With more Kenyan groups now embracing the blending of their local sounds with rhumba beats, the popular Bana Sungusia Band from Kisii County has not been left behind.
As the band marks its 24th anniversary this year, the members will be reflecting on their long journey, during which they have experimented with the fusion of the benga sound and rhumba.
Though most groups from the former Nyanza Province, mainly from the Luo and Gusii communities, in the past appeared to lean more towards the benga sound, Bana Sungusia, from the beginning sought to enrich their offering. They wanted to extend their appeal beyond the lake region.
The legendary Ochieng Kabaselleh, who, with his burly size, had an uncanny resemblance to Congolese maestro Pepe Kalle, was one of the Kenyan musicians who pioneered blending benga and rhumba beats.
It was a feat that would later be emulated by the Limpopo International band leader, vocalist and solo guitarist Musa Juma, who had a string of hit songs in Luo, including the ever-popular “Maselina”.
Others who have followed that trail include the dapper John Junior, Igwe Bandason and Madanji Perimeter. They perfectly mix benga and rhumba, bringing their compositions to almost the same level with the Congolese bands, the only difference being that they sang in the Luo language.
The marked influence of the Congolese style on them can also be seen in their the beats, vocals and dance styles, but also learning the Lingala language. Kabasselleh often flavoured his compositions with some Lingala lyrics.
Speaking recently to the Saturday Nation, Willy Manyisa, the Bana Sungusia band manager, said they planned to release an album to mark the group’s 24th anniversary. Manyisa has seen it all, being the band’s long-serving band manager since 2005.
“It’s due to demand from our fans that we have chosen to release the new album, especially as we prepare to mark our anniversary this year,” he said.
Bana Sungusia, which is led by Joseph Nyakweba (Kwasa Kwasa), currently performs at the Windspark Resort in Kisii town.
From their base, in the hilly agriculturally rich rural town, they occasionally get invitations to perform in Mombasa, Nakuru, Nairobi, Eldoret and Kisumu. The band has also taken its beat overseas, during performance tours of the United States and South Korea.
The band was initially based at Nyamira Hotel and steadily gained popularity following in the footsteps of Gusii music legend Christopher Monyoncho, of the Nyamwari Band, who was so loved for some of his popular songs such as “Emeremo Yamasamba”, “Omoiseke” and “Nyariki Bwoteki”.
Bana Sungusia founding members included Benard Onsongo (now deceased), John Omwega (Makambo), Edwin Momanyi, Siko Gichana, Elias Kingoina and Orecho Misati.
In 2002, the band went through some turbulent waters when some members left, but new members soon joined the group. Those who joined then include Nyakweba, the current band leader, guitarist Job Mayenga and drummer Nicholus Nyakundi.
As Nyakweba pointed out, they are putting finishing touches to their anniversary album to be released later this year, which will highlight milestones in their achievements.
The group’s line-up has also been recently bolstered by the arrival of four new members. They were recruited through a talent search during live shows at various spots across the country.
“We chose to incorporate new members through an open talent search with a view to incorporating up-and-coming talent within the group,” Manyisa said.
In Nairobi, Bana Sungusia have performed at, among other popular spots, the Carnivore Restaurant and Hotel Intercontinental.
The band has released 16 albums, with more than 100 songs to their credit. Their hits include “Lady Nyaboke”, “Nyabeta”, “Mr Sungusia” and “Amasase Na Amachuma”.
Besides performing in clubs, they also get invites to perform at weddings and other public and private functions. Tonight they are due to perform during a sports after party show at the Regina Hotel in Nakuru Town. The show starts at 7pm.
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