The legendary Nairobi-based Les Mangelepa Band, which is currently on a concert tour of Europe, will next month mark its 42nd anniversary.
The four-decade journey has been marked by great successes, but also some low moments that could easily have culminated in its death.
However, the band’s astounding resilience is paying dividends with plenty of invitations to gigs at home and in Europe.
The band’s struggle to remain afloat on the Kenyan music scene has been long. Though it may be a pale shadow of the original group that rocked from the late 1970s, three great musicians — Kabila Kabanze ‘Evani’, Kalenga Nzazi ‘Vivi’ and Lutulu Kanicky ‘Macky’ have kept the Mangelepa flag flying high.
The group, famed for their Sindano ya Moto beat, is one of the few surviving groups formed in the 1970s.
Its story dates back to July 1976, when younger members of Orch Baba Nationale band of the mercurial musician Baba Gaston (Ilunga wa Ilunga) broke away to form their own group.
Baba Gaston, who also led the Orch Bwambe Bwambe, was in the forefront of recruiting up-and-coming musicians from eastern Congo, who then travelled to Kenya through Uganda.
It was Lutulu Kanicky, who composed the evergreen hit Kakolele Viva Christmas, while he was with the Baba National in 1976. Other bands formed in the 1970s include Them Mushrooms and the Kenya army outfit, Maroon Commandos.
In the last three years, Mangelepa has been involved in summer tours of Europe, especially between June and July.
They will perform in Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Poland and Belgium.
Speaking to the Saturday Nation last week before leaving Nairobi, Kabila said they were elated over the trip.
“We had been informed of the great demand of fans of African music in Europe and had been preparing for the tour,” he said.
The band on tour has Rick Nanjero (bass), Papa Were (lead guitar), veteran instrumentalist Shango Lola (rhythm guitar) and former Orch Lipua Lipua guitarist Lusuamo Aspro.
They will return to Kenya at the end of the month to prepare for the 42nd anniversary celebrations. Two former members of the original Les Mangelepa, Mukala ‘Coco’ Kanyinda and Bwammy Walumona, live in Europe. Mukala Coco, a percussionist, is based in England. He composed Aoko and Sakina during his brief stint with the band.
Founding band leader Walumona (popularly known as Le Capitaine) lives in Norway. He switched from secular to gospel music in the mid 1980s.
The then bearded and Afro-haired Walumona was also the lead guitarist. But Walumona still keeps in touch with his former colleagues.
Some of the popular songs by the group include Embakasi, Walter, Mimba, Trouble and the evergreen Nyako Konya (composed by Badibanga wa Tshilumba, who died in 2015 in South Africa).
Twikwale wa Twikale, a guitarist, is pursuing a solo career. He is remembered for his mastery on the guitar on songs such as Pambana Pambana and Maboko Pamba alongside Lukangika Maindusa “Petit Moustang”.