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Gordon Ominde and Black Savage Band. Image: Afro7.

Here's Some 1970s Psychedelic Rock From Kenya

Listen to a re-issue of the Nairobi-based band Black Savage.

The mid-seventies in Nairobi were a time of tremendous growth. In the first decade after independence, the city's population had doubled and the economy grew at a rapid pace. Pop culture experienced a boom, live music thrived around the city and young, aspiring musicians were exposed to a wide variety of local, regional and international influences.

This was the time Nairobi developed into a musical melting pot that nurtured artists who are well remembered even outside Kenya, such as Les Mangelepa (still performing!), Matata, aor Joseph Kamaru. The music industry increased its capacity and by 1975 local pressing plants were able to produce over 10,000 records per day. Amidst the proliferation of Kenyan music being released by hundreds of bands and solo artists, some of the most interesting records did not receive proper distribution or promotion, and four decades down the line they remain un-googleable, unmentioned in discographies and generally unheard.

One band whose recorded output has been all but invisible until recently but who are well remembered by people who were young in 1970s Nairobi is Black Savage. Their music was released on an LP and three singles between the mid-'70s and the early 80s, and has remained out of print ever after. The early years of the band, whose members met during their secondary school years in Nairobi, are well described in the liner notes to the current reissue compilation by Afro7.


Band leader Gordon was the son of professor Simeon Ominde, who had led the reform of Kenya's educational system in 1964 upon independence, and who was teaching at Makerere University in Uganda in 1956 when his son was born. Gordon Ominde's earliest memories included Louis Armstrong's concert in Kampala in 1961, where—at the age of four—he was invited on stage and started conducting the band. Musical inspiration also came from his sisters who were singers, and from attending musical classes, although at Lenana, a former whites-only boarding school which was gradually being reformed to cater to Kenyans of different backgrounds, music education meant studying Beethoven and Mozart.

In 1973, two Kenyans of Indian heritage who had run a successful photo business since the mid-'50s, gave Kenyan music a boost by investing in a 16-track recording studio, and by acquiring EMI, Pathé and other label licenses for recording and distributing local and international music. For the next few years, the Sapra studio, record plant, tape duplication facility and colour printing business would become the go-to spot in Nairobi's Industrial Area for musicians and labels from all around East Africa. The studio was built and—as the owners struggled to find a sufficiently trained local engineer—also run by Detlef Degener, a German who had come to Kenya to construct studios for training journalists. Between 1975 when Sapra studio opened and the end of 1978 when the company went bankrupt, he recorded hundreds of bands from as far as Zambia (many Zamrock albums were produced under his guidance). Black Savage also came to record at Sapra for their debut album, which was to be released by EMI.

'Something for someone' provides a refreshing look at Kenya's musical landscape of the mid-seventies. Gordon Ominde, Job Seda, Jack Otieno and Ali Nassir weren't drawing their influence from rumba or benga but from psych and folk rock, funk and r&b. All songs were in English, and the lyrics were politically and socially aware, breathing the activist vibe of the international 'summer of love' generation. The band released three more singles. 'Do you really care/Save the savage' is two sides of semi-acoustic protest folk, 'Grassland/Kothbiro' embraces the group's Kenyan identity through the music and language, and 'Fire/Rita' (released around 1982 on the short-lived Kenyan CBS label) sounds as if the group attempts to reinvent itself—as a reggae band.

Given the rarity of the original vinyl releases, the lack of airplay and the absence of biographic info on the band, one could conclude that Black Savage ended up all but forgotten. It's reassuring that the musical paths of the band members didn't end there, though. Job Seda (who changed his name to Ayub Ogada) and Jack Otieno (today known as Jack Odongo) joined the African Heritage Band. Job then became an actor (Out of Africa), joined the UK record label Real World and scored Hollywood soundtracks. Jack went on to produce numerous Kenyan bands throughout the 1980s and 90s, and is still active as a gospel musician. Gordon Ominde continued his studies but ultimately chose for a career as a musician, and his music took him to England and to Germany where he started a family; he died unexpectedly in 2000. Mbarak Achieng is credit for composing Black Savage's "Kothbiro," which Ayub Ogada re-recorded and which ended on the soundtrack of the Constant Gardener. The memory of Black Savage as Kenya's most prolific rockers of the 1970s remains vivid in the hearts of thousands of Nairobians, and the current Afro7 reissue is a worthy first attempt at introducing their best work to an international audience.

The Black Savage compilation album is available now.

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Photo: Mucyo H Gasana | @dailyinteractions.

Interview: Kenya's Xenia Manasseh Has Arrived

We talk to the fast-rising Kenyan artist about her debut EP, Fallin' Apart, being chosen for Mr Eazi's emPawa program and her two latest singles.

I meet Xenia Manasseh at a café as she apologetically explains that she needs to send off some songs, "you don't have WeTransfer do you?" It's about 4:20 in the afternoon and she recaps how her day has been going so far. "I haven't eaten all day. I've been trying to find a personal assistant." I ask her if things have gotten busier since her debut EP, Fallin' Apart, dropped in October, she looks up, pauses, and simply nods in relief as she finally manages to send off the tracks.

