The Nairobi Sound with John Storm Roberts


Speaking of African guitar stylings, music compilations, and John Storm Roberts….here’s another noteworthy compilation from his Contemporary African Music Series from the 80’s – the first of the series, I believe. At the time I found this and still today, I know very little about any kind of music from Kenya. No worries! All you need are open ears and an open mind!

The Nairobi Sound celebrates two contrasting, but equally soulful popular 60’s-70’s guitar styles from Nairobi’s bustling streets – “River Road” music referring to an area of town rich in recording facilities and the “dry guitar” or acoustic style reminiscent of the village musician. Storm Roberts, an accomplished journalist, author, and record producer, devoted his life to studying Afro-latin folk music traditions. Here’s what he writes about his experiences in Kenya in the Nairobi Sound liner notes.

…Unlike Ghana’s highlife or the all-pervasive music of Zaire, this was not primarily a dance style. Nairobi’s nights are too cool for the open-air dance halls that nourished so many musicians elsewhere, and Congolese refugees got most of the jobs in the few joints there were.

That left the record companies: store in front, studio in back, tiny loudspeakers outside. The musicians – even the best known – were too poor to own their instruments, but mostly too much musician to hold down other jobs even if other jobs were to be found. So they hung out in the studios, and jammed, and dreamed up songs to reflect the dusty realities of the streets outside….

…There was also an acoustic style mysteriously known as “dry guitar”, that was more rural in origin and practice. Dry guitar – two guitars in its classic format, backed by percussion that usually consisted of two Fanta bottles – was an extension of what you could hear played by a man sitting on a corn sack waiting for a bus on some remote roadside. It tended to be more varied than River Road music, perhaps becasue the singers were closer to their traditional roots, and certainly because they often sang in Kikuyu (Wanjiru Wanjiru) or Luo (Elias Odede), or any one of Kenya’s 40-plus languages, rather than in Swahili…

And now hear are a few tunes from Nairobi Sound that I can’t get enough of, two of which come from unidentified musicians. Check the vocals on Chemirocha, so good!!!

To read more about OG RECORD DIGGER JSR check out this interview he did with the good people at Perfect Sound Forever.

– Smokestack

Thum nyatit solo – Unidentified

Elias Odede – Dick Ngoye & Party

Chemirocha – Unidentified 
Vijana Niambie – Williamu Osale
Safari Kibosho – Humphrey Eshitool

One thought on “The Nairobi Sound with John Storm Roberts

  1. My study with John Chernoff (author of “African Rhythm and African Sensibility”, University of Chicago Press, 1979) way back in the early 70’s, introduced me to this goldmine of rhythmic and melodic beauty. I have been inspired by this music ever since, and quite often find it creeping like a beautiful vine into my thoughts and songs.

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