Shyam Shah, from UK to Nairobi with a deep love for rumba music
What you need to know:
- The group seeks to infuse the East African beat with tunes from DR Congo. The band is adept at zilizopendwa, chakacha and other popular oldies.
- The themes tackled in the lyrics range from corruption and tribalism to neo-colonialism.
- Shah is the band’s crowd puller. Kenyan music fans have never really associated people of Indian descent with rumba music.
- Shah, who plays the lead guitar and does back-up vocals, is a pioneering talent and he loves what he is doing.
There is a relatively new name on the national music scene that is drawing attention because of its alluring tunes. Orchestra Masika Africa Band has, in the short time of its existence, displayed great potential in entertainment. It has also excelled as one of the most promising dance bands with a niche for the rumba genre, popularised by such Congolese musicians as Franco, Tabu Ley, Papa Wemba, Koffi Olomide, Tshala Muana, Werra Son and JB Mpiana.
What marks the band out, however, is its band leader, Shyam Shah, a Kenyan of Indian origin, born in the UK, and who fell in love with rumba music so much that he decided to become a musician.
“Ours is to try and do music that breaks international barriers,” Shah told Saturday Nation.
His 11-member band has members drawn from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Congo and Angola. They perform in Nairobi.
“Our beats are based on the kind of music that was played by rumba greats such as the Grand Kalle of African Jazz and Franco and his TPOK Jazz band,” Shah said.
The group seeks to infuse the East African beat with tunes from DR Congo. The band is adept at zilizopendwa, chakacha and other popular oldies.
The themes tackled in the lyrics range from corruption and tribalism to neo-colonialism.
Shah is the band’s crowd puller. Kenyan music fans have never really associated people of Indian descent with rumba music. Shah, who plays the lead guitar and does back-up vocals, is a pioneering talent and he loves what he is doing.
“My guitar style is pegged on inspiration from listening to the styles by legendary rumba guitarists like Dr Nico Kasanda, Franco and Michelino Mavatiku Visi,” Shah said.
The band does splendid cover versions of popular songs by TP OK Jazz such as Mario, composed by Madilu System, Chandra (Josky Kiambukuta) and Mamou ( Franco).
They also do cover versions of Kiswahili favourites like Nawashukuru Wazazi Wangu (Mlimani Park Orchestra), Karubanduka (Maquis Du Zaire), Sina Makosa and Pamela (both by Les Wanyika).
Before forming the band, Shah had taught music in various institutions in Nairobi since 2012. When not performing, Shah teaches music, which he considers the backbone of his musical career.
Other members of Masika Africa band are Msabaha Zuberi , Michael Majaliwa (both Tanzanians), Masinde Nyongesa (Ugandan), Zola Toko (Congo/Angola), and Hakim Ziya. Others are Gilbert Shako, Frank Odote, Koki Githui, Eugene Muthui and Juma Sadala (all Kenyans).
Most members of the group contribute songs from their ethnic groups, which all spice up live performances.
The group’s first base was at Nairobi’s Explorer Lounge, on Ole Odume road, in 2012.
Shah recalled they were more of a session band but would later graduate into a full band.
They have performed at other spots in Nairobi such as Kengeles Lavington, Tamambo Village Market, The Alchemist Bar in Westlands and Carnivore Restaurant.
Currently, they perform every Friday at the Karen Oasis Restaurant and every Saturday at the Tamambo Karen.
“Its through performing at entertainment spots in upmarket Nairobi that we have had the chance to gauge and diversify our beats,” Shah added.
The band has been buoyed by the release of its debut album, Twende Afrika, through veteran producer Tabu Osusa’s Ketebul Music Studios.
The nine-track album features the songs Twende Tucheze Rumba, Kenya Yetu, Twende Afrika, Ujumbe and Picha Yako.
Most of the tracks are in Kiswahili, which Shah says is meant to enable more fans across East Africa and beyond to understand them.
According to producer Tabu Osusa, the group has proved to be an eye-opener.
“This is a new beginning, which we hope many others will follow,” Tabu says.
Masika Africa has also performed at Brackenhurst Harvest Festival, the Shangilia Peace Concert, Karen Country Club Rumba night, Oshwal Diwali Mela and the Thursday Night Live show at the J’s in Westlands.