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The death of gengetone

By Mordecai | November 28th 2019

Gengetone is huge! The danceable beats with very catchy phrases that are repeated over and over again have made the sub-genre so popular with both the young and the old. There is this craze about it that is so inviting, pulling even the reserved king of genge- Jua Cali.

If you think Gengetone is the first music revolution in the 254, you have not been here long enough to know that there was madness called twist. Those of us who are old enough will tell you that the 20th century is known for two things; Twist and HIV.

With Chubby Checker as the inspiration behind this variation of the American rock n roll, the preeminent African musicians of the time developed the African twist that tore villages apart and turned market squares to dancing arenas, seven days a week. At the center of this revolution was a British born studio owner, Charles Warrod.

Charles established Equator Sound Studios in 1960 and had a legendary roster; Daudi Kabaka, Gabriel Omolo, George Agade, David Amunga, Peter Tsotsi, and Charles and Farida Songa. You might be forgiven for not having heard about the others, but it is a capital offense if you have never heard of Daudi Kabaka.

Daudi was wicked on the guitar; few can match him to this very day. Born in Uganda, he was named for Kabaka Daudi Chwa, who was the king of the Baganda people at the time. He later moved to Kenya and enrolled at St. Peter’s Clavers Primary School in Nairobi. He found himself at the Equator Sound Studios at the onset of the twist revolution.

By the late 60s, one could easily buy a gramophone from the Indian Dukkas anywhere in the country. Monster hits like Fadhili Williams Malaika and Daudi Kabaka’s African Twist drove people to clinical madness. At the dancing halls and fields, one stood with the feet approximately shoulder-width apart. The arms were held out and bent at the elbows. The hips, torso, and legs rotated on balls of the feet as a single unit. Occasionally, a leg would be lifted in the air just for styling. Rarely would the dancers touch each other; everyone always opted for the most space. It was intense, rigorous, and involving.

One of my grandfathers was an early convert. He chose the Bible and white man’s education early in life and opted to be monogamous, something unheard of during his time. When the twist craze hit his village, he could not resist it. He converted his Simba into a deejay booth and his front yard, the official dance floor of the entire clan. Music blasted from his gramophone till the area chief intervened. People were avoiding weeding their farms just to twist and drink at the front yard. The only pause was at one o’clock and 7 pm when KBC broadcasted the days’ news. If you are old enough, you will know that it was Daudi Kabaka’s Harambee that signaled the end of the news and the start of another round of bush baby twist.

The influence of African Twist, bachelor boy twist, and Bush baby twist is still felt to this very day. There are guitarists who just cannot ignore the flavor that comes with playing twist.

While you are here, John Nzenze’s music is worth checking out.

If twist faded and later died, Gengetone will suffer the same fate. 

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