My favorite Kenyan Hip Hop group is regrouping for an album. For the first time since Constantly, they have a new video for a song titled Moi Avenue. To say that I am excited is an understatement. For the first time in slightly over 5 years, I have been spurred to find the keys to this blog, dust the cobwebs a little and take a seat. I am a Kalamashaka fan like that (allow me some bragging right, I made the first ever Kalamashaka entry on Wikipedia. Which I just noted that it has been deleted at the time of publishing this post)
The song ‘Moi Avenue’ is not entirely new. It has been on Ken Ring’s (Swedish/Kenyan Producer) YouTube account for some months and titled ‘Huntaz.’ I have not yet established when it was recorded but I am certain a few tweets can mine such info.
I am not going to write a review of the video or the song itself. Any attempt to do so would be equivalent to fumes from a car that hasn’t been started in 5 years. There have been numerous attempts to have K-Shaka back but somehow the push startled the car failed to have the engine running. For some reason I have no words to explain, I feel this time it will work. True to their name, I am sure they’ve ‘eaten’ enough troubles and want to get past the rough phase and focus on releasing new music. I have at times felt like they should have maintained the name 3D Crew. May be we’d be watching their 3D videos instead of reading newspaper reports about their difficulties. But I’m certain they’ll overcome their challenges.
Die hard K-Shaka fans could be a little disappointed that Vigeti also known as Johnny (whom many consider to Kenya’s best emcee) does not have a verse on Moi Avenue. He however makes an appearance in the video. Kamaa who sings the chorus is not in the video. He has been away in the US for a while touring and giving talks on Ukoo Flani Mau Mau and Kenya’s hip hop. Rawbar (Robaa) is on the first verse and laments the over-play of Bongo Flava on Kenya’s radio. Here is the beautifully choreographed video.
Lastly, contrary to what many believe, K-Shaka hasn’t been all that silent. For those not informed, over the years since Dandora Burning album, there have been individual projects and collective ones too. Below YouTube playlist compiled by Ken Ring, you’ll find some other songs unheard on radio and other platforms. The playlist is not fully refined but I hope you’ll appreciate.
I know this blog looks like a fraud. In its many years with no posts. Bare with me on that. Some matters have to come before others. When the moment to make this blog relevant comes, there will be no stopping.
This post isabout GURU. To me, one of the deadliest battle emcees there will ever be. One of the most conscious. One that shaped my way of thinking. Made me dig deeper into the hip hop culture, trace its roots. Come to accept Jazz and have respect for the genre too. I could write on and on but I will keep it brief. I just want to share a post from this blog
Here we go
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Boston-born Keith Elam, who rose to fame as Guru, founder of the rap group Gang Starr and a person who sought to merge rap and jazz, died earlier this week. His brother, Harry, a distinguished professor of drama at Stanford, has written this remembrance).
“Positivity, that’s how I’m livin..” So goes the lyric from my brother’s early hip-hop song, “Positivity.’ My brother Keith Elam, the hip-hop artist known as GURU-Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal-died this week at the too-young age of 48 because of complications from cancer. ‘Positivity’ was what he sought to bring to the music and to his life, and for me that will be a large part of his legacy.
In February of this year, my brother went into a coma, and I traveled across the country from my home in California to see him. At his bedside, I stood and stared at his overly frail frame, his head that he had kept clean-shaven for the last 20 years uncommonly covered with hair, his body connected to a sea of tubes and wires. I listened to the whirl of machines around us and took his hand. As I did, my mind flashed back to now-distant times, so many memories. And I saw us as teenagers at the beach on Cape Cod playing in the water together. And I saw us as boys, driving to school. My brother was five years younger than me, so we attended the same school only for one year — my senior year, his seventh-grade year — at Noble and Greenough School, and I would often drive us both to school. Invariably, I made us late, yet my brother, never as stressed as me, was always impressively calm. At school he endured the jests and teasing from the other boys about being my “little brother.’ I was president of the school and had charted a certain path at Nobles. But my brother found his own creative route at school, as he would throughout his life. His journey was never easy, never direct, but inventive. Through it all he remained fiercely determined with a clear and strong sense of self.
