Profile: Ochieng’ Nelly
Ochieng’ Nelly was born Nelson Ochieng Orwa in 1943 in South Nyanza. He began playing the guitar in his teenage years after being taught and inspired by the pioneering Congolese Musician Adolf Banyore.
Ochieng’ Nelly got his first guitar in 1961. He travelled widely through Uganda, Congo and other African countries. He was widely exposed to Congolese guitar playing styles. He developed his own unique playing style that was later a big influence to the sound of The Ogara Boys Band, and Benga music in general.
Nelly worked with his Congolese mentor for a while before joining The Ogara Boys Band in 1962. The Ogara Boys Band consisting of founding member John Ogara Odondi and Aketch Oyosi was formed in 1960. Together the trio started and developed a unique sound that got the name Benga, in 1963.
In 1966, Nelly left Ogara Boys Band to pursue his career elsewhere. He briefly collaborated with another Benga legend, George Ramogi.
Ochieng’ Nelly has produced several songs such as: Monica Abio, Ombua Akelo, Celestine Juma, Samuel Aketch among others.His story is featured extensively in the Ketebul Music produced documentary: Retracing The Benga Rhythm.
Despite his old age and having a limp he got after a rad accident, Ochieng’ Nelly remains a very active musician playing a regular venue three times a week in Nairobi’s South B estate. He has also recorded an eleven track CD consisting of some of his old hits and new songs at Ketebul Music Studios. The CD recording also features collaborations with his peer from his Ogara Boys days, Aketch Oyosi.
Through Ochieng’ Nelly’s music, the legend of Beng of the yester years, still lives on.
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The Singing Wells Project : Rediscovering the lost Royal Drums of the Buganda Kingdom
The Singing Wells Project completed a succesful trip yet again and this time the focus was on Uganda. The Singing Wells project, now in it’s 4th year, is a partnership between Ketebul Music and Abubilla Music Foundation, which aims at preserving East Africa’s cultural music heritage now and for the future.
The journey to Uganda began on the 28th of November, 2015 when the team which included, Tabu Osusa, Founder, Ketebul Music Jimmy Allen, Founder Abubilla Music Foundation , Steve Kivutia, Patrick Ondiek, Hunter Allen and Nick Abonyo assembled in Kenya and flew to Uganda in the quest to rediscover the Lost Royal Drums of the Buganda Kingdom, the entenga drums.
Along with flutes, trumpets, strings and the xylophone, the entenga were part of a set of instruments used by palace musicians of the Buganda Kingdom whose job was to entertain the Kabaka (Baganda King). From an interview with Musisi, the last surviving drummer who played in the palace, we learnt that the Kabaka in the early 1960’s loved the entenga drums so much that he had the drummers play every morning at 3am. He felt that the drums were so perfect, that this was the only time of the day when it was quiet enough to appreciate them fully. This music largely died when the Buganda palace was attacked and destroyed on May 23-24 1966. The Kabaka fled, the musicians were disbanded and the drums as well as other instruments destroyed. Thereafter the entenge were considered dead.
That is until we discovered that Livingstone Musisi, who was 16 when the palace was destroyed, was alive and well in his home village. In 2013, encouraged by the works of James Isabirye, a lecturer at Kyambogo University in Uganda, as well as our partner for the Singing Wells project in Uganda who has been actively reviving the bigwara trumpets, we decided to revive the entenga drums. The Abubilla Music Foundation availed funds to James and Musisi and charged them with the task of assembling an entire set of entenga drums as well as putting together a team of musicians and train them in the almost extinct art of playing the entenga drums.
At the end of November 2015, armed with the recordings of palace musicians that were done by ethnomusicologist, Hugh Tracey, and thanks to the International Library of African Music, the Singing Wells embarked on our field trip which also included repatriating Hugh Tracey’s recordings to the last surviving palace musicians and institutions of learning in Uganda.
All through the few days we spent in Uganda, we learnt a great deal. On December 1, we traveled from Kampala to Jinja to the village of Bukakaire to listen to the Bukakaire Bigwara players led by the last surviving trumpeter from the Busoga palace, James Lugolole.
On the 2nd of December 2015, the team together with James Isabirye travelled to a shop called Ssebengwa Drum Makers, a shop run by a man called Abass Miriimu from the village of Mpampire. This village is famously known for their drum making skills. Abbas was a skilled drum maker of various Baganda traditional drums including the entenga.
Step by step he took us through the drum making process which included preparing the wood and letting it dry in the sun for 24 hours, then cutting the dry wood to size, preparing the outside of the drum, the two stages of stringing the drum, drying and rolling the cow hide strings, all the way to the final stage which is tuning the drums.
We then travelled to two separate villages to interview four other surviving members of the Kabaka’s Palace musicians. Richard Sewanyana, a flute palyer, Ssalongo Byakyalo Kakanzu one of the last surviving trumpet players, Ben Nsumbuga Ntabula a drummer and finally Kapolyano Kyobe a xylophone player whose father was killed during the attack.
December 3rd was our final day in Uganda before we headed back to Nairobi. We identified a whole set of extra ordinary musicians from our 2013 visit to Uganda and invited them for studio recording sessions at the Ketebul Music Studio.
More on the studio sessions soon.
For more on The Singing Wells click here
The Passing of a Legend; Michael Kinyany
Ketebul Music wishes to extend our condolences to the family of Michael Kinyany who passed away on the 18th of December 2015.
Michael Kinyany was a member of the group Lang Obiero that played benga and rumba in the 1950’s. Lang Obiero was among the groups recorded by ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracy in the early 1950’s. The group was one of the leading bands at that time and Michael was the youngest member.
In August 2014, Ketebul Music in partnership with the International Library of African Music (ILAM) with the support of Abubilla Music Foundation repatriated some of these recordings which included Lang Obiero’s music. During that time, we met with and interviewed Michael and he gave us an insight on music in the 50’s and his take on music in general.
Kenyany was an astute business man and is a good example of how one can attain good education, be an entrepreneur and still be a great musician.
Ketebul Music will feature him in our book ‘Shades of Benga’ set to be launched soon.
Keep it here for updates on this and much more
Ketebul Music at Utam Festival
Ketebul Music artists Olith Ratego and Makadem performed at the premiere edition of Utam Festival last weekend, 29th of November 2015. UTAM FESTIVAL is a Kenyan Annual Multi-Cultural Music Festival that gives a platform for global cultural integration using art. The aim of the festival is to showcase, expose and share East African arts and culture to the world.
The event kicked off at 2.30 pm with a brilliant performance by Olith Ratego, who wowed the crowd with his singing skills. Olith played his signature home-made instrument known as the ‘kodo’. He told melodic stories in his music and invited the crowd to journey with him into his musical world.
Makadem, also known as Mganga Mkuu, with his charismatic persona and powerful vocal delivery as always had the crowd on their feet. He not only sang to his audience but fully engaged with them throughout his performance.
Several other artists from East Africa such as Ricky Na Marafiki, Wangechi, Sarakasi Dancers, Teto Tutuma, Tetu Shani, Giovanni Kiyingi from Uganda, Swahili Ally from Tanzania, and Ugandan Saxophonist Brian Mugenyi among others were also present and showcased their best.
From poetry to music to dance… The festival was a blissful blend of art.
The little ones were not left behind…
The festival offered a cocktail of music, diverse cultures and a beautiful coexistence between different people brought together by their mutual love for music. As the famous Youssou N’Dour once said, “Music is a language”
Photo credits: Quaint Photography.