It is evening in Nakuru, and the hits of the 1970s and 1980s of the once-famous Simba Wanyika Band, which ruled East and Central Africa are still popular in many urban joints.
In their heydays, Simba Wanyika could only be rated in the class of DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.
The hits driving Simba Wanyika fans and revellers crazy include Simba Mwenda Pole, Halleluya and Shilingi Yauwa Tena Maua.
The band was a respected family outfit under two Tanzanian brothers, Wilson and George Peter Kinyonga, who did most of their work in Kenya after its formation in 1971, before the band's disbandment in 1994.
However, Nyatiti and Ohangla music fame of Tony Nyadundo and Onyi Papa Jay are also giving the Kinyongas a fair competition.
“Wanyika hits make us remember the sweet old days and how we cherished their songs in the 70s and 80s,” says Onyango Malala, a reveller at a local club.
“These are the kind of music we adored in the 70s and 80s and we still love them to date,” he says.
Among peers of the two brothers who all have since died are the late Remmy Ongala of Super Matimila and the likes of Cosmas Tobias Chidumule, Joseph Mulenga and Hassan Bichuka, all of DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra.
DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra is remembered for its famous hits Jirani Yangu, Nawashukuru Wazazi, Pesa, Matitizo ya Nyumbani and Majirani Huzima Redio.
Simba Wanyika had many talented musicians who at some point competed among themselves.
The growing ambitions resulted in the group members going separate ways to give birth to Les Wanyika led by rhythm guitarist Omar Shaban and Super Wanyika Stars of lead soloist Issa Juma as the leading Kiswahili bands of the 70s.
This transformation forced George Peter Kinyonga to quit Simba Wanyika in 1980 leaving with experienced musicians to form Orchestra Jobiso.
While still (George Peter) with Orchestra Jobiso, Simba Wanyika changed its name to ‘Simba Wanyika Original’ to prevent confusion with the threats of Les Wanyika and Super Wanyika Stars.
They (Simba Wanyika Original) regained popularity in the mid-1980s and toured Europe in 1989 before it was disbanded in 1994.
Before its disbandment, the guitar-driven sound of Soukous Guitarist Dr Nico, who combined highly melodic rumba with lyrics sung in Swahili inspired Simba’s musicians.
George later rejoined the same group (Simba Wanyika), which by then was led by his brother Wilson (Peter Kinyonga). With his (George) comeback, they produced the popular hit song Shilingi Yauwa Tena Maua, which sold nearly 50,000 legal copies.
“This is a copy that gave us sleepless nights at the time,” said a former DJ now in his late 50s.
Shilingi Yauwa Tena Maua is among the hits sending revellers crazy ahead of this weekend’s Prinsloo Sevens in Nax Vegas.
Wilson and George began their profession in their hometown of Tanga in Tanzania at Jamhuri Jazz Band in 1966 before moving to Arusha in 1970 to form Arusha Jazz with their other brother, William Kinyonga.
During this period, musicians traveled freely between Kenya and Tanzania and the Kenyan industry became heavily ridden with Tanzanian music.
In 1971 they moved to Kenya and formed Simba Wanyika band, which played in nightclubs in Nairobi, developing an enthusiastic following in the mid-70s. Later, they produced Mwongele and Wana Wanyika.
Wilson fronted a rich, guitar-driven sound, blending the spare instrumentation of 70s Rhumba-rock with the gentle rhythms and fullness of older Rhumba, and warm Swahili vocals. They later faced tremendous financial obstacles in Kenya.
The unstable economy made for a tenuous relationship between the government and artistes and made their working permits restrictive and foreign musicians were suffocating.
The band was unchallenged in Kenya due to the closing of the Tanzanian border in 1977, which led to the divergence of Kenyan popular music towards the emerging Benga music.
The Wanyika band’s central leaders Wilson Kinyonga, George Kinyonga, Omar Shaban, Johnny Ngereza and Issa Juma - all hailed from Tanzania.
At the time, Tanzanian Rhumba was already popular and bands received State or corporate sponsorship from Radio Tanzania.
The Kinyonga brothers bucked this trend.
Meanwhile, Simba Wanyika earned burgeoning popularity in Europe.
In 1992, on their 20th anniversary, Simba Wanyika recorded their first CD, Pepea, which served as an international calling card.
Sadly, George Peter Kinyonga died of tuberculosis at 42 before the year (1992) was out but the band continued until Wilson’s death.