The Kenyan king of twist is still in people’s minds but he died a poor man

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Kabaka's son only house
Kabaka's son only house

I am listening to the leading station and most listened to in Western Kenya and the North Rift, West FM, on air is one of the hit songs played by the African twist king Daudi Kabaka.

Something comes in my mind that the legend is no more but from where I am people are really applauding the music.

As a mirror of the society I decided I should do something and find out on their behalf, who Kabaka was in the field of music or rather just reward them by profiling this legend whose music is unforgettable.

I set off the next morning , catch up with a matatu at the stage that will drop me at the junction on Kakamega Kisumu road, from their I entered a vehicle heading to Kapsabet and after  quite a long drive I am at the Cheptulu shopping center of Hamisi constituency.

At Hamisi I negotiate with an Ogada man who offers to take me to Muhudu the home land of the late, off the tarmac road and now to the murram road, we pass by Shibanga sub location and after like a kilometer we enter a terrain you will never want to use but am focused.

For about 5 kilometers my boda pilot as he calls himself shows me a home of only one house and a big un-dug field, as a gentleman who appreciates Kabaka my namesake and his music am indeed surprised like many of you will in a second.

The only house belongs to Kabaka’s son Reuben Abwonyo who is not here though but in Nairobi, I wanted to know inside me and asked myself, where is his house, and the gentleman who takes care of this home comes and tells me that his master, Kabaka’s son pulled down the small structure that was there some years ago.

He goes further and tells me that Kabaka had no house here and that structure was just erected after he died to appear like he had a house of which he hadn’t.

The only thing seen here is hard red soil that has now been converted into farmland ready to be planted.

On the other side of the house lies three tombs of which one that is poorly cemented with fading off names belongs to the legend, the African king of twist.

“This is where Daudi Kabaka lies, don’t be surprised because what I am telling is true,” said Samuel Mboyi as I stared at him in disbelief.

At the edge of his land lies part of Kaimosi forest, the ever-green forest and here is where Tiriki boys being converted into men face their knives and stay till they are well.

Now we are at the legends home, no house, nothing to show that he existed and he was indeed a legend but only his grave that will very soon disappear but his music will remain.

So who is rather was Daudi Kabaka,

Welcome aboard!

As one of the musical architects of Kenya’s burgeoning recording industry of the 1960s, Daudi Kabaka, passed away on November 26, 2001, two days short of his 62nd birthday.

Kabaka’s music and lyrics captured the spirit of a newly independent Kenya and chronicled daily life and the changing social environment.

His music would be instantly recognizable to most Kenyans and those in the larger Swahili speaking region within Eastern Africa.

Sadly, very little of Kabaka’s music is known outside of Africa today. However, fans of Kenyan music may actually have some of his work without knowing it.

Throughout the 60s, he was one of the salaried musicians to work at Equator Sound Studio in Nairobi alongside other well-known musicians of the time: Gabriel Omolo, George Agade, David Amunga, Nashil Pichen, Peter Tsotsi, and Charles and Frida Songo, and Fadhili William.

Daudi’s guitar or voice is heard in such hits as Fadhili William’s Malaika, Pole Musa by Peter Tsotsi and Nashil Pichen, Taxi Driver with Fadhili, and Gabriel Omolo’s LunchTime.

For more than a generation, one of Kabaka’s compositions, Harambee Harambee, was played hourly on the Voice of Kenya (now KBC).

It was a signature tune, played at the end of every news broadcast. While the use of Harambee Harambee was undoubtedly a source of pride if not income for Kabaka, he was perhaps even more pleased by his status as “King of Twist.” That is, “twist” in the Chubby Checker sense.

Over the next few years, Kabaka composed a series of songs with references to “twist” in the lyrics and titles, a number of which became big hits throughout East Africa: African Twist, Bachelor Boy Twist, Bush Baby Twist, Taita Twist, etc. For Kabaka and his fans, however, it wasn’t the lyrics or the titles that made it twist.

It was the beat. Daudi based his twist style on the South African Kwela beat. In essence, it was a fast “wemoweh” rhythm.

Yet, each of his songs had something unique or innovative about them. Even his Harambee Harambee is a version of twist.

The melody, however, sounds like the old American chain gang song, Worried Man Blues (popularized by the Kingston Trio as, A Worried Man).

