By CAROLINE NYANGA
Pioneer benga artiste Juma Toto, who worked closely with Ochieng’ Kabaselle, has released a solo album.
The eight-track album, Oyundi Ni Se Se, done in Kiswahili and Dholuo, will be out next month.
For awhile, the former Hodi Boys Band member had been missing in action, with some suggesting that he might have quit music due to dwindling fortunes — a claim he denies.
"Music is my life and hence there is no question of me quitting. I want everyone to know that despite the difficulties I have faced I am still in the game," he says. "Music needs proper research, time and patience. Benga musician Laban Juma is back after missing in action for many years and promises to restore lost glory
Benga musician Laban Juma is back after missing in action for many years and promises to restore lost glory
"I feel the quality of local music has gone down. Current musicians should emulate the likes of George Mukasi of Mtoto Si Nguo fame, Ochieng’ Kabaselle, Fadhili Williams, Gabriel Omollo and Daudi Kabaka if they hope to make any impact," he says.
The former leader of Toddy International Band has been working on music projects during his long absence and cites the Kenya Musicians Associations that recently held meetings in Nairobi and Mombasa.
"Mine is to restore the lost glory of original Kenyan music and try to improve the lot of renowned veteran musicians languishing in poverty," he says.
Toto is currently based at Palacina Club in Hurlingham, where he plays the piano for two hours every evening from Tuesday to Friday.
So, has he abandoned Toddy International Band, which he led for 28 years, during which they produced a number of hits albums, including Gor Mahia, Luiza, Sele, Ombaka, Asiya, Alaka and Jaber Rozy? "Not really. I am still very much part of Toddy International… a registered band with The Registrar of Society of Kenya… I only go solo when called upon to play piano in various joints." Toto says things have been rough since foreign musicians and new talent have flooded the scene.
He accuses local promoters of bias.
"The same clique of artistes always performs at certain functions," he says.
He says after struggling for years the group decided to venture into other lucrative careers and performs occasionally when called upon.
"The last show we did was three months ago and many benga fans thronged the venue." The musician, credited for being the brainchild behind Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK), describes working with Kabaselle of Luna Kidi Band as a great experience.
"The fact that he was arrogant made taught me how to handle arrogant personalities."
Toto’s career in music started at the age of 17 while at Orange Intermediate School in Nyanza. It was George Mukasi and his elder brother, Paranaba Oluoch, who inspired him. "I used to steal his guitar and try it out whenever I was free," he says. With time his interest in music grew but the family did not approve of it, saying it was a profession for hooligans.But this did not deter him from following the yearnings of his heart.
In 1965, after sitting the Kenya African Preliminary Exams, he left for Nairobi in search of a band.
"I stole some money from a friend whom I lived with and left without telling anyone," he says.
In Nairobi, he met Peter Shikuku, a bass guitarist who introduced him to his band — then based at New Rwadhia Night club in River Road. Toto played guitar for Sh5 a day.
After two years, he left and joined The Stereo Phonix Band which performed at Small Stereo Club run by former Voice of Kenya radio broadcaster Steven Kikumu (now deceased).
In 1968, he quit and teamed up with Hodi Boys for four years and they were based at Alliance Club, now Bimas. They also performed at Starlight, where the KACC offices are now based. He left Hodi Boys and teamed up with Kabaselle to form Toddy International before the latter formed his Luna Kidi Band.
Juma Toto was born to Paul Benjamin and Trufosa Ochieng’ in Gem, Siaya District.
His first wife Rosemary died and he remarried eight years later. He has two children and a granddaughter. He says his family has been supportive of his music.