Kenya has hit the headlines most recently as the ancestral home of the USA’s first black president, Barack Obama. But the nation is also home to East Africa’s oldest and most diverse popular music traditions, reaching back to Kenyan musical father Fundi Konde. This year the dynamic musical quartet Jabali Afrika combine both past and present with their Obama Tour 2009-2010 and the release of their fifth studio album, Mayosi.
Jabali means "rock" in Kiswahili, and Mayosi expands the group’s afro-rock sound, which blends authentic African music with the modern styles that have borrowed from it. Fans will recognize the trademark Jabali Afrika sound: powerful percussion and big vocal harmonies of Joseck Asikoye, Justo Otongo, Dumisizwe Bhembe and Victor Savani. But there’s a reason the new CD was given the Kiswahili name meaning "soulful melodies." Asikoye explains that it’s partly because Otongo has been spending a lot of time with his acoustic guitar lately:
On this album, we went back to the traditional
East African sounds, including elements of rumba and benga,
but as always we add our own musical twist.
We wanted to capitalize on Justo’s acoustic guitar skills
and the style he learned from his father, Reuben Asikoye,
who played with many legendary Kenyan musicians from
the western province in the 1950s and 1960s.
Kenya has also been in the headlines due to the turmoil around its 2008 election. In fact, Kenyan radio banned Jabali Afrika’s get-out-the-vote single "People’s Voice," a musical call for democracy and justice to prevail over corruption, during the election violence. But Mayosi doesn’t shy away from continuing to protest inequity and celebrate human rights.
This project is the most forceful and direct, raw even,
collection of songs that we have written to date
in dealing with the roots and effects of
political and economic corruption in
Africa and beyond. -- Dumisizwe Bhembe
But the new album also seeks solace from these struggles in songs with uplifting spiritual messages and tunes that celebrate romantic and familial love. Bhembe says it includes "some of the most tender declarations of love and longing for loved ones that we have ever expressed."
Sixteen years ago, the members of Jabali Afrika would meet on a large rock to plan and dream about their musical future. Today their award-winning, innovative mélange of traditional spirituals and rock-reggae arrangements is a pillar of world music festivals and college concerts worldwide. The band’s 250 shows a year and 98 percent rebooking rate say it all, but there’s no replacement for hearing their authentic African drumming rhythms and electric guitars in a live setting.
Our music makes you dance,
it uplifts the soul and it educates you.
Coming to see Jabali Afrika, you become part of the act,
because we kill that barrier between
the audience and the band. -- Joseck Asikoye