Life is too sweet with Gibson guitar

ISIHAKA Nassoro is no longer Dogo Aslay today, he is mature and now a full-winged musician whose music is adored globally, his past works and the most recent release, ‘Inauma’ album can tell it all.

He is, today, among the most inspirational figures and Flava Bongo megastars. Parading fine guitar licks that are occasionally supported by a suave sound of alto saxophone, ‘Inauma’ release is arguably a throwback to the East African guitar era, despite having shortened guitar solos at the end of his vocal part.

Most intriguing in the whole album is Arejee, whose guitar sound and rhythm section seem to revisit Tabora, the home to Segere Matata, Segua Segua, Kabango, or Kasimbago dance styles that glorified the works of Tabora Jazz, Nyanyembe Jazz, and Dar Salaam International Orchestra from the mid-1970s to early 1990s.

Mapenzi Hayana Maganga by Tabora Jazz, Baba Anna, or Dada Emmy by Dar International fit in this setup. Through ‘Arejee’, analysts of East African music that hit airwaves during the radio days in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, would place him close to the reign of Nyanyembe Jazz whose song ‘Rangi ya Chungwa’ remains among the greatest classic hits today.

It is brightened by a subtle guitar improvisation that later made guitarist Kassim Rashid ‘Kizunga’, in a gallery of master guitarists of the untold East African guitar.

Various guitar styles have been displayed in Aslay’s new album. In Sijaona, there is a fusion of Lizombe from the Ruvuma region and Segere dance from Swahili Coastal line and all these heighten the album’s Hamis Misana.

In Brotherman, Aslay sings about a ‘townsman’ who seems to do more than the characters mentioned in Kalubandika(Maquiz du Zaire) and Samba Mapangala in Dunia Tunapita. It is a bit astonishing to see Bongo Flava has returned to music that cherishes guitar and saxophone sounds, which haven’t been on the daily menu of Bongo Flava artistry.

Aslay seems to bring back what others previously labelled outdated( Zilipendwa) though, in an actual sense, classic should be the correct term.

Diamond Platnumz and his Wasafi teammates had an in-depth explanation for that sentiment through his seemingly comic, ‘Zilipendwa’, released in 2017.

The song features a team of WCB Wasafi artists including Diamond Platnumz, Rayvanny, Harmonize, Mbosso, Lavalava , Queen Darleen, and Rich Mavoko.

In it, Diamond was seen mimicking a Gibson Epiphone ES335, a guitar that during its reign, was widely used to create all great guitar solos that dominated the music of the radio era from Franco Lwambo Makiadi to Nguza Viking and Saidi Mabera of Msondo Ngoma whose Gibson guitar Diamond mimicked as the golden oldie.

In the same Zilipendwa collabo, Rayvanny was seen dispensing with Alembic Bass Guitar which Kool & the Gang’s bassist, Robert Kool used to light up the band’s smash hits from Celebration and Get Down on It to Ladies Night and Victory, that frequently served as a welcome song for American war heroes.

To the generation of Wasafi Band, the old stalwarts of the Congolese rhumba(Soukous) like Pepe Kale and his guitar pyrotechnicians; Doris Ebuya, Kinanga Nzau Boeing or Lofombo Godes, whom the East Africans adored also, fall into the pit of the golden oldies and so are Samba Mapangala, Aurlus Mabele, Yondo Sister and Kanda Bongoman, whose guitarist Nenne Tchakou is among the most respected guitar experts from East and Central Africa.

Mabera played Gibson guitar in Ajali, one of the oldies Wasafi mimicked in the Zilipendwa Collabo. Sina Makosa by Les Wanyika, and Marijan Rajab’s Zuwena, which is among the most sampled old hits.

Msondo Ngoma’s Ajali whose guitarist Saidi Mabera played Diamond-like Gibson ES335, was one of the fine guitarists and so are Hamis Mnyupe and Roman Mng’ande (Romario) and alto saxophonist, Ally Rashid, all included in the list of old hits that flavoured the Zilipendwa Collabo.

What is being produced by the new generation of artists today seems to bring back the ‘Zilipendwa’ era but in a commercially-styled approach.

