I guess I could wrIte a book about Shikamoo Jazz, having set the band up in 1992 and worked closely with them till late 1997, including extended tours within Tanzania and further afield to Kenya, Uganda and the UK. Along the way I enjoyed hundreds of performances, from otherwise quiet country towns in Tanzania to the prestigious Astoria in Tottenham Court Road.
EAST AFRICAN LEGENDS LIVE AT WOMAD
SHIKAMOO JAZZ, FUNDE KONDE, BI KIDUDE AND FAN FAN
Edition of 300
This live recording by Shikamoo, undertaken by the National Sound Archive in the UK in July 1995, is further enhanced by other East African luminaries including the Kenyan veteran, Fundi Konde, the Zanzibar queen of Taraab, Bi Kidude, and the Congolese guitar maestro, Mose Sengo, aka Fan Fan. I am delighted that this show has finally seen the light of day and that fans around the world can hear just how good they were.
The show at WOMAD was exceptional for several reasons. Firstly, back home in Tanzania the band was more accustomed to 4 hour shows than the truncated UK expectation of an hour on stage. While the band initially bristled at the proposition of such short sets, the WOMAD show was the first and only opportunity for the assembled musicians to show a British audience what they were all about. The show ran for almost three hours. Secondly, as with all long sets, the band gathered strength as the show went on. Unsurprisingly then, the majority of songs on this selection are taken from the latter stages of the show.
Throughout my time with HelpAge in Tanzania I tried to use music as much as possible in our work and by early 1992 we were toying with the idea of a Fund for Retired Musicians. With help from Wolfgang Baraneicki, a freelance German filmmaker and support from the London office, we set about organizing a band of ageing music stars to demonstrate that age was no barrier to making a contribution to society.
We started with an all-star event at one of the most prestigious private clubs in town, bringing Funde Konde down from Nairobi to perform alongside such luminaries as Juma Mrisho, Kassim Mapili, John Simon and the incomparable Salum Zahoro. The one-off show was a great success with a large and enthusiastic crowd so we resolved to create a full-time band to publicise our work on a more permanent basis.
And so we set about assembling a band from the elite of retired musicians while I secured £10k from HelpAge to purchase instruments and a back-line. I deliberately bought new speakers, mikes and amps but toured the music stores of central London picking up good second-hand guitars, drums, key boards, trumpets and saxes.
At that time, indeed as now, equipment was like gold dust in Tanzania and setting up the band with their own instruments and sound system was to prove a key advantage in the years ahead. The band had also by this time named themselves Shikamoo Jazz, with more than nod to the HelpAge agenda in that ’shikamoo’ was (and still is) a widely used Swahili term of respect for the elderly.
Back in Dar we were ready to put it all together and after a few weeks rehearsing at their new home in the Tanzania Legion, they were ready for the first gig at the Vijana Social Hall in the Kinondoni District of Dar. Sadly, the event was a disappointment with only a few paying customers, easily outnumbered by the musicians and our own staff.
The music was great but we quickly realised that a lot more had to be done to publicise the band and make its name in what was still a very competitive live music scene. Slowly, over the next few months, the band started to carve out a niche with their huge repertoire of past hits and a languid dance style called ‘chela chela’, or, roughly translated, ‘dancing without sweating’.
We also stepped up our publicity, taking weekly gig guides in Uhuru, encouraging journalists to cover the shows and making sure everyone was aware of the pedigree of this new band, bringing as they did 200 years of experience to the stage and a combined repertoire of over 300 songs. It did not take long for all this experience to gel and it is certainly worth highlighting the original line-up and where they had plied their trade in careers, in some cases, stretching back 40 years.
Almost inevitably, due in at least one case to professional rivalry, several original members dropped out, including Kasim Mpili and Willie Mselem to be duly replaced by Ali Adinani and Bakari Majengo while Iddi Nhende joined as band manager and additional vocalist. Sadly, the only woman in the original line-up, the Zanzibari singer Mariam Nylon, also dropped out to be replaced a few years later by the charismatic Anna Mwale.