In the last year, Xenia moved to Nairobi from Atlanta. She completed and released her EP, was chosen to be part of Mr Eazi's emPawa program this year, opened for Rema's Nairobi show, recorded with Extra Soul Perception and performed on the same stage as Blinky Bill and GoldLink. As she recaps the year, you begin to realise that her stories are all rooted in meeting the right people, manifesting what she wants and gratitude.

The vulnerable-yet-soulful presence you come to know on her EP is a contrast to the bubbly and funny 23-year-old at the beginning of a promising music career. Signed as a songwriter with the Atlanta-based The UpperClassmen Music Group, she recalls taking a songwriting class at Berklee College of Music, "I couldn't write a single song, all those assignments never happened." She credits her place burning down in Boston to breaking her seven-year writing hiatus, and her subsequent move to Atlanta allowed her the change of environment she needed to continue writing.

This fast-rising Kenyan artist sat down with OkayAfrica to speak about her EP, her powers of manifestation and her two latest singles.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Dedan Kimathi Waciuri, shown at his trial in the Nyeri forest, led an armed military struggle known as the Mau Mau uprising against the British colonial government in Kenya, 1956. (Photo by Authenticated News/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Remains of Kenyan Liberation Leader, Dedan Kimathi, Believed to Have Been Found After 62 Years

UPDATE: The family of Dedan Kimathi is standing by earlier reports that his gravesite has been found, despite a statement from Kenya's Ministry of Interior calling the news "false and misleading."

UPDATE 10/29/19: Dedan Kimathi's family is standing by earlier reports that his gravesite has been identified, despite a recent tweet from Kenya's Interior Ministry, calling the news "false and misleading."

A foundation in the late Kenyan liberation leader's name shared a statement on Friday, claiming that his burial site had been located after 62 long years. The news was welcomed and celebrated by many Kenyans who had long been anticipating the identification of his remains.

However, over the weekend Kenya's Ministry of Interior denied the claims. According to an AFP report on the Japan Times, Kimathi's daughter Evelyn Wanjugu Kimathi stood by the original report, telling the AFP that the family released the statement without the government's knowledge or involvement. "We, the family, are the ones that went to Kamiti Maximum Prison, and were able to find the place he was buried in an unidentified grave," she said.

A video shared by the Dedan Kimani foundation appears to show a group of supporters gathering and signing around his 88-year-old widow, affectionately known as Mama Mukami Kimathi following the announcement, which comes just under a week before what would've been Kimathi's 99th birthday.

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Justice Mukheli. Courtesy of Black Major/Bongeziwe Mabandla.

Interview: Bongeziwe Mabandla's New Album Is a Calm Meditation On Relationships

We speak with the South African artist about his captivating new album, iimini, love cycles, and the unexpected influence of Bon Iver.

"I've been playing at home for so many years and pretending to be having shows in my living room, and today it's actually happening," Bongeziwe Mabandla says, smiling out at me from my cellphone as I watch him play songs on Instagram Live, guitar close to his chest.

Two weekends ago, Mabandla was meant to be celebrating the release of his third album, iimini, at the Untitled Basement in Braamfontein in Joburg, which would no doubt have been packed with some of the many fans the musician has made since his debut release, Umlilo, in 2012. With South Africa joining many other parts of the world in a lockdown, those dates were cancelled and Mabandla, like many other artists, took to social media to still play some tracks from the album. The songs on iimini are about the life and death of a relationship—songs that are finding their way into the hearts of fans around the world, some of whom, now stuck in isolation, may be having to confront the ups and downs of love, with nowhere to hide.

The day before his Instagram Live mini-show, Mabandla spoke to OkayAfrica on lockdown from his home in Newtown about the lessons he's learned from making the album, his new-found love for Bon Iver, and how he's going to be spending his time over the next few weeks.

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Lueking Photos. Courtesy of emPawa Africa.

Interview: GuiltyBeatz Proves He's Truly 'Different'

The Ghanaian producer talks to us about his debut EP, Different, the massive success of "Akwaaba," producing for Beyoncé and more.

GuiltyBeatz isn't a new name in the Ghanaian music scene. A casual music fan's first introduction to him would've likely been years ago on "Sample You," one of Mr Eazi's early breakout hits. However, he had scored his first major hit two years before that, in the Nigerian music space on Jesse Jagz' and Wizkid's 2013 hit "Bad Girl." In the years to come, the producer has gone on to craft productions for some of Ghana's most talented artists.

In the years to come, the producer has gone on to craft productions for some of Ghana's most talented artists, having worked with the likes of Efya, Pappy Kojo, Sarkodie, R2Bees, Stonebwoy, Bisa Kdei, Wande Coal, Moelogo and many more over the last decade. The biggest break of the talented producer's career, however, came with the arrival of his own single "Akwaaba".

In 2018, GuiltyBeatz shared "Akwaaba" under Mr Eazi's Banku Music imprint, shortly afterwards the song and its accompanying dance went viral. The track and dance graced party floors, music & dance videos, and even church auditoriums all around the world, instantly making him one of Africa's most influential producers. Awards, nominations, and festival bookings followed the huge success of "Akwaaba." Then, exactly a year later, the biggest highlight of his career so far would arrive: three production credits on Beyoncé's album The Lion King: The Gift.

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