Still, there is a clear indication that those who heralded the marvels of the new generation music a decade ago, have now grown into maturity and the recently released Bongo Flava works verify it.

Bongo Fava artists are now back to guitar music, as Zahir Ally put it during the early days of Bongo Flava, the youths are rebels without course, and he anticipated them to return to the roots of their ancestors when they grow up. Guitar sound is back in East Africa and all major figures of the new generation of music seem to have embraced it.

Rayvanny’s recently released ‘My Babe’ contains the Carlos Santana-like bluesy guitar and it seems to fit in his ballad. Also with an unmistakable Dancehall Rhythm is Utanipenda by Darassa featuring Rich Mavoko. Kolo by Nadia Mukami Ft Otile Brown also brought on stage a beautiful sound of classic guitar, but the guitar sound seems to miss some elements of Western Kenya’s hard-grinding Benga guitar.

A dancehall tinge also brightly coloured the rhythm sound of Kata by Ommy Dimpoz featuring Nandy. To dance and band music, Ali Kiba did the best with the guitar sound to the extent he has been adored as a complete musician and not an actor of music, and that made him the earliest Bongo Flava artiste to wear a full musician cap in 2014 after releasing Mwana.

Ali Kiba, whose hits are widely played by dance music bands operating in bars and hotels all over East Africa, is labelled a complete musician since most of his works retain rhumba subtlety and guitar accompaniment that cherishes improvisation (sebene) after the vocal part. His biggest ally towards that fame is Patient Losso, whose Fender guitar solos brightly coloured Ali Kiba’s major hits from Dushelele to Chekecha Cheketua and Mwana and the guitar sebenes are the longest like that of rhumba oldies.

Though it has been ignored by the new generation, the guitar has played a significant role in shaping contemporary music of East and Central Africa in the 20th century.

“Mwana” is Alikiba’s most anticipated music video to date. ‘Mwana’ is Alikiba’s 1st official release through his worldwide partnership with his record label and management company ROCKSTAR4000 and Rockstar Publishing.

Alikiba himself describes this album as his “most personal and mature project that pushed his versatile talent and creativity to inner depths.” Guitar loops have become the foundation of new releases from established Bongo Flava stars like Rayvanny, Harmonize, and Aslay.

None of the recently re-introduced guitar sounds in smash hits of the new generation artists responded to what the global music analysts labelled East African guitar style.

East African guitar sound has never been discussed in East Africa despite being mentioned several times by those living outside the region. It all started in 1987 when American Paul Simon performed his Graceland project in South Africa.

The concert featured top musicians from South Africa, the US, and Cameroun. Ray Phiri, a South African with Malawian parentage, received huge acclaim as a guitarist who brightly coloured the show with East African guitar style.

The aim of the Graceland tour was to mobilise states in support of the struggle for liberation and through that Phiri later earned a Grammy Award for his participation on the tour. He was praised to have introduced the East African guitar style following his Malawian parentage.

His guitar style that music analysis wrongly put it as East African guitar, helped South Africans to make names for themselves abroad. But his reputation as an innovator of East African guitar style was corrected a few months later by Lokassa & Soukous Stars upon releasing Nairobi and Lagos Night.

A music fan in Kenya, Masika Simiyu called the hit album a fusion of West Africa style and Congolese styles, and a mix of Congolese and East African styles, respectively.

From then ‘Roza’ and ‘Vigelegele’ were both recorded by Western Jazz band and the 1973 composition, Dada Asha by Tabora precisely revealed to the world what the East African Swahili guitar is.

The big players of East African guitar in the songs were Wema Abdallah, Madua Zuberi, and Shamba Ramadahan for Western Jazz while Shem Kalenga(lead) and Kassim Kaluona(rhythm) for Tabora.

East Africans seem unmoved by the East African guitar tag as they let the world speak about it. Wasafi’s Zilipendwa has managed to unveil some of the notable old hits that spoke everything about East African music and its guitar style.

East Africans would not want to talk much about their style other than the clear message, and I must stop as Darasa and Ben Pol are too close with a clear message: Acha Maneno Weka Muziki. *Miguel Suleyman is a Tanzanian ethnomusicologist based in Dar es Salaam

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