Salima Mguzi and Party – Kisongokele Pt. 1

By far, the most popular posts on Excavated Shellac feature African music. In honor of that, I’ve decided to post something from East Africa this week, as a give-the-people-what-they-want goodwill thank you gesture. However, if you’ve come here only looking for African music, please take a look around and try another piece out. You never know what might grab you – perhaps a Bulgarian harmonium track, or a Turkish taxim. One of the main thrusts of this blog is variety of palette, after all.

This week’s sonic diversion comes from Uganda, performed by members of the Nyoro/Haya culture. A group of singers accompanied by drum (ngoma) and the Nyoro/Haya rattle (nyimba). It stems from around the mid-1950s on the beautiful Jambo label.

Jambo’s story is very interesting. It was the first independent East African record label, established in Nairobi, Kenya by two British gentlemen, in 1947, under the umbrella of East African Sound Studios, Ltd. They sent tapes to England and had their records pressed by Decca, which were then shipped by air freight back to Nairobi (a three-day flight distance at that time). By 1950, the company had fallen on hard times and there was a management shake-up, after releasing slightly over 200 records. The studio was closed down. East African Sound Studios, Ltd. was taken over by the African Ground Cotton Company. Otto Larsen, a Dane, was asked to help set up and manage a record pressing plant in a new building in Nairobi, and Jambo resumed in the early 50s, continuing to repress the best selling of their 200 or so records. Thus, the birth of the new East African Records, Ltd.

Amazingly, Larsen and crew continued to repress those same 200 records until 1955, when Larsen took it upon himself to start a recording studio in a Nissen hut on the property, which was formerly used to make cardboard pots for planting (a side venture of East African Records, Ltd., as was the sale of jukeboxes). Larsen began to travel in the region (Dar Es Salaam, Kampala), making further recordings for Jambo, and recorded much local talent in Kenya, many of whom traveled to audition in Nairobi. Taarab music was recorded, African acoustic guitar, accordion-based pop, Hawaiian waltzes from the Seychelles, and rural Ugandan music, such as we have here – pressed and packaged by Kenyan hands.

By 1955, other independent labels were active in the region: Capitol Music Stores, Mzuri, AGS, Rubina and Rafiki, and Munange, to name a few. The majors were active as well: HMV, Columbia, and Gallotone and their subsidiary, Trek. Jambo continued pressing 78s (and 45s) until 1961, when it became Equator Sound Studio. They had released a total of about 1,000 records.

Salima Mguzi and Party – Kisongokele, Pt. 1

Much of the information on Jambo came from Flemming Harrev’s informative article “Jambo Records and the Promotion of Popular Music in East Africa: The Story of Otto Larsen and East African Records Ltd. 1952-1963.” In Perspectives on African Music, Bayreuth African Studies Series 9, edited by Wolfgang Bender, 103-137. Bayreuth, Germany: Eckhard Breitinger, 1989.

Technical Notes
Label: Jambo
Issue Number: EA. 507
Matrix Number: J.R. 1042

7 thoughts on “Salima Mguzi and Party – Kisongokele Pt. 1

  1. As much as I love the African stuff, if I had to choose a favorite genre among those you post regularly it would be the stuff from the Middle/Near East and the Arabic world. The eclecticism is one of the best features of your blog.

  2. Thanks! Everyone has their own proclivities, that’s for sure. There will be more from the Near and Middle East, for sure…

  3. Do you have music of Cambodia or Laos ? I prefer the south-east asian music, but as Neu Mejican said, eclectism is better ! It’s a really good way to discover new things, and these old discs are interesting to learn where the music of today comes from.
    Thank you !

  4. Thank YOU for stepping into this world. Regarding Southeast Asia – have no fear, there will be more. They do not turn up often, and rarely in super condition. The same could be said about much of the music I’ve posted. Some are excruciatingly rare. (Some aren’t as much.) But rest assured I will get around to more music from Southeast Asia as time marches on.

  5. Jon, Were they really sending tapes in 1947, or were those metaphorical tapes? I don’t know the whole chronology of magnetic tape recording, but that seems pretty early to be recording on tape.

  6. According to Harrev’s article on Jambo, the recordings were made on tape, believe it or not. I raised an eyebrow at that as well (and it still may be incorrect), but I do have numerous 78s from Africa in the early 50s, recorded by very small labels, which were definitely recorded on tape and pressed in Europe. So, at the very least by ’52 or so, that process was well underway.

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