Back Row: Ali Adinani, Kasim Mpili, Mohammed Tungwa. Middle Row: Willie Mselem, Ali
Rashid. Front Row: Juma Mrisho, Salum Zahoro, Athumani Manicho, John Simon, Kasim
UP AND RUNNING
Over the next two years the band refined their sound, established a winning repertoire from the hundreds of songs at their disposal, honing their live skills by playing out three times a week and touring the country incessantly, while further expanding their audience with regular radio shows, both in Dar and Zanzibar.
Another successful gig in Zanzibar, 1994, Photo courtesy Thomas DornAnother successful gig in Zanzibar, 1994, Photo courtesy Thomas Dorn
In other respects the timing of their revival couldn’t have been better with dozens of venues still open in Dar and lively dance scene with Vijana Jazz, Milimani Park, Orchestra Maquis, King Kiki, Remy Ongala and many others all playing every weekend. The venues varied from up-market hotels and cultural centres to social and sporting clubs, old-time dance halls and glorified beer bars.
With their easy rhythms, discipline and smart appearance, the band also carved out a niche in diplomatic circles, providing the soundtrack to a number of St Patrick’s Day celebrations at the Irish Embassy, often competing with other ‘society bands’, particularly Ndala Kasheba for these lucrative gigs. Over time, the band took up lengthy residencies at various clubs around the city including the Lion Hotel in Sinza and the wonderfully named Third World Annex while travelling regularly to Zanzibar Bagamoyo and Morogoro for long weekends and new audiences. Happy times all round as the musicians, many who had been retired for years, found a new steady income from their work and HelpAge established a national presence in the country.
Their first release, recorded at Radio Tanzania in early 1994 appeared on cassette for the RetroTan label and was quickly taken up by parent company RetroAfric for a much wider release. It was favorably reviewed including an outstanding review from Alistair Johnson at Africa Muziki (see below).
Back Row: Manicho, Mohammed Tungwa, Juma Mrisho, Ali Rashid, Kassim Mpili, Ali Adinani
Front Row: Iddi Nhende, John Simon, Bakari Majengo, Salum Zahoro
Early in 1995, the band took off for Nairobi and Kampala to generate support for sister organisations (HelpAge Kenya and URAA) playing in top venues such as the Muthaiga Club and the Fairway Hotel to celebrity audiences and recording a second cassette at the Them Mushrooms studio in Nairobi, released by AIT records.
A number of long, overland trips were made to Ngara and Karagwe in western Tanzania, entertaining new audiences amongst the mass of aid workers drafted in to deal with the Rwandan refugee crisis. These trips always started (and finished) with memorable shows at the Lake Victoria Hotel in Bukoba, on the shores of Lake Victoria.
The weekends in Zanzibar usually included Friday night on the veranda bar at the Africa House Hotel, Saturday night at the CCM Hall and Sunday afternoon at the Police Club on the airport road, with ferry tickets generously provided by Sea Express and hotel rooms courtesy of Emersons. After a couple of visits, often inviting Bi Kidude to join the band for a few songs, Shikamoo became firm favourites on the island with shows almost always sold out and everyone going home happy.
THE GRAND TOUR
1995 was the year of the Grand Tour as we built on the modest regional tour of Uganda and Kenya the previous year and in the summer set out on a longer visit to the UK, primarily to perform at WOMAD but taking in other gigs in Wales, Manchester, Sussex and Brighton before closing off with great show with Remy Ongala at the Astoria on Tottenham Court Road.
The show at WOMAD, near Reading, captured for posterity on this National Sound Archive recording, was, for my money, the strongest the band had ever sounded, reinforced now with Fan Fan on third lead guitar, Bi Kidude and Funde Konde, truly all East African legends and with a dozen or more shows under their collective belt.
Well-rehearsed, tight arrangements by the four front line vocalists and now 4 guitars and 2 horns, produced extended 10-minute work-outs as the band sharpened their tools, bringing almost 400 years of stage experience to a climax. As in ‘special’ shows in Wales, Karagwe, London, Kampala and Morogoro, the entire package of sound, vibe and audience was incomparable.
The actual performance lasted almost three hours, with the band relishing the freedom to ‘build the show’ over an extended period after struggling with a series of short one-hour sets. Back in Dar, an evening’s entertainment would kick off around 8.00pm with an hour of tuning, sound mixing, run-throughs and other preparations.
