Les Wanyika band members back together to mark 32nd anniversary

Anthony Omuya | NATION
Members of the Orchestre Les Wanyika in Nairobi. They are (from left) Sijali Zuwa ‘Usikajali,’ Alfani Toni Malanga, Rashidi Juma (band leader) and Joseph Justy ‘Yellowman.’

What you need to know:

  • The reunion comes 10 years after the death of their original band leader Johnny Ngereza

Their fusion of rhumba music with Swahili lyrics used to be extremely popular and was widely listened to on radio, vinyl records and cassettes in East Africa.

Orchestra Les Wanyika’s song, Sina Makosa, received a golden disk in 1978, and ultimately led to a disagreement that saw the group break up.

Four surviving members of Les Wanyika have now regrouped to revive the once famous Nairobi-based group.

The reunion comes 10 years after the death of band leader, Johnny Ngereza. Founder members Rashid Juma, Alfani Tommy Malanga, Sijali Zuwa ‘Usikajali’ and Joseph Justy ‘Yellow Man’ have decided to close ranks and work together.

They are now working on a special tribute DVD in memory of their departed colleagues.

“We have decided to come together after all the speculation that we had all died,” band leader Rashid Juma said.

Juma said the band planned to release new songs in memory of their fallen colleagues, Professor Omar Shaban, Issa Juma, Mohamed Tika, Johnny Ngereza and Foni Mkwanyule.

Juma, a drummer and guitarist, said the group is planning a re-launch in November to coincide with the 32nd anniversary since the band was founded in 1978.

Zuwa, who is the band’s executive officer and is also a trumpeter, says the group will start running its affairs as a company after recruiting a few musicians to fill the gap left by their departed members.

Zuwa, who also a plays the keyboards, said the band would assist widows and family members of their fallen colleagues.

Besides rhumba the group also plays other modern beats that are popular.

Les Wanyika was formed in November 1978 by a group which had broken away from Simba Wanyika.

The members were Juma, Malanga, Ngereza, Zuwa, Hassan Mohammed, Omar Shaban, Justy and Mkwanyule.

Simba Wanyika, which had three brothers, Wilson, George and William Kinyonga, relocated to Kenya from Tanzania in 1971 before the break-up of the East African Community in 1977.

Before restrictions were imposed on the Kenya/Tanzania border, musicians could travel between the two countries at will.

Most of the crossing, however, was into Tanzania, where rhumba was already popular and musical groups could easily receive state or corporate sponsorship.

Simba Wanyika became the market leaders in Kenya with over 70 best-selling singles before Rashid Juma’s team broke away to form Les Wanyika and forcing Simba Wanyika, under Wilson Peter wa Kinyonga, to return to Tanzania to recruit additional musicians from Morogoro Jazz and Super Volcano.

George Peter Kinyonga left Simba Wanyika to form another oufit, Orchestra Jobiso, while another group broke away from Les Wanyika to form Super Wanyika Stars under Issa Juma.

Among Les Wanyika’s most popular hits are Sina Makosa, Kwanza Jiulize, Nisaidie Baba, Pamela and Paulina.