Grandfather of Benga

misianiDaniel Owino Misiani, known as the “grandfather of Benga“, came from Tanzania, moved to Kenya in the 60s to become a musician, where he pioneered this new music. He started recording with the Victoria Boys, later becoming Shirati Jazz, who gained popularity as Benga took off in the late 70s.

Misiani seemed to always be surrounded by controversy. In the 60’s, when he started playing his songs in local villages, he was popular with the school girls and young women, drawn to his early love longs, so much so, that fights broke out amongst the men of the villages keen to impress the large female gatherings that followed him around. On several occasions he was forced to flee the villages after guitars were smashed by angry men and village elders. Later on in his career, being part of the Luo people, a large tribal group in Kenya that felt excluded from the government, many of his songs commented on politics and current affairs. Therefore, he was always keenly followed by those in power, who wanted to be certain he wasn’t being critical of their policies. He was jailed a couple of times as a result.

The classic Benga sound in the late 70’s, as heard in Kiseru, was built around a catchy guitar riff and two part harmonies that gradually progress before the song descends into pure unadulterated fast dance music. In the 80’s the boom passed, as other styles gained in popularity, problems with cassette piracy, and lack of airplay meant that Benga suffered.

Sadly, as it seems with so many of these artists, Misiani died in 2006 in a car crash. He left behind 14 children* and two wives.


A lot of the information in this post came from the great compilation “D.O. Misiani & Shirati Jazz – The King Of History – Classic 1970s Benga Beats From Kenya”

Record Details:

Mwalimu D.O. Misiani & Orch. D. 07 Shirati Jazz – Kiseru 1 & 2 (1978) – Maikano Records (MAI 002)

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* One of Misiani’s children, Robert aka Gun B. Robert, followed in his father’s footsteps into music, became a Hip Hop artist and recorded the hit Nampenda (“Love” in Swahili) – I believe it his him rapping on the chorus. In the video Pilipili (?) appears to impress a female shopper, showing her what particular tea to buy in the supermarket.

Tasty Music

“…the silent wilderness surrounding this clear speck on the earth struck me as something great and invincible, like evil and truth…”
Joseph Conrad – Heart of Darkness

When I think of the Congo several things come to mind: the great river, the early exploration into Africa, humanity’s capacity for evil, as shown in Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, and more recently the bloody conflict that has raged for over twenty years, claiming over five million lives. The danger with these western stereotypes, as Chinua Achebe, the Nigerian writer, famously said in his 1975 lecture An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, is Africa becomes “the other world”; it is dehumanised and ends up “a foil to Europe”. Achebe is a great humanist and I urge everyone to read Things Fall Apart to get another perspective of colonialism in Africa.

The intention of this blog is to document the rich music of Africa, however, with D.R. Congo it is hard not to digress. The history of this Central African country is complex, fascinating and heartbreaking. From the arrival of the Victorian explorers like Henry Morton Stanley and David Livingstone, to the unashamed and uncompromising ambitions of the Belgian monarch Leopold II, through to the present day civil war, Congo’s history warrants common knowledge. Sadly it has become the West’s dirty secret.

Back to the music, which is obviously a great way to humanise. Today’s selection is from a Congolese band based and recording predominately in Kenya. Orchestre Les Noirs were founded by Chuza Kabasellah who was born in Kasai, D.R. Congo. The band reformed with different personnel and were renamed several times with similar variations of their name. The track Sikiya Sauce is typical Soukous, Lingala, if you are from Uganda or Tanzania, and Rumba in Zambia and Zimbabwe; music does not recognise borders.

Sikiya comes from the East African language of Kishwahli, which has a large presence in Central Africa, particularly in Lumbumbashi, D.R. Congo. Sikia means to listen, feel or even taste (hence the connection to sauce). The rough, but very apt, translation is therefore listen to the delicious tasting music. The word sikiya is suitably peppered throughout Central and East African music.

Season well and enjoy both sides of this single.

Many thanks to the wonderful site, MUZIKIFAN, that provided the background information on Orchestre les Noirs, as well as other Congolese bands in Kenya here.

Record Details:

Orchestre Les Noirs – Sikiya Sauce Part 1 & 2 (1972) – EMI/Pathé (2C 006-15.234M)

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