Urgent Jumping! East African Musiki wa Dansi Classics is Stern’s latest deep dive into the reservoir of classic East African pop music from the AI Records archives. The two-disc set, compiled by U.K. (and one time Dar es Salaam) -based DJ John Armstrong, provides a fabulous blend of music by Kenyan, Tanzanian and Congolese musicians as heard in East Africa throughout the 1970s and '80s. The collection features several flavors of rumba music interspersed with benga music from western Kenya, but sprinkled throughout with some interesting hybrid sounds that don’t neatly fit either category very well.
From Tanzania, we have rumba dance music from Dar International Orchestra, Vijana Jazz, Urafiki Jazz, Afro 70, and the Congolese group Maquis du Zaire. From Kenya, there are the uptempo benga sounds from Golden Kings, Kauma Boys, Victoria Jazz, Sega Sega and Earthquake, and a broad spectrum of Congolese rumba from Special Liwanza, Super Mambo, Super Jambo, Grand Piza, and Orchestra Moja One. The hybrids and outliers include Sunburst, an Afro-rock group that formed in Tanzania in the early '70s and then recorded in both Kenya and Zambia; Super Mambo’s “Nasalaki Nini,” a rumba number that starts off in classic Congolese form and morphs into a pulsing Kenyan rumba style; Afro 70’s “Cha Umheja” which is in the cyclical style of traditional Gogo music from central Tanzania; and Johnny Bokelo’s Conga Internationale, out of character in doing a seemingly James Brown-inspired funk number, “Nakupenda Sana,” rather than his usual rumba style.
As one might expect from a polished DJ, Armstrong’s sequencing of the two discs is nicely done. The various styles fit together and flow smoothly from one to the next. Some East African music enthusiasts may not be pleased that Urgent Jumping! includes eight songs (of 27) that are easily available in several other compilations. For most, this shouldn’t be an issue. As for the album notes, Armstrong draws us into the context of this music with some personal anecdotes and provides an overview of the musical setting. The text is not without some minor flaws and typos, however. In his discussion of record producers, he means River Road studios rather than River Boat and for Kenya’s “twist music” originator, he writes John Mwale when he likely means John Nzenze (along with Daudi Kabaka), and the very first song title is misidentified as “Rufaa ya Kiko” when it should be “Rufaa ya Kifo” (an appeal against death as opposed to an appeal of pipes). Finally, in the subtitle to Urgent Jumping!, it should be muziki wa dansi (a Z rather than an S) and the notion of “dance music” bands is largely reserved for rumba music from Tanzania (as opposed to East Africa generally). Despite these quibbles, musically, this is a sweet, delightful album and another welcome addition to the growing body of classic East African music now available to us.
For those who would like to explore issues discussed in the notes in greater detail, I recommend a volume that appears to be the inspiration for a good portion of Armstrong’s notes, an issue of the journal World of Music edited by Frank Gunderson titled “Zili(zo)pendwa: Dance Music and Nostalgia in East Africa.”
Doug Paterson has been following Kenyan and Tanzanian music since the 1970s and has curated more than a dozen East African albums for international release. He hosts the website EastAfricanMusic.com.