Guitarist Isese strikes final note

Wednesday March 18 2020

Veteran solo guitarist Roland Isese, the soft-spoken solo guitar wizard, passed on after a short illness at a hospital in Kikuyu town on Wednesday evening. PHOTO| COURTESY


The New Year has started on a bad note, taking down one of the country’s most talented guitarists.

Veteran solo guitarist Roland Isese, the soft-spoken solo guitar wizard, passed on after a short illness at a hospital in Kikuyu town on Wednesday evening.

Isese, 54, was famous for strumming his favourite fast-paced solo guitar, soukous style, just like the legendary Congolese guitarist Diblo Dibala.

In downtown Nairobi, many studio session musicians related easily with him as he was an all-around secular and gospel solo back-up guitarist. He worked with several leading Kenyan and foreign musicians.

He backed up the late gospel songstress Angela Chibalonza, Jacob Luseno, and Emmanuel Musindi of Lisanga Generation.

In 1991, during a music concert at Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi, Isese surprised members of the visiting Paris-based Loketo Band, led by Aurlus Mabele, by playing Diblo's the solo guitar in the hit song Extra Ball. Mabele and guitarist Dally Kimoko were impressed.

“Ulinzi Band had been invited to the curtain-raiser for Loketo group. We also performed with Zaiko Langa Langa Familia Dei band the same year," Ken Makokha, who performed with Isese in the Kenya Army outfit Ulinzi Band, said.

Fellow guitarist and composer Laban Ochuka (also deceased) inspired Isese to join Ulinzi Band in 1991. Isese had had a stint with guitarist Anzino Osundwa in Ochieng Kabaselleh’s Lunna Kidi band.

Ochuka was formerly with another military outfit, Maroon Commandos, where he composed Bi Sophia No 1, and Basili Moyo and played the bass guitar on Charonyi ni Wasi, which was composed by band leader Habel Kifoto.

The Ulinzi Band sprang up from the Allegros Band, formed in the mid-1980s. Allegros featured Peter Lushango, Ken Karabu and Juvenilus Otukia. It was the resident band at the then famous Uncle Sam Club at Githurai 44, from 1992 to 1997.


Speaking to the Saturday Nation, Daniel Ochuka , son of Ochuka, and who is a member of the Utawala Band, said Isese had continued working closely with his father even after he left Ulinzi.

Isese played the solo guitar on all of Laban’s gospel recordings, including Yesu ni Mwamba and Nikuze Tena.

Veteran Nairobi-based Congolese guitarist Loboko Pasi, Naftali Shitoka, Charles Shisundi, Alfred Mtawali and Gloria Muliro also performed with Isese..

Isese played the solo guitar in Angela Chibalonza’s Jina La Yesu.He also backed up Reuben Kigame.

One of Isese’s most notable contributions was to Jacob Luseno’s Mukangala hit song, where he played the soothing solo guitar. Mukangala propelled Luseno to fame.

He sang with Julius Itenya, Gertrude Muendo and Sammy Ingosi.

Isese also backed up Naftali Shitoka, Charles Shisundi and Emmanuel Musindi (Lisanga Generation).

Speaking to the Saturday Nation on Thursday, Musindi said Isese’s death was a big seatback as he was putting the finishing touches with him on a new album.

“I was hoping he would join us in the launch of the new album, having played on my Sena Lwanyi song,” he said.

According to Mr Clinton Japeth, a family spokesman, the musician’s funeral arrangements will be announced later.