Business Daily (Kenya) - - BDLIFE THIS WEEK - Bill Odidi

One of the most en­dur­ing Kenyan mu­si­cians re­ceived a fit­ting trib­ute for his con­tri­bu­tion of more than six decades, dur­ing a rare per­for­mance in Nairobi two weeks ago. The leg­endary Joseph Ngala Katana was the spe­cial guest at the bi-monthly gig Jazz At­ti­tude at the Al­chemist in Nairobi.

The event was also an oc­ca­sion to launch a com­pi­la­tion al­bum that fea­tures songs by the man pop­u­larly known as Mzee Ngala and a host of con­tem­po­rary mu­si­cians who have been in­flu­enced by his brand of “Bango” mu­sic.

Juma Tutu, Go­gosimo and Afro Simba all learnt their mu­sic at the feet of the vet­eran artist and have all con­trib­uted some of their most pop­u­lar record­ings to the al­bum “Kali za Pwani”.

Ngala, a sax­o­phon­ist who is now 82, started his ca­reer in

1954 with friends in Mom­basa by play­ing im­pro­vised in­stru­ments. His first in­stru­ment was the clar­inet, a wood­wind in­stru­ment sim­i­lar to the sax that would later be­come his trade­mark sound.

Soon, the tal­ents of mu­si­cians, known as the Blue Band Orches­tra, were no­ticed by a sup­porter who bought them pro­fes­sional in­stru­ments. Through the years, Ngala has played with many bands, no­tably Ba­hari Boys, Teusi Five and Bango Sounds.

The name “bango” which is a Coastal slang word for Sh5 was orig­i­nally used in one of Ngala’s songs “Naitaka Bango”.

Ac­cord­ing to Mzee Ngala,

bango is ba­si­cally rumba mu­sic com­bined with tra­di­tional rhythms from var­i­ous coastal com­mu­ni­ties. His distinc­tive fu­sion of mu­si­cal styles has earned a huge fan base and in­flu­enced artists. “This new gen­er­a­tion has worked hard by fol­low­ing the ex­am­ple of bands that came be­fore them and are im­prov­ing the mu­sic even more,” says Ngala.

For James Gogo, band leader

I have many more years of mu­sic in me and will not be hang­ing up my sax­o­phone soon” JOSEPH NGALA KATANA | LEG­ENDARY MU­SI­CIAN

of Go­gosimo whose group played along­side Ngala at the Al­chemist, it was a priv­i­lege to ap­pear along­side a man he re­gards as a fa­ther and teacher.

“I grew up lis­ten­ing to Bango and go­ing to play in Frère Town along with him,” he says. “It was hum­bling for my band to be on the same stage with Ngala.”

Kombo Chokwe of Afro Simba band was also men­tored by Ngala and says it is re­mark­able to see the old man still per­form­ing the same brand of mu­sic all th­ese years later.

“He was very ac­com­mo­dat­ing to us as young mu­si­cians and we have fol­lowed in his foot­steps,” says the guitarist.

“When he sees us per­form he proudly calls us his stu­dents.” Just like Ngala, Kombo’s mu­sic is drawn from the tra­di­tional mu­sic of the Mi­jik­enda fused with con­tem­po­rary rhythms such as jazz.

It is such rich rhythms that are con­tained in “Kali za Pwani” a new com­pi­la­tion al­bum fea­tur­ing songs by Ngala and Bango Sounds along with those by his pro­tégés Go­gosimo, Juma Tutu, Kombo and Afro Simba.

“We all got to­gether and de­cided its time to re­lease an al­bum of our songs for our fans to hear our mu­sic on a com­pi­la­tion,” says Kombo.

The al­bum con­tains three by clas­sics by Ngala and Bango Sounds: “Nione Raha” “Simba” and “Shaka” Kombo and Afro Simba con­trib­ute three songs in­clud­ing the up­beat “Kaya” based on a Giriama folk song. Go­gosimo’s songs on the al­bum are the dance­able tunes “Ngoma” “Si­rathii and “Kibebwe” while Juma Tutu has “Ki­mom­basa” “Lazaro” and “Sukari”. The Jazz At­ti­tude fea­tured a sup­port­ing act by the Nairobi Horns Project (NHP) who treated fans to songs from their “Kenyan Clas­sics” project that con­tains their Kenyan ur­ban hits from the 2000s with an in­stru­men­tal twist. “Artists can in­tro­duce Kenyan hits from years gone by to a new au­di­ence,” says Mackin­lay Mut­sembi of NHP.

As for Mzee Ngala, the venue may have been a lit­tle un­fa­mil­iar from his haunt in Mom­basa, but the love and en­ergy from the crowd made him feel right at home. “If the mu­sic is in your blood then you re­tain the vi­brancy and youth,” he says on his longevity in the mu­sic busi­ness. ‘‘I have many more years of mu­sic in me and will not be hang­ing up my sax­o­phone soon,” he says.


OLD IS GOLD Mzee Ngala per­form­ing.

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