Over the years I had proudly watched my brother perform in a wide variety of contexts. While at Nobles, we had a black theatre troupe known as “the Family.’ In 1973, we put on a play entitled ’’A Medal for Willie,’’ by William Branch, and because he was only in the seventh grade, Keith played only a small role, but even then you could see his flair for performance, his comfort on the stage. At home, our older sister Patricia would teach him the latest dances, and he would execute them with verve as I watched from the sidelines, impressed with his moves, and not without a few twinges of jealousy since I’ve always had two left feet. As a teenager he raced as a speed skater. I do not remember how he became involved in the sport; I only remember traveling with my family to watch his meets in the suburbs of Boston. I do not remember if he won or lost, I do know that he always competed with great ferocity and commitment.
When he announced to me that he was dropping out of graduate school at the Fashion Institute of Technology to pursue a career in rap, I thought he was making a grave mistake and warned him against it. But as always he was determined, and in the end he would succeed beyond perhaps what even he had imagined. Early on in his rap journey, he visited me in Washington., D.C., over a Thanksgiving weekend. I was teaching at the University of Maryland then, and we went to what was perhaps the most dreadful party we had ever attended. As we hastened out the door, I apologized for bringing him to this party. My brother replied “let’s write a rap song about it,’ and we did. The lyrics made us laugh as we collaborated on the rhyme scheme and rode off into the D.C. night. It is one of my fondest memories, this spontaneous brotherly moment of collaboration and play.
Keith’s big break came with Spike Lee’s film ’’Mo’ Better Blues,’’ with his song “A Jazz Thing’ underscoring the credits. I watched that film over and over again just to hear my brother at its end. Soon he was on to creating his first Jazzmatazz album with others to follow, and he became credited for creating a fusion between jazz and hip hop. To be sure, that fusion owes something to our grandfather Edward Clark and Keith’s godfather, George Johnson, who introduced Keith to jazz by playing their favorite albums for him. He credits them both on his first Jazzmatazz. That first Jazzmatazz album featured musical heroes of my youth, Roy Ayers, and Donald Byrd, and here was my brother featuring them on his album. And with this success, came tours. I have seen him perform all over the world, and each time he would give a shout out from the stage to his brother and my wife, Michele. And I was so proud. It sometimes struck me with awe that all these people were there to see my brother. I watched him deal out magic; he was in his element feeling the crowd, and them responding to his groove. This was my baby brother, the kid with whom I once shared a room. The kid whose asthma would cause him to hack and cough and wheeze at night keeping me up. But when I would complain, my parents would send me out of the room. The message was clear: Love your siblings, whatever their frailties. Shorter than me and slighter of build, my brother suffered from asthma and allergies his whole life, but he was always a survivor
Back in 1993, when he played at Stanford University, I was in perhaps my third year as a professor there. As I walked into the auditorium that night, the assembled audience of students looked at me with a new awareness, “that’s the Guru’s brother,’ not that’s Professor Elam, but the Guru’s brother.
And I was, and am, the Guru’s brother. I admired and loved him deeply, my little brother. And I was and am so proud of him, and how he made his dreams reality . And with the outpouring of love that has crowded my e-mail with his passing, I know that he touched so many with his music. My brother cared deeply about family. He raps of my parents in more than one song. They are featured on his video “Ex girl to next girl.’ It was one thing seeing my brother on MTV; it was another seeing my parents. His son K.C. was the joy of his life.
The doctors told me back in February that there was not much chance of my brother recovering from the coma. But my brother has always been a fighter, always been one to overcome surprising adversities, so this seemed just one more. We prayed that he would again prevail. But it was not to be. Still his drive, his spirit, his energy, his positivity will live on, and so will his music. “that’s how I’m livin ’
Harry J. Elam Jr. is the chairman of the drama department at Stanford University and the author of several books, including “The Past as Present in the Drama of August Wilson.’’
Moment of Truth – Gang Starr
Take your time, listen to this track
See you in the next episode. RIP GURU
Do you ever get tired of these lil Wayne, lil Romeo, Lil mama, Young Dro, Young Joc? Tired of their lil rhymes and lame lyrics? The vets, Masta Ace & Edo G rep you in this track called Little Young.
