Saturday, 17 January 2015


 “His music makes you feel pure joy,” the English lady reflects with sparkling teeth and a smile bright enough to light the semi darkness of Rich Mix, East London. This beautiful club always showcases excellent music from across the globe.... As we speak, couples and singles are close to the stage, gyrating hips and clapping. Men and women dancing further left are trying a Maasai jump, recreation. Minutes later, everyone is waving and dancing and swinging to the Mandela dance, yet another Saidi Kanda creation. Young and old cheer ecstatically while filming on their phones.  Electric atmosphere. That English dame with a sparkle was right. Africa is not just misery, guns and Ebola...
Saidi Kanda, Tanzanian musician, is on fire. 

Saidi Jumanne Kanda  (with Swahili singer, Fab Moses) in action last Sunday, at  Rich Mix.

The effect of his art is plainly obvious on this buzzing audience.  Kanda is promoting his new album, “Ambush,” which he describes as “original concoction of Tanzanian village roots, urban rumba and Afro- Caribbean influences, blending traditional and modern instruments.” Expensive. At least 10, 000 pounds, Saidi confirms to me. Produced, independently, by British musician Edward Shearer, in 2013. 
Born in the historic Bagamoyo in 1962, Saidi Jumanne Kanda and his international five piece band (Mvula Mandondo) are toxic and exotic. Each musician has a distinct style and nickname.   Smooth, Congolese drummer, experienced maestro, Jean “Webbs” Claude Mulamba is a Hollywood actor Samuel Jackson, look alike. Bassist  Tom “Power Supply” from Scotland, two guitarists, King and Luke ...fellow Tanzanian,  acrobat and  singer, Fab Moses , (sometimes compared to late Shaaban Marijani for his sweet melodies), infuse  a combination of memorable, chants, choruses and stage moves. 
See the action HERE

Swahili singer Fab Moses...-pic by F. Macha
 Unfortunately in the audience, I am the only Tanzanian, following the Swahili lyrics. That makes no difference, nevertheless.  To the cheering punters; like Ubwabwa rice, Kanda’s tunes dish out a happy vibe not seen for decades from overseas Tanzanian musicians.
“Mandondo”, a bubbly Saidi Kanda later, explains, “is beans in Zaramo, so Mvula Mandondo means, when rains fall, beans spring up!”
 Back in 2001, Kanda played Congas (called Tumbas, in Swahili) in my single Kilimanjaro, currently on You Tube. Watch and hear Kanda's input here . So as a musician, I have experienced working with the Ndengereko- Manyema genius. For example Saidi would come 20 minutes before the agreed time. No breathless excuses of late buses and traffic jams.  No booze, no drugs, either. Disciplined guy.
Saidi Kanda with Grace Jones and team in 2014...- pic courtesy of S. Kanda
 Based in the sea town, Brighton, Saidi Kanda’s qualities maybe divided into four elements. Number one.  He has performed (and continues to perform) with top class musicians. In September he was in the USA where he contributed to forthcoming album of eccentric, Jamaican star, Grace Jones. While working with UK jazz saxophonist, Alan Skidmore, he briefly met Quincy Jones. Yes, the legendary producer of Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall”, “Thriller” and “Bad” in 1980s. He has also gigged with many African stars including Kofi Olomide and Papa Wemba.
In his younger days, Kanda worked and toured with the late legend, Remmy Ongala, since 1983. Listen to Ongala's Nasikitika    you will hear Saidi’s unique percussion sound.
The late Remmy Ongala who died in 2010,  in his hey days. Pic from Jack Vartoogian / Front Row Photos

Multi skilled and talented,  Saidi makes all the instruments he plays e.g. Zeze, Marimba, Edungu (A Kuriya fiddle dating back hundreds of years), Chirimba and guitars,  to cite a few.  In 1989 WOMAD, awarded him world percussionist of the year. “The prize was shared with Remmy Ongala’s Matimila Band while touring in France,” he recalls.
 Music aside, Kanda is an electrician and house builder. Months ago, I was shocked to find him in dusty overalls and heavy boots, re constructing a three floor house on his own, somewhere in London. Grinning in his characteristic manner, Saidi seemed to find that normal.
 The fourth element is his lyricism. The man’s straightforward language is packed with irony and humour. Track no 5, Bwana Gani:
“Hii ni nyimbo ya wale vibaka wanaopenda shemeji zao.
Wanakuwa kama paka shume...”
 Lament of a wife and a tomcat husband. “He likes to eat everything!”  The CD’s sleeve translates.
Fourth track, “Kilongolo” vibrates across the Rich Mix concert bringing memories of Marquis Du Zaire, Remmy Ongala, Kiko Kids, but not just them. This is Saidi’s voice. He confesses, influences from his legendary grandmother, Binti Mwamvita, a brilliant, popular singer “long time ago in Bagamoyo.”
Names of the songs are catchy. Mwajuma Mambo (track 3), a typical African story. Mwajuma uses Juju against someone, but the evil deed backfires.
Mwajuma, kinyamkera. Mwajuma acha uchawi...”
The guitar twiddling drags in John Ondolo and Luambo Makiadi while rhythms and singing rekindle, Hukwe Zawose, Msondo Ngoma and Mzee Moris Nyunyusa. East and Central African music history. Saidi is very musically conscious.  Tsunami (track 7) comments on the Sarajevo war “God what have we done to deserve this?” while, Jollof Rice is a tribute to Nigerian and West African cooking.
Sales of the CD are available on I -tunes, Amazon, Live streaming. Phone +44-7404-066607.
In the past the Bagamoyo and Brighton man has released: Sukari Tamu (2004), Rumba (2001), and Mwali (1996); however, Ambush, is his sparkling masterpiece.

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