Down memory lane with Swahili Nation

Saturday March 23 2024

L-R: The members of Swahili Nation Ken Kayongo, seated is Dru (formerly Andrew Muturi), and Charlie ‘King’ Todwong. PHOTO | POOL


Music group Swahili Nation, who rocked the African nightclubs and airwaves in the 1990s and early 2000s, are back, promising to drop a number of their unreleased songs.

Their singles Hakuna Matata (Mpenzi), Malaika, and Nyama were sensational among fans of their Swahili R&B and hip-hop music.

The trio, Kenyan Dru (Andrew Muturi), and Ugandans Ken Kayongo and Charlie ‘King’ Todwong (producer, writer and lead vocalist), are also known for Song for You, One Hundred, Swahili Nation, Loco, and Pole which they did with Joseph Mayanja aka Jose Chameleone.

Nasty Booty Backs was Swahili Nation’s very first single released in 1993, then Hakuna Matata was released in 1997 off the album Back to the Motherland.

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“We’ve been dormant, but we have a lot of unreleased songs,” Dru said. “We just need to get out of our busy schedules and put something out. One thing not to do is count Swahili Nation out.”


The group was started in the 1990s by Kenyan brothers Andrew and Robert Muturi and Tanzania's Cool James Mutoto Wa Dandu. In 1992, after Cool James went solo, Ugandans Kayongo and Todwong, and singer Wayne ‘Tatz’ Beckford from London, joined.

The group owns a production company in Sweden.

Nigerian Dr Alban signed them with his Sweden-based Dr Records in 1996 and they produced the singles Nyama,”Malaika, and “Hakuna Matata, for which they received a nomination to Channel O Music Awards in South Africa in 2003.

Through the popularity of Hakuna Matata in East Africa, Swahili Nation had a big influence on the use of Kiswahili in R&B and hip-hop.
Hakuna Matata is one of the biggest R&B hits ever out of East Africa. It had 182,568 views on YouTube by March 15, 2024.

Isaac Ruccibigango aka Rucci, a member of the award-winning Ugandan 1990s funky Afro-gospel group Limit X, said nostalgia holds immense power in evoking emotions, memories, and a sense of longing for the past.

“Hakana Matata evokes that," he said.

“I listened to this in a walkman way back in the '90s. I remember rewinding this song up to ten times using a pen. Great music from Kenya,” Jane Muza recalls.

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“It (Swahili Nation) came at a time when we needed our own and they spoke to all of us in the diaspora and back a yard,” Rucci says.

“Those songs, especially Mpenzi, were very well-received. I’ve even been introduced as the singer of Mpenzi, showing its broad appeal across generations. Pole was also well received, demonstrating Swahili Nation’s knack for collaboration with East Africa’s leading artist, Chameleone. Overall, Swahili Nation’s music continues to be appreciated and remains popular today,” Kayongo said.

“When Mpenzi was released, it was the most played song on radio and clubs back then. Today, if you sing the chorus, people will sing along,” Dru added.

Writing Mpenzi was like putting together a perfect jigsaw puzzle, Dru said.

"Ken and I did the writing, while Charlie King did the production."

The group performed in Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa in the 1990s.

After their group split later in the mid-2000s, the Ugandans returned home, and were later joined by Dru in order to revive their music career.

“In 2014, upon arriving in Uganda, I revitalized Swahili Nation. Discovering that Charlie King had already returned home, and with Dru Muturi situated in Kenya, it was straightforward to reunite the team. I assumed the primary role within the group, serving as the lead songwriter and negotiator,” Kayongo said.

“The revival button is always on active. We sometimes get together whenever time allows. My role is mostly song writing and singing,” Dru says.

“Incredibly versatile,” Charlie King said when asked to describe the current state of the music industry in Africa. “With more winners going to be born into the success of the current leaders of every genre of African music.”