I wount say much about it, just came back from a long long hiatus and need to get off the rust in me.
I am looking forward to do a review of a song by Mwafrika I heard years back. Listening to it the other day, it still relevant and looking to keep D phase II relevant too.
He might not be very known to you. I personally think he is either lazy or opts to lie so low that when an envelope drops, he lies deep down below it. He is Mahatma. The first time I heard of him was around 2003 December he had just done this song called “Pande Zote Mbili” Here is the video.
I came to like this song because at the time it was released, I had just dropped out of college. I had not impregnated anybody’s daughter but with the troubles I was going through at the time, I was dead broke, no job, the jobs that came through were car washing, delivery of heavy Kenya Postel directories that involved walking long distances in hot sun on heavy timbs, then javing in a KBS jioni, there after loosing the small pay I got to either the police or the hood extortionists. I remember hitting on a certain chik and she turned out to be a kiawa’s (Mungiki) chik. You dont want to imagine what I went through for that. Those not in the know, javing was my hood’s sheng for shiki-li-a-ing that chuma in the middle of those KBS buses or a kawaida matatu in an overload situation like you are javelin participant. Hence javing.
Listening to Mahatma, I felt I wasnt the only one going through troubles. We shared shida milioni. But it never stopped me. Some of my problems back then may have been sorted out now, but this didnt stoping me loving the song. I hope some of Mahatma’s problems were ironed out too.
The next time I heard of him, he was in a track with Nonini (few months before he left Calif) and Jua Cali. This time the song was Labda, Si Wageni, Mtu Saba. The collabo is a whole post all together. You might not have heard it but it was a deadly hit to those who have followed Jua Cali & Nonini’s career. He also provided some mumbles to the hit song Keroro by Nonini. Mahatma then did the chorus for Jua Cali on the song Bidii Yangu. “Nataka tu heshima yako, nataka tu furaha yakoo…….” Thats all I have heard from Mahatma. Three songs in the last 5 years. May be Calif Records has more from him, but thats all I know and judging from this, I feel him and I rate him highly. Hope he wakes up from his deep slumber.
What measures a timeless? What makes a song relevant 5, 10, 30, 33 years later? What makes a song a classic?
It is 1998, a Saturday evening. I was listening to a Metro FM show that ran between 5 – 7pm as I did my laundry and the presenter says this is a new track from the already famous Kalamashaka. Being a big fan for their biggest hit, Tafsiri Hii and because I identified with the message they put across, I was going to pay attention to this one.
2008. Am in the office on a slow Saturday, and in my play list is the Ni Wakati album by the same group. Some somber piano keys, followed by drum kicks as Oteraw aka Rawbar spits the first verse amid Large Professor like scratches fused with a flute and strings announce the track ‘Niokowe’ and I stop everything else to listen to this timeless rap.
Subject: Ranges from stealing from public coffers, tribal wars, peace, unity, poverty, oppressive government, assassinations, joblessness and its harsh realities, the aftermath of unrests and heartless leadership.
The first verse, Rawbar (a KU graduate) talks of being educated and is without a job. His MP has vanished and will reappear at the onset of the next election. 1998 was just after the 97 elections. How many of our MPs play Keyser Soze on us today? Kamaa contemplates being a thug as a result of being idle and jobless. But he is afraid of the harsher realities of uncooked ugali at Indaaz Remand prison. The torture he might have to endure. Picture Kamiti Prison? He tells us of a friend who lies six feet under in Langata after being shot with a live bullet during a street protest. Those who remember the street demos of 97 & 98 led by today’s Land’s Minister Orengo will identify with Kamaa’s line of thought.
The chorus, which is also the hook is done by Vigeti aka Johnie is easy to go with and is a prayer that resonates with the listener.
