The emperor of Mombasa music
Part of an in-work project on musicians from East Africa Part 2
What bands did you play with/ who was the greatest player for each instrument?
Jazz was very popular in Mombasa in the 1960s and I recall jamming with other groups in town, usually African musicians who were into jazz. With the overseas tourist boom here at the coast, jazz sadly took a dive as the musicians got jobs at the beach hotels springing up everywhere, performing a more popular type of music to please the many European clients.
Whenever I went to Nairobi I usually jammed with an excellent jazz group performing at The Ambassador. They were: Olavo Vaz (leader on sax and clarinet), Auggie Alvarez (trumpet), Reggie Dias (string bass), Mario (DeSouza?) (drums) and a Ceylonese pianist/band leader called Cecil. Both Olavo and Auggie were exceptionally gifted jazz musicians and were the star attractions at the Ambassador. It was Olavo’s exciting jazz sax playing that had a great influence on me and got me hooked on jazz. Not long after his stint at the Ambassador, he left for England, got his Masters in Music and made a great name in the UK as a fine jazz saxophonist and a teacher in London. Unfortunately I never managed to make contact with him again during his hey days in London, and I heard he sadly passed away a couple of years ago.
When did you make music your profession?
In 1970, I quit teaching as the invitations from hotels to perform there were too attractive to ignore! I soon became the resident pianist/band leader at the prestigious Oceanic Hotel owned by Aziz Kassim Lakha. I performed both on the grand acoustic piano of the hotel for listening pleasure of diners, and on an electronic keyboard for the dancers. The bassist was Ahmed Jonjo and the drummer was Adam.
Karl Ruedin, the Swiss owner and director of African Safari Club Hotels, had heard of our success and in 1971 my trio (with Joe Nazareth on drums and Ahmed Jonjo on double bass) joined the ASC group, performing at 3 hotels here and at the Watamu Beach Hotel near Malindi. We had hit popularity amongst the locals at the Oceanic, and now with the Swiss tourists.
We were the very first Kenyan band sponsored by the ASC to perform annually on promotional tours in Zurich, Basel, and Berne (Switzerland).
What about the Mvita Grill?
In 1975, at the invitation from Yehuda Paldi, General Manager, I became the resident pianist at the Nyali Beach Hotel managed by Jack and Tubby Block of Norfolk Hotel fame. I performed as solo pianist at the popular Gourmet Grill of the hotel, and in 1981, I brought in Joe and Jonjo who had worked with me at the Oceanic Hotel, and we entertained diners at the newly opened Mvita Grill. The hotel mainly attracted British and European tourists and became one of the most prestigious hotels in Kenya. The hotel often had guest artists from abroad, international singing stars like Peter Brent, Julie Felix, and others. At the same time I joined the Coast Academy as Music Teacher.
In the 1990s, my trio now with Eluid Jorjo (drums) and Jonjo (double bass) (photo attached below) became a big hit and received praises from all the overseas clientele. We also performed the song hits of the famous Louis Armstrong as Jorjo did a superb imitation of Satchmo. We were invited by Lady Groag (owner of the famous Stagecoach company) to perform on New Year’s Eve 1999, the millennium, at her castle in Scotland which we most unfortunately couldn’t oblige as being the millennium we were required to entertain a full house here at the Nyali Beach Hotel.