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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Leo Mkanyia Records At Ketebul Music
In the month of May 2015 during his East African tour, I was lucky to catch Dar es Salam’s Leo Makinya in between sessions for a new song off his yet to be titled album he was recording at Ketebul Music Studios and the busy artist was able to grant me an interview. The self-professed Swahili Blues singer spoke to me more about the sounds that shape his music and the album he is working on.
At what point in your life were you sure that you wanted to do music as a career?
I was playing with a guitar like a toy when I was a child, watching as my father and his friends played and I grew up thinking every human being could play the guitar. As I got older, I realized this was not the case when I asked some friends if they could play the guitar and they responded no. It’s easy, I said. Yet not everyone could play. I would later take the art professionally.
Why do you call your music Swahili blues?
I call it Swahili blues because it’s a mixture of Swahili songs with blues elements. I came up with this genre after I found out the music from Tanzania is purely typically blues but no one calls it that. The way we sing and the way we play our local instruments sound very much like blues so I decided to name it that as I compose my music in Kiswahili language and adopt the styles and rhythms from my tribe back home in Tanzania and use them on guitar chords. This is how my music sounds the way it sounds: jazzy and bluesy.
Why did you choose to work with Ketebul Music over any other label? How did the whole Ketebul Music collaboration come about? How did you meet each other?
Well Ketebul understands my music deeply and what I’m doing (laughs). When I met them they understood me well and gave me this opportunity to produce and record my CD here. So I thought, that’s a beautiful opportunity! Let me use it since I don’t get to record much back home in Dar es Saalam.
I first came to Nairobi in December of 2014 and I visited Ketebul Music with my music on a flash disk. I met the director of Ketebul Music, Mr. Tabu Osusa and introduced myself to him. I asked him if he’d listen to my music, which he did, and he liked it and he said: ‘’the music is good’’. We did interviews around and we did one recording at Ketebul Music. I then left and returned home to Dar es Salaam. I later got booked for Sauti Za Busara in Zanzibar and some events in Nairobi and also in Ethiopia. After all these concerts I got the opportunity to record here (Ketebul Music Studios) so that’s what happened.
What are your expectations for this album?
This album from my point of view is going to introduce Swahili Blues to the world.
Taking into consideration that you’re recording this album in Nairobi and not in Dar es Salaam, do you think the influences on your sound may affect your fans back home?
There are many influences; Kenyan, Ethiopian, Tanzanian, my mum’s tribe and my dad’s tribe. So it’s like a mixture of all these because that’s the life that I’m living. This CD is a representation of my life. In some songs I’m talking about Ethiopia and I even add some Ahmaric just to spice it up and make it more interesting and not rigid. The influences are definitely there in a very positive way.
You mentioned Addis and other East African cities in your songs, what inspires you to write these songs?
Mainly it’s due to the short periods I’ve been living in these big cities in East Africa. I had such a great time in Addis Ababa with some artists from there, despite the fact that I didn’t speak the language. That was my first time there: I picked up on some terminology and even had a few lessons in Ahmaric and tried introducing such words in the songs. I did the same in Nairobi. So there’s a love song where I sing: “I came with my lover from Zanzibar.”
And you left her for another woman in Nairobi?
No no no (chuckles). My lover from Zanzibar got lost in Nairobi. The wakora took her away. She got lost on Ngara Road. The wakora took her away to Dandorah. I use the word salaam which stands for ‘peace.’ Dar es Salaam Mombassa salaam, Nairobi salaam, so I’m trying to promote my cities and invite people to visit these places because you never know where these songs will be played and may attract someone to visit.
What are some of the topics you touch on with your songs?
The songs touch on every aspect of society. I have a song about Africa and bad leadership; there are songs about unity and promoting the youth to be together, repatriation to build nations back home in Africa; in some songs I’m talking about female genital mutilation and so on, so it’s filled with matters that affect the society and love is one of them.
Leo Makinya is a very down to earth person and well grounded in the roots of his homeland and his traditional vibes. I had the privilege of listening to some of the songs he’s recording at Ketebul Music, and I would describe his sound as African pop meets traditional Tanzanian rhythms such as Segere. This storyteller weaves his stories poetically, expressing his ‘blues’ for the ills in our society. For example, in one song he dwells on the tumult of Africa and his love for the environment. The anti poaching song describing the plight of elephants in eastern Africa where they are hunted for commercial use of ivory.
The songs are recorded with live instrumentation played by some of the top session musicians in Nairobi. Leo employs a call and response style of singing on some of the songs, which is typical in most African traditional styles. His voice is very smooth and is complemented well by the musical arrangements, which sound, funky, mellow with very rhythmic grooves yet still very danceable.
Leo has good chemistry with the people involved in the project and is doing a lot of experimentation and collaborations on this album. He has featured artistes from the Ketebul Music stable like Makadem, Winyo, Akuku Danger and has also recorded a duet with Nyota Ndogo.
This album promises to be a must have collection, and I’ll urge you to be on the look out for it!
For Ketebul Music
Ketebul Music Speaks To ‘MDQ’ – Muthoni The Drummer Queen
In our quest to retrace the origins and development of popular music in Kenya over the past fifty years, we have been conducting interviews with individuals who have contributed significantly to the music scene over the years. Events, venues and spaces that offer platforms for this music to reach audiences, play a major role in this development. In this regard, it was only right that we spoke to the songwriter, poet and social entrepreneur ‘Muthoni The Drummer Queen,’ to get her insight on Blankets & Wine – the picnic styled music festival that she initiated in November 2008.
We caught up with her at Blinky Bill’s studio during one of her recording sessions. MDQ as she is popularly known shared with us among other issues, the struggles of balancing her own music career with the rigorous demands of putting up the event on a monthly basis.
Blankets & Wine dwelt on multicultural collaborations with a mix of contemporary traditional music to urban genres. The success of the festival led it to be a much sought after venue by international artists from all across the world. The event expanded into Kampala in 2013, seeking to reach a wider East African audience.
With an aim to redefine its objectives, Blankets and Wine has developed to cater for all art lovers with the introduction of visual arts, a writers’ stage and a DJ stage among others.
For more on Blankets & Wine and other like events that have helped shape the popular music scene in Kenya, we urge you to stay tuned and watch out for the release of - Benga: Evolution of Kenya’s Popular Music!
For more on Blankets & Wine, click HERE
The Retracing Series on KBC Tv: Kikuyu Popular Music
Over the past 3 weeks Ketebul Music in conjunction with KBC TV have been airing our Retracing series of documentaries. These are aired as a 13 part series every Sunday at 5:30pm on KBC channel one.
The Retracing Series is based on research documentaries on the origins and development of different genres and styles of music from Kenya. So far we have documented;
Benga: Retracing The Benga Rhythm, (which was aired over the first 3 weeks)
Kikuyu Popular Music: Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music
Protest music: Retracing Kenya’s Songs of Protest
This coming Sunday, we shift focus from “Retracing the Benga Rhythm,” to “Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music.”
Stay tuned on Ketebul Music website and social media for updates and extracts from the Kikuyu popular music edition, and be sure to join us this Sunday at 5:30pm on KBC Channel One for the first installment of this edition.
All the editions of the Retracing Series of documentaries are available at Ketebul Music Studios and selected outlets. For inquiries and delivery within CBD call +254 720 561 198