“Mungu wangu niokowe,
Tabu uzitoe, roho yangu nayo ipoe,
Mungu wangu niokowe,
Rawbar comes again and this time talks of those bright students who can’t afford school fees, those who can’t have a meal because there is no peace as our leaders who have no heart trot the globe. Think of IDPs. He also mentions Mobuto Seseko who still dies after grabbing Zaire’s (Renamed DRC in 97) wealth and today; DRC still undergoing the same violence they suffered in the 90s. Johnie with probably the most skillful flow, starts with how a policeman shoots his friend and nonchalantly declares it looks like their victim has surrendered. This reminds me of the protester shot in Kisumu by an officer for doing a monkey dance infront of him during the post election violence. He then goes on amid loud gun shots,
“Kumi na tisa kwenye dinga, Ati ajali!
sisi si wajinga,Kwani chali mweusi ye-hawezi drive gari kali,
nani ataniambia mahali, okuo vice versa yuko?”
10 years later, even after a commission was formed to solve the murder of Ouko, we still don’t know those behind his killing.
Then Kamaa ruminates,
“hebu fikiria, amani bila maisha ama maisha bila amani,
amani bila maisha, nadhani haiwezekani,
na binadamu wanaweza, ishi bila kukosana,
sidhani, hata ukikazana,
cheki Njoro, Molo, hii sorrow,
watoto wamebaki bila wazazi,
Wee huoni hata Likoni, system ya wakoloni watumia,
Divide and rule imeingia”
Johnie then ponders why tribes are so separate like oil and water, as if we are not humans, like we are not Adam’s offspring; we have refused to share a piece of bread and we are shamelessly drowning in greed for grabbed riches as our children who are the future watch. The last verse ends as he challenges you the listener to stand up against the status quo and join the ‘a million man match’ for change. The song ends with the three doing the hook together in a rhythmic fashion with timely chants ‘ahh ahh’.
Listening to this song you notice how they apply a complex internal rhyming style in their verses. A style only used by experienced and clever rappers like Rakim, Nas, GZA to mention a few. Their flow is without notable flaw. At some point you think they are about to loose their breath but it is what enhances the song’s rhythm. Like Tafsiri, its sets the standards of how to flow, how to rhyme, and 10 years after, few of todays pretend rappers can match them. The production actuates the rappers fittingly. It puts some loose productions we hear today to shame considering the standards are higher now or so we think.
What is mystifying is that the message in this song still stands after all these years.
To me this is the measure of a timeless, the distinctness. The make of a classic. 10 years seem such a long time, but we might woefully be addressing same issues 2018. Hope not.
It just hit me that it’s been three years since we lost a man we have chosen to forget. A pioneer, a legend, a fighter, a talent lost. It also marks a decade since his earliest music was on constant rotation in the then two FM stations. Poxi Presha.The man who paved way for dholuo rap. The man who remixed the 70s acoustic benga hit, ‘Lunch Time’ by Gabby Omollo & Omondi Jassor fusing it with a rap. I am surprised there was no mention of his name all October!
The media, at Poxi’s career heights chose to ignore his positive side and went for his jugular because of his run in with producers, music pirates and promoters. We all know what those who started the current phenomenal in the 90s went through. There was little if any pay in music and the few heads (producers & promoters, FMs) around that the time swindled the likes of K-Shaka, Mashifta, In2, Poxi, Majizee, Gidigidi Majimaji, King Kong, Darling P, and many other artist known and unknown.
Lately, the Music Copyright Society has been collecting royalties on behalf of artists. It must be a huge relief for all of them to see that they going to get paid for their work. Poxi fought hard battles in the streets and in courts to see this happen. Poxi stopped doing music to first concentrate on this fight. He was not to rest until some justice was done. It’s unfortunate he didn’t live long enough to see the fruits of his struggle. Reads like the death of Garang in similarity right?
I wish those who were there in the beginning of Kenyan Hip Hop would have done a tribute to Poxi like the Ogopa camp has always done for their stable mate E-Sir. As a matter of fact, I feel all artists should come together and do a tribute for the man who never lived to see them get paid for their works. It’s through his ‘presha’ that you are getting paid. Or is this a case of the proverbial ‘a prophet is not accepted in his home town’? Nonini however gets some credit for his contribution (to royalty payments) and his tribute to Poxi for his song ‘Ngoma Yako’.
As we listen and watch to the good and the idiotic music on radio and TV, let us not forget this man. For the artists out there, spare a thought. Where you could be without the little you are getting from MCSK? Spare a thought for Poxi. My tribute, anybody out there with any of his music, I am ready to pay for it.