The mid-seventies in Nairobi were a time of tremendous growth. In the first decade after independence, the city’s population doubled and the economy grew at a rapid pace. Pop culture experienced a boom, live music thrived around the city and young, aspiring musicians were exposed to a wide variety of local, regional and international influences. This was the time Nairobi developed into a musical melting pot that nurtured artists who are well remembered even outside Kenya, such as Les Mangelepa (still performing!), Matata, or Joseph Kamaru. The music industry increased its capacity and by 1975 local pressing plants were able to produce over 10,000 records per day. Amidst the proliferation of Kenyan music being released by hundreds of bands and solo artists, some of the most interesting records did not receive proper distribution or promotion, and four decades down the line they remain ungoogleable, unmentioned in discographies and generally unheard.
One band whose recorded output has been all but invisible until recently, but who are well remembered by people who were young in 1970s Nairobi, is Black Savage. Their music was released on an LP and three singles between the mid-70s and the early 80s, and has remained out of print ever after. The early years of the band, whose members met during their secondary school years in Nairobi, are well described in the liner notes accompanying the current reissue compilation by Afro7. Band leader Gordon was the son of professor Simeon Ominde, who had led the reform of Kenya’s educational system in 1964 upon independence, and who was teaching at Makerere University in Uganda in 1956 when his son was born. Gordon Ominde’s earliest memories included Louis Armstrong’s concert in Kampala in 1961, where – at the age of four – he was invited on stage and started conducting the band. Musical inspiration also came from his sisters who were singers, and from attending musical classes, although at Lenana – a former whites-only boarding school which was gradually being reformed to cater to Kenyans of different backgrounds – music education meant studying Beethoven and Mozart. Together with a group of younger students who shared an interest in music, including original Black Savage members Job Seda, Jack Otieno and Ali Nassir, he started practice sessions using the musical instruments that the school provided. After completing school the band decided to rejoin and pursue a career in music, despite all odds: obtaining their own instruments, finding rehearsal space and getting the approval of their families would all have been challenges in mid-seventies Kenya.