Around 9.00pm the show would really kick off and run for the next couple of hours before the band took their only break, returning half an hour later for rip-roaring rousing renditions of the rest of the catalogue. This show was no exception and almost inevitably, we edited the show down to CD length, we ended up taking more tracks from the second half of the show than from the first, making sure we highlighted tracks by our special guests, Fundi Kode and Bi Kidude. Fan Fan, can be heard more or less throughout as Kasim Mponda generously shifted from his usual mi-solo guitar to keyboard to accommodate the Zairean legend.
Charles Easmon, director of the A&C Touring Circuit and a partner in RetroAfric with Graeme Ewens, journalist and writer and the third partner in RetroAfric
None of it would have been possible however without the help and support of the African and Caribbean Touring Circuit, and Charles Easmon in particular, who arranged all the gigs and accommodation and lent us Jack Gomez, an experienced road manager.
Shikamoo on stage at WOMAD
Thanks were also due to Emirates who generously provided free tickets for the safari. Yet the trip was not without incident. A few specific memories stand out including Fan Fan in Manchester, where he managed to more or less clear out the Green Room and could barely stand while the rest of the band, all tea-total, looked on aghast. Only Bi Kidude, a smoker and a drinker, kept him company and, at the age of 80+, still put in a full shift. There was a very enjoyable session at the BBC studios in Shepherds Bush for a John Peel session (or was it Andy Kershaw ?) once we had abandoned the idea of moving across the city by tube and instead hired small fleet of taxis.
At the final gig at the Astoria in Tottenham Court Road, Remy kindly allowed us to close the show despite the fact that he was headlining the bill. It was to be the final gig of our tour and the first of Remy’s but we knew each other well, having played together on a number of occasions in the time-honoured Tanzanian tradition of the ‘battle of the bands’ whereby each band played for 45 minutes before giving way to the other. This format guaranteed a healthy income at the gate as each band brought out its loyal following for a long night of musical excellence.
It was the last show of the tour and as the band departed Heathrow, we had to deal with some truly extraordinary luggage, including one band member who had two dismantled bikes in his suitcase and another who had bought a lovely tassled lampshade but could not fit it in his suitcase and so wore it on his head. The check-in staff asked him of it was part of his national dress.
Bi Kidude was born Fatma binti Baraka ‘in the time of the rupee’, a currency Zanzibar abandoned before the First World War, finally passing away in April 2013, in many respects the grand old lady of Zanzibar taraab. She was born in the village of Mfagimaringo, the daughter of a coconut seller in colonial Zanzibar, starting her career singing with local cultural troupes and learning the basics of kidumbak and unyago as well as traditional medicine, which, along with a gift for henna adornment would serve her well as her career with music proving to be a rather unreliable source of income. Throughout her career she continued to live a modest life in a small clay house in a quiet suburb at the back of Zanzibar’s Stone Town, only transforming herself into a global superstar when she took to the stage.
She started performing as a child, singing locally with popular cultural troupes of the time in both the percussion based kidumbak as well as early forms of taraab, the ubiquitous music of the Swahili coast, often in the style of Siti Binti Saad (see RetroTan RT001, 2021). Her musical career started in the 1920s when she walked from gig to gig across the length and breadth of Tanganyika. When she eventually returned home permanently in the 1930s with two broken marriages behind her she found herself on her own, with nothing to show for her efforts.
Rise to Fame: 1980s and Onwards
The 1950s and 1960s were turbulent times in Zanzibar, particularly 1964, when Zanzibar passed from a colonial entrepot to an independent Arab sultanate and finally to a communist autocracy in the space of a few months, only to emerge from this closed society in the mid-1980s. Bi Kidude was at the forefront of the resulting cultural renaissance and soon joined Mohammed Ilyas and His Twinkling Stars as the brightest of the stars. Her career took an unexpected but welcome upturn as she toured the Far East, the Middle East and Europe with Mohammed and his group.
