Kenya 1950s -- George Mukabi and Kikuyu Classics

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These are home-made CDs of African music which unfortunately is otherwise unavailable. For more information, visit the main African music page or the Congolese CDs page. I also have various other CDs available, such as a collection of work by the Bahamian Blind Blake and three blues anthologies: Ida Cox, Leroy Carr, and Pop Blues.


George Mukabi was probably the finest Kenyan fingerstyle player of the 1950s. His playing is somewhat similar to that of the Congolese greats, but with a distinct local flavor. According to John Low's"History of Kenyan Guitar Music: 1945-1980" (African Music, 1982, 6(2), 17-36), Mukabi was of the Kissa people, and apparently created what became the popular "sukuti" of "Kakamega" guitar style in the early 1950s. He had heard records of the "Nyasa" Malawian bands and set out to play similar music in a fingerpicking style. His playing was massively popular and influential, affecting urban players like John Mwale (several of whose recordings fill out this CD).

These recordings are from cassettes that were still available in Nairobi in 1990, essentially as "golden oldies" packages. The recording quality is generally quite good, and the music is superb. It is bizarre that none of Mukabi's material has been released outside Kenya, as he is one of the greatest of the African acoustic players. No one who loves intricate fingerpicking should be unaware of his work. There is a swing and humor to his singing, and an inventiveness to his accompaniments that makes him well worth an entire album. To buy this CD, go here.

1. Kweli Ndugu
2. Sengula Nakupenda
3. Ruben Achieng
4. Asante Kwa Wazazi
5. Kusema Wongo
6. Kuowa Tuna Owa
7. Omulanga Wamuka
8. Kunywa Kidongo
9. Tuli Saliwa Vijana Tano
10. Bibi Mama Ngani Mzuri
11. Furaha Wenye Gita
12. A.G.S. Rekodi Africa
13. Bibi Mzuri Nyumbani
14. Sisi Na Malenya
15. Kusifu Bibi
16. Ya-Leo Mkumbuke
17. Nilizaliwa Kisa
18. Uende Kwa Masomo
19. Mystery track
20. Ayuma
21. Kilimanjaro (John Ondolo)
22. Namliya Susanna (John Mwale)
23. mystery track (John Mwale)
24. Mtoto Analia (John Mwale)


This CD combines two extremely varied cassettes of Kikuyu music sold in Nairobi in 1990. The music ranges from the wonderful Jimmie Rodgers yodeling of Sammy Ngako (the only performer I could identify by name) to a cappella choruses and accordion numbers. Many of the songs show a clear debt to American country and western, in one case even including a fiddle intro. Others are obviously based on traditional local rhythms, and still others reflect combinations of these styles and even a hint of Harry Belafonte-style calypso. There is both fingerstyle and flatpicked guitar, and while none of the performers are astounding virtuosos, there is a startling variety of approaches to the instrument. As for the accordion, it sometimes suggests a relationship to zydeco, though that is clearly a matter of shared roots rather than direct interaction. The a cappella pieces sound quite traditional, and include two by a wonderful female singer with responses by a backing chorus. There are also two electric numbers, including one that uses the tune of the old English children's song "The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night." All in all, while the sound is sometimes muddy, it is well worth it for the startling mix of music. Much like American "hillbilly" or country music, this collection reflects a rural population that loved its traditional styles but also sought to blend them with the new sounds arriving on the phonograph and radion, and the breadth of styles reflects the broad tastes of the Kikuyu audience of the time. To buy this CD, go here.

1. Gwitu Ni Riabai (Sammy Ngako, yodeling cowboy)
2. Wakariru (female a cappella group)
3. Unnamed track (duo w/ fingerstyle guitar)
4. Makuogo Taratibu (vocal w/ accordion)
Mwendwa Taririkana (cowboy duo w/ guitar)
6. Bururi Wagi-Ire Na Kieha (duo w/ guitars)
7. Wangugo-i-Wanjeri (group w/ ululating)
Nonii Wa Mu-Mwe (cowboy singer w/ guitar, fiddle)
9. Mayai (duo w/ accordion, percussion)
10. Muthoni Coka Thika (duo w/ electric guitars)
11. Rosana (Sammy Ngako, yodeling cowboy w/ guitar)
12. Kanyina Uri Waiguru (duo w/ guitar)
13. Nguirigira Ngaruthi (female a cappella group, ululating)
14. Mugocwo Uri Toro (duo w/ guitar)
15. Wa-Muhiki Nyenda-Ngiona (singer w/accordion)
16. Chege Wa Kiawa (duo w/ guitar)
17. Unnamed track (duo w/ guitar)
18. Wang’ombe Wa Mugweru (duo w/ accordion)
19. Mbariki Ikihia (call-and-response group)
20. Unnamed track (vocal duo w/ guitar)
21. Ndina Kuruma (vocal w/ guitar)
22. Ndihingaga Ikumbi (female a cappella group, ululating)
23. Muiritu Wa Ngirigacha (duo w/ guitar)
24. Macindano Ma Mwomboko (duo w/ accordion)
25. Umuthi Ni Gikeno (duo w/ electric guitars