There was a golden era in the 1970s and 80s when Nairobi was the hub of music in East and Central Africa: the biggest Congolese, Tanzanian, Ugandan, and even Zambian musicians were all based in the city.
International record companies, CBS and Polygram, installed state-of-the-art recording facilities in Nairobi, and the best performance venues were located in the city.
One of the most influential bands of that era was the Tanzanian outfit Les Wanyika, an offshoot of the original Simba Wanyika whose hits are still loved to this day.
Almost four decades later, some of the band’s greatest hits have been reimagined by a new generation of Kenyan artistes.
“Pass the Mic” a 14-song album being launched on December 18 is the brainchild of Peter Nduati, CEO Pine Creek Records who says the project has been five years in the making.
“This was the soundtrack of my youth and we cannot afford to let this music die,” says Mr Nduati, who has been in the music business for 21 years.
n reality, this idea goes way back to the 80s when Mr Nduati, then a young boy growing up in Dagoretti, Nairobi, would accompany his older siblings to Bombax, the iconic club on Ngong Road which was the base of Les Wanyika.
Fast forward more than 30 years later, Mr Nduati introduced his 19-year-old daughter to the music of Wanyika to illustrate the elaborate production of music in years gone by.
“She loved it and it was then that I started thinking of how today’s young generation can be exposed to the music from that era.”
He concluded that the only way to do so would be to have the music performed by artistes that resonate with the young generation. Secondly, to contemporise the music while maintaining the structure.
A deal was struck to acquire the rights of the music from three surviving members of Les Wanyika, renewable after a specific time.
He then sent a call to producers and songwriters to pitch their ideas for creating new songs based on the classic hits of Wanyika.
The process of identifying the best artistes that would fit particular songs was a challenge and many big names did not match the personality of the songs.
“Since this is a personal project, I have been in control of the creative process, to the annoyance of some of the artists,” says Mr Nduati.
The album features the who’s who in contemporary music in Kenya with their interpretations of some of the timeless Les Wanyika hits.
According to Mr Nduati the ‘biggest song’ on the project is “Sina Makosa” by H_art the Band featuring Arrow Bwoy whose video is being released this week ahead of the album launch. Another of the eagerly anticipated songs from the album is the ever-popular “Afro” recorded by Otile Brown while Anto Neo Soul who is also a Pine Creek recording artist has redone “Nimaru”.
Atemi, who is also signed to Pine Creek Records has reinterpreted “Pamela” which was originally written for the woman who became the wife of Wanyika leader Prof Omar Shaban, from the perspective of a girl singing it to a boy and called it “Kevoh.”
Mr Nduati explains that Josh (of the duo Amos and Josh) had recorded Paulina” and during post-production, the team decided to add a rap section and it was then that they roped in Khaligraph Jones.
Serro, who is 25 years old, had never even heard of Les Wanyika before she was approached to record the single “Si Haja Yangu” the first single released from the album.
“She personifies the exact demographic that we are targeting with this music,” explains Mr Nduati. “We are not targeting 50-year-olds, we want the 18 to 40-year-olds who will also want to go back and listen to the original songs,” he says.
Some of the finest session musicians were recruited to give the songs the authenticity of the analogue recording, including acclaimed guitarist Benjamin Kabaseke and the Nairobi Horns Project. “I wanted live guitars, horns because that is what the original sound. I don’t want software producing the sound because that is not what this music is all about.”