In the early 1900s Bi Kidude started performing occasionally with Shikamoo Jazz both in Dar and in Zanzibar, adding yet another dimension to the group’s repertoire as they experimented with a taraab-dansi fusion on the famous song ‘Muhogo wa Jang’ombe’ not, it must be admitted to every purist’s taste.
In due course, RetroAfric put together a wonderful compilation of classic tracks drawn from a range of recording from as far afield as Finland, Berlin and WOMAD, supplemented by new recordings from Radio Zanzibar and other tracks generously shared by Werner Graebner. The resulting release simply entitled ‘Zanzibar’ was BI Kidude’s first release and, in a sense, set the scene for the huge success which followed over the next two decades.
Following the success of her first release and another successful international tour with Shikamoo, Bi Kidude was in high demand back in Zanzibar and in Dar and with various local and global record companies. Globestyle, the pioneering recorders of the taraab tradition, released a number of tracks on the highly acclaimed Music of Zanzibar series, while Werner Graebner expertly produced 10 tracks for her second album, Zanzibara4, on the Buda label. Her fame also resonated locally, with Yusuf Chuchu putting out another half a dozen tracks on his excellent local production ’Machozi Ya Huba’
In her long and astonishing life, Bi Kidude went from learning at the feet of legendary taraab singer Siti Binti Saad in the 1930s to winning an international award at the WOMEX world music event in 2005 for her outstanding contribution to music and culture in Zanzibar. The following year, an intimate portrait of the star was released in a short documentary entitled ‘As Old as My Tongue’. But she was far from finished and in 2009, well into her nineties, became a founding member, along with Bi Mariam Hamdani and Bi Nasra Hilal of the now famous Tausi Womens Taraab Group (see RetroTan CD006, 2022). She finally passed away in 2013, a legend in her own lifetime.
Fundi Konde, a true pioneer of African popular music, passed away at his home in Kibera, Kenya in June 2000, aged 76, earning a full-page obituary in the largest of the Kenyan papers, the Daily Nation. During his long career he had entertained troops in Burma during the Second World War, played a key role in the birth of the Kenyan music industry and retired to his farm before making a highly acclaimed comeback in the 1990s. His own recorded output was large and influential, composing many songs still popular in Kenya today. Inexplicably, only one compilation is currently available, discounting a half a dozen cassettes briefly available in Kenya only.
I got to know him well when he stayed with me in Dar for a few months and various tours together during his revival with Shikamoo Jazz. Trim and dapper, always welldressed in a suit and tie, he was polite and thoughtful with an eye for the women. He stopped drinking in the 1960s but still enjoyed his Sportsman ciggies and a cold Fanta till late in life. As a master of music, writing, recording, performing and sound engineering he was also that rare musician who could also read and write music.
These two live recordings, ‘Mama Sowera’ and ‘Nakuombo Radhi’ from the 1995 WOMAD show in the UK also appear on Retro8CD, Fundi Konde, ‘Retrospective Vol.1 and Retro9CD, Shikamoo Jazz, Chela Chela Vol. 1. It is an enormous pleasure to finally bring these two live performances to the wider public as a testimony to his popular appeal and sheer professionalism.
Fundi Konde was born into the Giriami ethnic group in 1924 in Mwabayanyundo village in the coastal fringe of colonial Kenya. His earliest exposure to a musical career was provided by the local Waa Catholic Mission School which he joined in the early 1930s because he wanted to learn music. At this early age he was particularly keen on learning how to play the flute, notably performing with the school band when they entertained the colonial governor during the 1937 Empire Day celebrations. Leaving school as the Second World War broke out, he initially found employment with the Mombasa City Council, working in the mosquito control department. But the turning point came in 1944 when he signed up with the King’s African Rifles and was posted to Burma with the regiment’s Entertainment Unit, then under the leadership of Peter Colmore. But he was also a trained soldier, travelling with a gun in one hand and a guitar in the other. Returning home to Kenya after the war he became one of the first popular performers from that country, and was said to be the first electric guitarist from East Africa. His compositions utilized Swahili lyrics accompanied by a mixture of regional rhythms and imported rumba. During the 1950s he made some of the earliest recordings from the region, including the hits “Mama Sowera”, “Majengo Siendi Tena”, “Kipenzi Waniua Ua” and the incomparable “Jambo Sigara”. He continued to perform and record until 1963, when he retired until the early 1980s, when he began singing, composing and producing again.
