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Maroon Commandos were pioneers, authentic musical stars

BORN CITY
By Ainea Bolingo | November 6th 2021

When I was young, my friends and I admired the armed forces, especially the army. I used to march in the house and imitate the army marching on TV during public events. I used also to enjoy the army band that used to conduct a parade for the then-president during national days. 

My sister and I were schooling at Khalsa Primary School, the one in town. It meant that we had to wake up early and prepare for the trip to town. One song that my parents and my auntie Sarah used to sing to us or quote for us was “Uvivu”, which talked of laziness as the biggest hindrance to the development of a nation. It then encouraged government workers to wake up and go to work.

Students would also wake up and go to school. By coincidence, the song was a hit at the time and was even sung by an army band. The band, like other bands of that era, sang songs that had meaning and relevance to day-to-day life. Apart from the song, the band also sang other songs like Charonyi ni Wasi and Sitaki Uniambie (which was about a man pleading with a woman not to leave him. He poured his heart out. I think Sitaki was one of the best love songs that we associated with, as the words were cool and not vulgar. Other songs by the band included Christina, Riziki Haivutwi na kamba, Bi Sophia, Wazazi Wako Wamenikataa and many others.

The band, known as the Maroon Commandos, is celebrating its 50 years of existence. That means it is oldest in the East Africa region and is also older than DDC Milimani Park from Tanzania and Afrigo Band of Uganda.

Basically, the band was in existence before some of us were born but because of its music style we came to appreciate and love it. The first time I attended their concert was when I was in college with Caesar Barare, a good friend of mine who understood good music. I think we had gone to look for affordable alcohol at the army barracks when they were performing. Those days, we used to enjoy the use of instruments especially the trumpet and saxophone, which are rarely used today. Those two instruments are the ones that also made some of us love songs from TPOK Jazz.

 A short history of the band is that they were first based in Gilgil Barracks where the 7KR is located before relocating to Lang’ata Barracks. The man behind the formation of the band was by Lt Col J M Wambua, who wanted to form a music band within his unit as a way of improving the performance of the drum Platoon.

The band was then boosted by Captain Muchemi who met the young band members at Bamboo Executive nightclub along River Road in Nairobi. The band members were Habel Kifoto, David Kibe, Juma Kizito, Ibrahim Ringo, Shem Shisia and Tony Sobayeni.

Another thing that makes me attached to the band is because its members grew up in the same area as my parents in Kenya Railways quarters in Kaloleni (Ololo) Shauri Moyo (Shauri) and Makongeni (Okongo). The members were recruited into the army and graduated after a  rigorous nine months of training in Gilgil. Then the band was properly formed in 1970 and recognised officially. In 1971, they recorded the song, Emily at PolyGram Studios and it became an instant hit. This put them at the same level as Jamhuri Jazz Band and Morogoro Band, which was considered the best in the region.

 Apart from losing some members, the band still performs live music in several joints and I would like to encourage the youth to take time and go to listen to them. They will realise what they are missing. The band usually performs during national celebrations across the country. Recently, they released a new song, Corona in rhumba and reggae versions.

Their music is still authentic as they use most of the music instruments.

Happy 50th anniversary Maroon Commandos and thanks for keeping us entertained for half a century.

 

 [email protected]; @AineaOjiambo

 

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