By Nicholas Olambo
Rhumba as genre of music traces its origin to northern regions of Cuba, specifically Havana and Matanzas. It involves percussion, song and dance.It is strongly based on African music and dance traditions, namely Abakuá and yuka, and Spanish-based coros de clave too. Closer home, Congolese rhumba which began by Congolese artists doing cover of Cuban rumba, is the mother of African rhumba spreading beyond Congo to countries in the region. Congo has a rich musical culture that perhaps can only be rivaled by South Africa or may be Nigeria.
Kenya has its small share with some of its brave and talented artists taking to booth to breath their air and bless the genre. Music is expression of self, that’s what some say but it’s no doubt Kenyan rhumba is majorly inspired by Congolese rhumba. This genre majorly has its theme on love, life and other socially educative topics but smooth and soul soothing nature of rhumba is an identity that is never concealed by the topic. Rhumba is sweet and smooth. It’s a grown man’s music.
Rhumba in Kenya is embraced by all but majorly written and performed by artistes from Western Kenya. The late George Ramogi is a legendary crooner with all the bragging rights as the pioneer of the genre in Kenya. He made great records like ‘Afline the pretty’, he inspired his peers and many artistes who would come after him to now when modern rhumba is the thing among mature revelers and senior youths.
Not many artistes have the guts to jump into the tricky waters of rhumba. It requires serious, proper and coordinated production. Not like ‘ohangla’ or benga that embraces computer generated instruments. The guitars in rhumba must be live, that is a must. Bands and artistes have come after George Ramogi, the late Ochieng’Kabasele is in the books to the late Musa Juma of Limpopo International Band. Musa Juma or MJ as he is popularly known is a household name in Kenyan rhumba sphere, he shaped many talents to the current reigning crooners like John Junior, Ingwe Bandason and Madanje Perimeter among others.
Rhumba is not overcrowded in Kenya but the few who dare to trade in this genre today inspired by the like of FallyIpupa or Ferre Gola, MJ and more are indeed trying to put out good and quality work. Papa Alphonce is a fast rising rhumba artist with many hit singles in the airwaves, ‘Farida ‘and ‘Eliza’to name a few. Born Alphonce Paul Owendho, this young multi-talented man leads a seven-member band, he is the lead vocalist, he is the rhythm guitarist and the composer.
He credits his talent to his strong musical background. Its musically rich, the late Musa Juma was his uncle, his father played in bands and to date he says his old man still straps his solo guitar at sun rise and sun set for fun. Papa is one of the few artists who treat music as a full time job. If he is not training, doing sound check or meeting his potential clients, Papa would be in studio with his producer Denn in Nairobi’s Kariobangi cooking more great records.
Dennis Ngere a.k.a Denn is one of those few producers who not only enjoy consuming the sweet rhythms of rhumba but faces every challenge to create more good music to preserve this powerful genre. He is also a member of the band but his role is majorly in engineering. In response to why not many artists are doing rhumba but enjoying rhumba, the duo blames it on the writing and performance abilities, high cost of equipment and poor pay by musical bodies as MCSK or PRISK.
Making of rhumba is expensive, maintaining a band is expensive and marketing of the finished work is equally expensive.The cost of what it takes to produce a good rhumba song and what PRISK and promoters pay is discouraging even if your song is a hit song or one on heavy rotation.They pay less than they collect from an artiste’s work.
They suggest that these bodies should provide health covers not only to artistes but the entire nuclear families. They also feel that more programs and stations playing rhumba need to emerge to keep this genre of dignity alive. It’s discouraging for a giant nation in East and Central Africa to have only a handful artists who are paid less. Initiatives must also be put in place to motivate upcoming artists; music is an equal employer like any other profession.