Fadhili Williams (composer of Malaika) and Fundi Konde
In 1992 Fundi was invited down to Dar to play in the first of what would become many gigs with Shikamoo Jazz over the next 5 years, rolling back the years and becoming, again, the darling of the up-market Dar dance scene. In 1994 RetroAfric released a compilation of his greatest hits entitled Retrospective (Retro8CD)
Although the 1995 tour was his first trip outside East Africa since the Second World War, Fundi took the hustle and bustle of London in his stride, impressing every interviewer with his urbane observations and friendly, open manner. But it was to be his last hurrah and he passed away peacefully at his home in Kibera, Nairobi in 2000.
Mose Se Sengo, was born in present-day Kinshasa, formerly Leopoldville, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on 16 October 1945 and began to play guitar at boarding school in Kinanga, learning his trade with Rickem Jazz, the Jazz Barons and Orch. Revolution. In 1968 he joined the legendary Franco and TPOK Jazz as the second lead guitarist and, in time, the on-stage deputy for Franco, making his name as one of the most accomplished guitarists of his generation. He was however a restless soul and in 1972, following the huge success of his song ‘Djemelasi’, he left OK Jazz to set up the first incarnation of Somo Somo, with Youlou, Bitchou and Simaro. Details are scarce but the venture presumably collapsed with several musicians returning to OK Jazz while Fan Fan himself moved on to Lovy du Zaire, led by Victor “Vicky” Longomba, yet another co-founder of OK Jazz.
In 1974, he travelled from Lubumbashi in Zaire to East Africa, settling first in Zambia before moving on to Tanzania for several years. In the late 1970s, he formed a new version of his band Somo Somo, roughly translated Double Trouble, performing in the Lingala language, performong in Tanzania, Zambia and Kenya. In the early 1980s he moved to Kenya, where he re-formed Somo Somo and recorded several albums. This musical journey is perfectly captured on the Retrotan retrospective album, ‘Belle Epoque’
In 1983 Fan Fan arrived in London, mixing his music with English jazz musicians, anticipating perhaps the African music boom of the mid-1980s. He quickly reformed Somo Somo and found a musical home at Stern’s African Music with whom he released several albums and became, in a sense, the house band, along with Hi-Life International. The band quickly established themselves as the authentic sound of Kinshasa in London and became widely popular, experimenting in various productions styles but never losing the funky rumba of Zaire.
Fan Fan returned fairly regularly to Dar and Nairobi during his years in London and on one occasion in early 1995 I was able to persuade him to join a Shikamoo Jazz rehearsal at the Tanzania Legion, their ‘home’ in Dar. Everyone seemed to know him from his years with Remy Ongala and Makassy and anyone who knew his 1970s Zairean hits would understand that he fitted into the Chela Chela sound like a cool hand in a warm glove. Together they played half a dozen shows in and around Dar before Fan Fan eventually returned to the UK, leaving many more happy memories behind. When Shikamoo came to the UK in the summer of 1995 it seemed only natural to ask Fan Fan to join them for a series of gigs around the country.
Later in the 1990s he joined Bana OK, a tribute band to the late Franco Luambo Makiadi of TPOK Jazz who had passed away in 1989. By 2000, reflecting perhaps a growing sense o,f nostalgia Fan Fan returned to the roots of the acoustic rumba style, releasing several hugely influential albums on the Sterns label. By the 2010s, he was resident in London and had acquired British citizenship.
On 3 May 2019, Mose Se Sengo was on a routine recording tour in Nairobi, Kenya, when he collapsed and died following a suspected heart attack. Fan Fan, who was staying at an apartment near the Thika Superhighway, was taken to a Kasarani Hospital in Nairobi, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. The musician’s producer, Tabu Osusa, said Fan Fan was in the city recording a new song with vocalists based in Nairobi including Paddy Makani and Disco Longwa. His death came a day before the burial of another Congolese musician of his era, Lutumba Simaro, with whom they had played together in the OK Jazz. His remains were repatriated to the UK for the final interment.