For the past several months, I have been organising my largest show for the launch of the magnificent double volume opus, African Twilight, by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher at African Heritage House in Nairobi on March 3.
Ayub Ogada, the co-founder of the African Heritage Band with me, was to open the show with his famous song, Koth Biro (the Rains are Coming, in Luo), while Fernando Anuang'u (former dancer of African Heritage and Rare Watts, now living in Paris) would dance to Ayubu, a song written by his protégé, Papillon.
Sadly, I woke up on Friday last week to the news that Ayub had passed away during the night.
I first met Ayub Ogada (then Job Seda) as he was coming down the steps of the Conservatoire of Music opposite the National Theatre in l979. I was looking for musicians to accompany African Heritage on its tours to Europe and around the world. Job had been performing with his guitar and drums with a group called Black Savage. I asked him if he would consider forming a new musical group which featured only original music with African instruments.
At 3.30 that afternoon, he had moved into the African Heritage Gallery on Kenyatta Avenue, with all of his instruments. He soon put aside his guitar and started taking lessons on an eight-stringed nyatiti from the Luo community, which I had given him and which was to become his longest lasting union. Job and his famous nyatiti was soon to travel the world.
Within days, Job had put together an exuberant cast of talented musicians, who included a phenomenal musician from Japan who was enthusiastically studying African instruments, Goro Kunii. There was also Francis Njoroge on the piano (later to be replaced by Jack Odongo), Mbarak Achieng on the bass guitar and Noel Sanyanafwa on drums and percussion.
This was the line-up that took to the stage for the sensational first concert by the African Heritage Band at City Hall that had the entire audience dancing in the aisles. Immediately after that, they left for their first tour of Europe with Kenya’s African Heritage Festival with its troupe of models, dancers, acrobats, stilt walkers, chefs and hairdressers.
The unforgettable tour was to be followed by five others, including Madagascar.
Most of the tours were sponsored by the Intercontinental Hotels and Lufthansa. The African Heritage Band was then receiving rave reviews for their “Jazz on Sundays” at the Hotel Intercontinental, the African Heritage 10th anniversary at Nairobi Serena, the Carnivore, and other leading venues in Nairobi, including the African Heritage Garden on Kenyatta Avenue every weekend where teeny bopper fans would spill out into the surrounding streets until the fire department would arrive to close us down.
Other musicians who came up through African Heritage Band included the multi-talented flutist and percussionist Samite Mulondo of Uganda, who has been touring the USA with his one man show up to today, Gido Kibukosya, Ali Magombeni, Shabaan Onyango, “Uncle Sam” Eshikati, and Wally Amalemba. Sadly, the latter two have passed away and Francis Njoroge, who migrated to Malindi for about two decades, is now back in Nairobi.
In l985, Lufthansa invited the African Heritage Band to tour their hotels in Europe accompanied by my creative manager, Sarah Withey. The band never returned, at least not in one piece as many members tried to strike it out on their own.
Job had already pulled out of the band and was doing solo gigs on the streets and other venues in London, earning a pittance, before he was “discovered” by Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records when he recorded his first album, En Mano Kuoyo (“A Grain of Sand”) as he was well aware of the fragility of life. He then accompanied Japanese fashion maestro Issey Miyake on a world fashion tour, and was in big demand around the world with his soulful and unforgettable song, Koth Biro, now a world music classic.
The demise of African Heritage Band led to an explosion on the Nairobi music scene when African Heritage introduced the first all-female group, Musikly Speaking, a trio consisting of Joy Mboya, Susan Matiba and Suzanne Gachukia Kibokutsya after her marriage to the remaining African Heritage band member, Gido Kibokutsya, which merged the two groups.
In the early 1990s, another young band of percussionists emerged on the scene from the garden cafe of African Heritage, a group called Jabali Africa, who joined African Heritage for a massive tour of 11 cities of Europe with a convoy of lorries carrying musical instruments, costumes, fashions created of authentic African textiles, lighting and sound, murals to transform every venue into Kenya with scenes of beaches, Mt. Kenya and deserts, with two elephants who paraded through every city. I left Jabali Africa in New York after the tour in l995, where they have remained ever since.
However, for African Twilight, Justo Asikoye from Jabali, Jack Odongo and Gido Kibokutsya from African Heritage Band will join us with Papillon, a remarkable young musician who is the protégé of Ayub Ogada.
In fact, he completed his first album, Heart of Africa, with Ayub, and his first single is called Ayubu an ode to Ayub, which will be played while Fernando Anuangu, a former dancer with African Heritage and a founding member of Rare Watts (who will also appear).
Yet there will be a gaping hole in African Heritage at the beginning of the African Twilight show on March 3 when we take time to remember Ayub Ogada.