Former Sweden-based East African band Swahili Nation stole the limelight at the eleventh edition of the Blankets and Wine festival in Kampala with memorable hits that earned them international fame in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Swahili Nation, Ugandan guitarist Myko Ouma, and The Kansoul from Kenya were the headline acts at the event held on December 13 at the Uganda Museum in Kampala.
Swahili Nation comprising Kenyan Andrew Muturi, and his Ugandan counterparts Ken Kayongo and Charlie “King” Todwong, took their fans down memory lane with renditions of the 1990s R&B/soul hits like Freak Me by the American R&B group Silk and Bump N’ Grind by R. Kelly, among others.
They also performed Song for You, One Hundred, Malaika, Nyama, Swahili Nation, Pole with Jose Chameleon and their new song Loco. The trio ended with their smash hit Hakuna Matata, much to their fans’ delight.
The group was founded in the 1990s by Kenyan brothers Andrew Muturi and Robert Muturi and the late Tanzanian musician Cool James. In 1992, after Cool James went solo, the group was joined by Ugandans Kayongo and Todwong, and singer Wayne Beckford from London.
Nigerian born Dr Alban signed them up with his Sweden-based Dr. Records in 1996. They produced the singles Nyama, Malaika, and Hakuna Matata (released in 1996), 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 Swahili in R&B and hip-hop. Hakuna Matata, which is one of the biggest R&B hits out of East Africa, exposed the region’s R&B to the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, they have not achieved the same success with their subsequent albums and singles since Hakuna Matata.
After the group split up in the mid-2000s, the two Ugandans returned home, and were later joined by Andrew Muturi and are now trying to revive their music careers.
Ouma played Aluru, Aye, Radio and Weasel’s Kuku, Homemade, Ojuelegba and Juicy Juicy, accompanied by his guitar. Referred to as Uganda’s Carlos Santana, Ouma was born in a musical family. His father and brothers play the guitar too. Along the way, he started out learning how to play the bass guitar, then drums, keyboard and the trumpet.
He studied music at Makerere College School, and was introduced to Ugandan traditional musical instruments like endongo, amadinda, akogo, ndingidi, Adungu and drums. He later adopted the guitar as his main instrument.
Proficient on a variety of distinctive traditional instruments, Ouma’s musical vision is to integrate Ugandan folk music and jazz. As a guitarist, he has developed a unique playing style informed by the traditional rhythms and melodies of Ugandan roots music. He is now a major figure in jazz and contemporary world music from Uganda, and his sounds have been likened to those of Victor Wooten and Richard Bona.
The show was also graced by Kenyan Genge hit makers The Kansoul comprising Madtraxx, Mejja and Kid Kora who kicked off their performance with Turn Around, followed by Skamaress and Bongo’La biashara. They also played Boda Boda, Dabotap, Go Down, Landlord, Niko Poa and Jana Kulienda’aje. They wrapped up their maiden performance in Uganda with their Nyongwa hit.
The Blankets and Wines Kampala edition is becoming very popular with both musicians and music lovers for its variety of musicians. The curtain raisers were all up-and-coming artistes — Kenneth Mugabi, the winner of the Blankets and Wine auditions, Jackie Akello, the second runner-up, Levixone and Congolese born Rogartien.
Accompanied by the saxophonist Happy K, Mugabi the guitarist and Afrosoul man, performed Nambi, Kibun’omu and Mumuleete.
Akello, a contemporary African and urban music performer who sings predominantly in Acholi, performed hit singles Afoyo, Amaru and Samanya featuring Levixone.
Rogartien played a rendition of Papa Wemba’s Show Me the Way.