, he knew it had to be featured on his "Nairobi Beat" compilation. (Part one only).You can still find that wonderful compilation online, for example at AmazonYou can also find another great compilation available from Naxos,

There are three excellent East African discography sites produced by Doug Patterson, Alastair Johnston and John Beadle which you should check out. 

Kenya-based Simba Wanyika was founded by two Tanzanian brothers in 1971, and continued playing and touring in one form or another until 1994. 

Kurugenzi Jazz is a less often recorded band with roots in Tanzania, all the more a pity. The influence of Franco is clear in this 9:45 track.

Vijana Jazz: John B writes on his Likembe blog: “Orchestra Vijana Jazz, one of Tanzania's top dance bands, was founded in 1971 under the sponsorship of Umoja wa Vijana Tanzania, then the Youth League of the ruling Tanzania African National Union (TANU).

Led by Habel Kifoto, the Maroon Commandos remain one of my favourites for what feels to me like a tropical laid-back sound-track to the life I would like to have. Founded in 1971 this Kenyan band was originally made up of members of the 7th Kenya Rifles in Nairobi.

POLP 539 Swahili Special Hit Parade
Recorded in the Nairobi Polygram Studios on 8 track.
Engineer: Chris Mbindyo
Mixage: Isaya Mwinamo

Compilation: Justice M. Kasoya.

Download here


  1. Thanks Chris

  2. I hadn't listened to the Kurugenzi Jazz Band song for at least 20 years. Not only is it nice music, it's very much in the style of Mbaraka Mwinshehe's Super Volcano (and includes some of the same members). I know of only two other recordings by this group, neither of which I've heard. If anyone knows more about this group, please let us know.

  3. Thanks for the fine music and the interesting background information.

  4. So great complilation, and so great bands.
    As usual most Tanzanians, who still lead the market of songs in swahili language.
    The Maroon Commados have this special kenyan dreamy sound.
    There is another version of 'Amua Nikuachie Kazi' on the Lp Rounder 5030 1166-15030-1 - The Nairobi beat - Maroon Commandos & Justus Kasoya: 'Amua nikuachie'

  5. Thanks Chris for posting this very very enjoyable LP (and the ASL compilation too), had never heard Kurugenzi Jazz

    Doug, though you know far more about this than I, they sound like they've absorbed more OK Jazz in their groove than Super Volcano - what musicians did they share?

  6. Hey Chris,

    Nice post. I like how you are bringing back records that the South African community can appreciate.



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