While the strumming rhythm guitar provides the twist beat, the bass is walking up and down the scale on the beat, the tambourine is on the back-beat, and the lead guitar is off doing rockabilly solos.

Another of Kabaka’s twist tunes, Helule Helule, caught the attention of the British pop group, The Tremeloes.

They borrowed the chorus, added some English verses and made it to number 14 in the British charts in May, 1967.

For its use, Kabaka did share a substantial licensing fee with his Equator Sound producer, Charles Worrod, though Daudi questioned why he never received any further royalties.

Twist was certainly not Kabaka’s only style. Kilio Kwetu has the same unplugged sound as African Twist but its beat is more like a rumba.

Although Kabaka’s ancestral home was Tiriki in Western Kenya, he actually spent little of his childhood or adult life there.

He was born in Kyambogo Uganda (near Kampala) in 1939 (and named after Kabaka Daudi Chwa, the Buganda king who died that same year).

By 1950, his father, a railway worker, had been transferred to Nairobi and Daudi came to join him and to enter St. Peter Clevers Primary School.

At the age of twelve, his father found new accommodations for him with some young men who had guitars and a phonograph.

This exposed him to the music of Jean Bosco, Losta Abelo, and Léon Bukasa, among others. It was only two years later, in 1954, that fourteen year old Daudi Kabaka recorded his own composition, Nie Kabaka Naimba, for the CMS label (Capitol Music Stores).

He continued with music and school up to 1957 when he took a job with a hotel and catering company. However, his career as a food and beverage manager was short lived.

In 1959, he began working with Equator Sound Studio and soon became a salaried member of the Equator Sound Boys.

As suggested above, it was a time of close cooperation and collaboration between some of Africa’s most gifted musicians.

While owner/producer Charles Worrod was certainly looking after his interests in registering himself as the composer/arranger of Equator label songs, he also provided a fruitful atmosphere where his salaried staff could experiment, learn, and develop.

In the late 60s, he enrolled six of his core musicians including Daudi in a two-year course at the Conservatory of Music in Nairobi to learn music notation and theory.

That goodwill soon ended however for Daudi when Worrod learned of Daudi’s membership in the PRS (Performing Right Society) in London. He resigned from Equator Sound and, in 1972, with some of his old Equator colleagues; they launched their own production company, African Eagles Recording, Ltd.

The studio band worked under the name African Eagles Lupopo and had a number of successful releases through the mid-70s and tours through Zambia, Malawi, and Uganda.

Following the demise of African Eagles Recording, Ltd, Daudi continued to record, collaborating from time to time with old colleagues and new partners like the Maroon Commandos, though during this period, the big hits eluded him.

The late 80s and early 90s was a period of semi-retirement. In 1993, URTNA (the Union of Radio and Television Networks in Africa) recognized Kabaka’s achievements with an honorary title of “Kenyan Cultural Ambassador.” This was followed in 1995 by Kenyatta University’s Distinguished Service Award.

With his background as a musician and his training from the music conservatory, Kabaka later taught for several years as a Creative Arts instructor at Kenyatta University.

Over the last couple of years, he started performing regularly with other veteran musicians of his generation such as Fadhili William, George Agade, and John Nzenze in Oldies Nite performances.

With the passing of Fadhili and George, Kabaka had brought together a new band of younger musicians he called Wazalendo Eagles Band.

Daudi Kabaka Masika was buried at his home in Muhudu, Tiriki in Western Kenya on December 15th.

His community is like forgetting him but his name and music will forever remain.

The only hope remaining in Kabaka’s home is one tree which I am told is so unique that it never grows anywhere but only where the grass used to thatch houses grow, but here it is in Kabaka ’s home.

Its name is Munanyenzo a tree that is said to have medicinal value and plays a big role in the Tiriki community.

Munanyenzo tree leaves
Munanyenzo tree leaves

It is said to send away bad dreams or demonic nightmares. It is placed under the mattress and if the owner of the bed has been having the so-called “bad and scary demonic dreams” by the time the leaves are placed under the mattress the fellow will never have such dreams again.

I think many might need this by the time they read this story. I carried a branch with me and if you have been encountering the dreams check on me so that we can find out, but the Tiriki community says it works.

Kenyatta University drama and choir club has been known for playing and liking the Kabaka music for a long time and its band entertained the large congregation of mourners, playing Kabaka’s own compositions.

The legend left behind a reported 47 children.