Best things in life are free. 98% of that statement is true, see in 2009 I had never heard of Rateng’ band. So a ‘free of charge’ sign on their concert cum album launch poster was what bought me in. At the end of the night I got myself the band’s debut album, ‘Thumology’. Little did i know that simply tucking it into my bag was the start of what would become my insatiable love for their music and certainly a voracious one for the band’s then composer and lead vocalist’s music–Winyo.
Over two years later and he still sounds crispy-good. Now an accomplished singer/songwriter and guitarist, Winyo has had successful international tours and recognition as the only Kenyan & two-time finalist in the Radio France Internationale (RFI) Discoveries Music Awards.
‘Benga Blues’ is Winyo’s solo debut–an album oozing a rich display of his love for Benga. Singing in Luo, Swahili and Kikuyu, you will additionally hear loads of the bass guitar fused in acoustic sounds of Taarab, R&B and Jazz. I am lucky to have gotten a sneak copy of the album from Winyo last year. Trust me, it’s great, smooth and relaxing–my mum loves it! I haven’t seen us jointly enjoy an album like this–well since Sauti Sol, Whitney, Billy Ocean and Skeeter Davis. To all those who don’t comprehend much of Luo, chill out. If you can jam to the likes of Diogal and Lokua Kanza, trust me Winyo is right for you.
1. Odongo 3.24
Upbeat and beautiful acoustic opening to the album. This is a confessional song to a beloved called Odongo. Winyo takes the persona of a woman in love with this man to an obsessive extent of always singing songs of him. Even while brewing tea and fetching water by the river.
2. Nakupenda 6.32
Definitely a favourite. The bare mix of shakers, acoustic drums and piano in verse one creates for an alluring intro. This is again a song to a darling saying, “Look inside you, when you realize that I love you–you will love me back.” Some serious mind-fucking-love right there.
3. Gari Teri 7.00 ( The car will take you)
This is real Benga, also a killer cover to Rateng’ Band’s original. All the guitars seem to be outdoing themselves in this one. Love Winyo’s incessant chants, ‘Romna romna baby’ in Luo means ‘receive me baby.’ This is a wise song dedicated to all ladies, single or hitched. It cautions that one day you will get into a car and leave your home to another one–marriage. Never forget that a home must be built under the foundation of respect and humility, even in the face of shortcomings. The song’s two climaxes render it very danceable at a live gig. Saliva would go all ape on this one–hell i would dance and shout to this on top of a roof top!
There is a place called Chula so Nya Chula is a lady who hails from this region. This is a song about Nya Chula, a village woman who could not quench her heart’s thirst for money and dreams of moving to Nairobi. Winyo takes the persona of her husband, he sings cajoling her to relax and sit still right next to him. For if she does their home could make babies. Is Winyo a story-teller or what? Really love the part where he sings, “Ngima mi dwaro ohinga” (I can’t sustain the kind of life you want to live). This song is a caution that if and when two people decide to settle down together, their lifestyle demands should merge into one. The song’s climax has a Lingala beat. I can already picture Wanjeri, Marcus and I seriously getting down to this one on the dance floor!
6. Kimani 4.36
If my Kikuyu didn’t fail me, this is a song about a gentleman called Kimani. It’s a cheer-up song urging Kim to keep his head up despite life’s ups and downs, for there will be a better day. Shall I also award this as the first afro-acoustic fantastic Kikuyu song? Not taking any no’s.
8. Yaona Yoo 6.14 (Open way for me)
This is a very beautiful song–my best in the album actually. Not too sure if it’s the shakers fused in the acoustic guitar and soft drums or Winyo’s butterscotch-voice … Everything in this one just makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. The song is a dedication to the one who got away saying, ‘I can tell you a secret, everything you do even in laze still pleases me so I sing through your way, stupidly hoping that you will let me through’. Deep stuff and a special song to the ones we never got over.
10. Gikalo 5.27 (They will pass)
My mum particularly loves this one, I think because she has witnessed all these kind of dramas in shagz. This song has stories of a typical village. Brothers fighting over land, women undressing in protest in the open—a taboo, mean gossiping and talk. In the song Winyo takes the persona of the society’s mirror that marvels at how friendships can turn into rivalry. Most of us can attest to this and the un-related fact that Winyo is a rock sitting gracefully on the Kenyan contemporary Benga scene.
With 13 tracks ‘Benga Blues’ is an outstanding album worth your money, time and life’s lessons kitty. It teaches on virtues like humility, kindness, patience and temperance.
The album was released in Europe last year. A Kenyan release is expected sometime this year. I will certainly be there tagging alongside mother. For more info visit http://www.ketebulmusic.org
BONUS: Read on Ten Mins With Winyo, a feature I filed for ARISE Magazine. And a throwback track–Ukoo Flani MM feat. Winyo