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.
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.
Issue Number: EA. 507
Matrix Number: J.R. 1042