Kalamashaka may not currently be a popular name, but will forever remain a legend in Kenya’s urban music.
The founder members are credited for starting the larger Ukoo Flani Mau Mau hip-hop group, comprising over 25 artistes from Nairobi and Mombasa.
After releasing their first album Ni Wakati as Kalamashaka in 2001, they were hit by challenges. Many FM stations stopped playing their kind of music and concentrated on new genres like Kapuka and Genge.
Although their fortunes have been on a roller coaster, their hope of steadying is becoming a reality. A Swedish producer who helped refine Kalamashaka’s song Fanya Mambo which got to number one position on Channel O’s Top Ten jams is back in Kenya to fire up the group.
With Ken Ring’s expertise, Kalamashaka’s prospects seem to be taking the right direction.
“Ken played a major role in our music back then and we are happy he’s here to continue with the project we started,” says Roba.
Ken, who has Kenyan roots and has worked with international artistes like Morgan Heritage, Eminem, Busta Rhymes, among others, is in the process of setting up an international class production studio, expected to be complete by January next year.
“I’m working with Kalamashaka and the Ukoo Flani Mau Mau family at the moment but the entire Kenyan musicians is set to benefit too,” says Ken, who has also started a football club in Mombasa, KRACK United.
“It has been a challenging time for us but big things are coming, especially next year,” says Roba.
When Kalamashaka’s fame started to decline, the group opted to start helping other upcoming artistes like Wenyeji, Mashifta, Wakamba Wawili, G-Rongi, MC Kah, Juliani, among others to kick off their music careers.
During the monthly British Council-sponsored Wapi event, members of K-Shaka still attended the events, backing up the upcoming musicians to stardom.
The whole Ukoo Flani Mau Mau crew released their first joint album Kilio Cha Haki during a major launch at the Carnivore, Nairobi, in 2004. This album featured US-based rapper Rah Goddess in the hit song All Over the World, which topped charts across Africa and parts of Europe.
In 2006, another compilation album Dandora Burning was released but did not do very well compared to the previous one. In 2007, the same group recorded a song with American hip-hop duo Dead Prez, during their African tour.
When the group initiative failed to pick up, the musicians resorted to doing their own solo projects.
“We have been doing a lot of things and we are happy that the Ukoo Flani Mau Mau family has grown to another level. We are now doing our solo albums, mainly because of personal musical growth, before joining up again for another album as Kalamashaka,” says Roba.
Although he is yet to launch his solo album, Roba has recorded a good number of the songs.
Kamau Ngigi, another member of Kalamashaka launched his first solo album recently at a block party in Nairobi’s Umoja estate.
The album Kamaa is his first solo project since joining the music industry as part of the Kalamashaka trio in 1995 and it was produced by Ambrose Akwabi of Mandugu Digital.
Though the event was marred by constant power blackouts, it was a success.
“Nobody left because of the power blackouts and by 8am people were still going strong. The support was massive,” says Kama.
In attendance were his fellow members of the Kalamashaka trio Johnnie and Roba and Ukoo Flani members such as Mashifta of the Pesa, pombe, siasa na wanawake fame.
Kama, as he prefers to be called, has held two other block parties since then in Arusha and Dar es Salaam.
He says, “I could have launched my album at KICC or any other place but I wanted to bring my music closer to my fans.”
The decision to launch his album at block parties has been an eye opener for him.
“I did not expect the kind of support I got from Umoja. I was afraid of the reception because this is my first solo project but they appreciated my music,” he says.
This might have something to do with the Angalia saa track whose video was released earlier this year; the song had been released three years earlier.
The new album has 14 songs and he generally sticks to the ‘conscious’ music Kalamashaka and Ukoo Flani are known for.
There is a song called Nyama na beer which he emphasises is a message to the youth to think carefully before spending all their money on alcohol.
Also in the album is a love song Can’t you see dedicated to his five-year-old daughter.
The block parties, he says, have helped him get to know his fans more intimately and he now has an idea of what those from Umoja want as well as those from Dandora.
“I got to know what music makes people from different area codes tick,” he says and adds that this concept is yet another first from Kalamashaka which is credited for having pioneered the growth of hip hop in Kenya.
Kalamashaka first came into the limelight in 1997 with their hit single Tafsiri Hii which was released two years after their foray into music. The members Kama, Roba and Johnny were childhood friends from Dandora estate.
The song was a departure from the tunes of Notorious B.I.G and Tupac Shakur who were all the rage then. They followed it up with yet another successful hit Songa Hapa a year later.
They formed the Ukoo Flani Mau Mau camp to help nurture raw talent in Dandora all the way to Mombasa and Arusha. They helped the likes of Mashifta, Wakamba Wawili, Wenyeji, Juliani, G-Rongi and MC Kah learn the ropes.
Their new album called Hakuna case is due to be released by the end of the year and it remains to be seen whether Kama’s approach will be adopted by the group for the launch of the album.