Remnants of the last recording sessions made by one of the most influential Kenyan musicians have been reworked and released as a new posthumous double album.
“Omera” is the title of the album featuring sessions that singer and musician Ayub Ogada recorded for his last album in collaboration with his longtime producer, the British guitarist Trevor Warren.
In 2012, Ayub invited Warren to Kenya to record songs for the album “Kodhi” in improvised studios set up at the African Heritage House, overlooking the Nairobi National Park and at a campsite next to Lake Naivasha.
In his later years, Ayub, whose principal instrument was the nyatiti, the 8-stringed traditional lyre, had made a vow to only record in open-air spaces, away from the confines of a conventional studio. “Kodhi”, released in 2015 was the last album he made during his lifetime.
Ayub died in January 2019 at the age of 63 but his legacy is such that his songs, notably the haunting folk song “Kothbiro” still stir powerful emotions whenever played.
The song has been widely used in soundtracks of TV shows and films like the 2006 “Constant Gardener” and events like the 2016 Rio Olympics Opening Ceremony.
Ayub and his former Black Savage bandmate Mbarak Achieng’ received songwriting credits when “Kothbiro” was sampled by the American rapper Kanye West on the song “Yikes” from the 2018 album “Ye”.
Shortly after Ayub’s death, his close associate, singer, guitarist, composer, Isaac Gem who had been the engineer during the recording of “Kodhi” proposed the idea of a tribute album, using some of the sessions from the recording of “Kodhi”.
The musicians had spent two weeks in Nairobi and Naivasha recording almost 60 different musical ideas for the album, some of which didn’t make the final cut. When Warren listened back to these recordings, he discovered many tracks that were worthy of reworking.
Among these included a live version of Ayub’s best-known hit “Kothbiro” recorded during, as Warren recalls, a random performance for some dignitaries who were having lunch at the African Heritage House of the late Alan Donovan.
Donovan whose association with Ayub started in the late 1970s when together they formed the African Heritage Band, had allowed the musicians to record all the instrumental tracks in his open-air pool house.
Unbeknownst to them, Isaac had pressed the record button as this little performance took place. It is breathtaking to hear Ayub’s baritone in this version of his signature song as the nyatiti locks in perfect harmony with Warren’s Spanish guitar.
“Mbira” was one of the first recordings during the “Kodhi” sessions with Ayub playing solo, but was not released on the album. Warren added various percussions like shakers, bells, and shekere with additional vocals from Gem to make the piece complete for this project.
“We Are Just Waiting” is a reworking of the original song ‘Waritarita” about a long-awaited homecoming, with different vocal takes, and percussions from Ayub and guest vocals by Sean Ross, the Executive Director of the Rift Valley Festival who had hosted the musicians during the recording of “Kodhi” at the Fisherman’s Camp in Naivasha.
Ayub sings about the “bellyful who burnt our granaries” in an alternative take on “Dero” called “Granary” while ‘Seed is an instrumental version of the track “Kodhi” which was originally recorded against the backdrop of trees being cut down as a warning against environmental destruction.
The track ‘45” was gleaned off the original sessions and completed for the album with overdubbing, with a guest appearance by the Scottish trumpeter Toby Shippey of the multinational band Salsa Celtica.
Other songs are what Warren calls ‘lovely little discoveries’ from the “Kodhi” sessions like the instrumental pieces “Tamuru”, “It’s Raining” and “Mountains of the Moon” that had been shelved till the making of this collection.
Warren also used some of the earlier recordings such as in the title track “Omera” and the infectious ‘Ali Farka Toure” utilising material that Ayub had recorded with the acclaimed UK jazz bassist Dill Katz in London in 2006.
The second disc contains re-imaginings of some of the songs by Ayub created by Warren and some of the musicians who knew and admired him, such as composer and pianist Bernard O’Neill, producer and guitarist the late Count Dubulah with a club remix of ‘Kodhi” and Oren Kaplan who works out a fusion of Ayub’s traditional style with a funky electronic groove.
The album is also a tribute to the renowned Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy, who played on the “Kodhi” album and passed away in September 2019. “Omera” is a powerful reminder of the exceptional talent and charisma of Ayub Ogada, and why his legacy ranks amongst Africa’s finest musicians.
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