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Fundi Konde
'Retrospective Vol 1 (1947-56)' (RETRO8CD)

Fundi Konde A gentleman and a legend of African music.


Fadhili William (left) with Fundi Konde recording a radio show in Kenya

Mze Fundi Konde was one of the early stars of East African music during thepost-war, pre-independence era when Kenyan musicians were heard throughoutAfrica on radio and on readily-available 78rpm discs. In the 1950s Nairobibecame a regional centre for the burgeoning music business and Konde began a career as a troubadour, composer and music all-rounder which lasted for more than 50 years.

He was born on August 24, 1924 in Waa, near Mombasa, and as a child Konde enjoyed the traditional nomba dance rhythms, while at Catholic school he learned to read music and took up flute and clarinet to play a repertoire of hymns and European waltzes and foxtrots.

After leaving school in 1940 he worked for the colonial Department of Health, while developing his guitar skills in an informal band playing at weddings and parties. The most popular styles were blues, calypso and Cuban son (rumba), to which Konde introduced Swahili lyrics and local sengenya rhythms. The band graduated to playing dances where palm wine fuelled participant's enthusiasm and, when music conflicted with Konde's job, he was fired. In 1944 he joined the Entertainment Unit of the King's African Rifles and was posted to India where they entertained African, Asian and European troops preparing to fight in Burma. In 1946 the unit recorded 10 songs at the Dum Dum studio, Calcutta.

Konde developed his guitar technique with a South African-made acoustic instrument and a tuition manual by Bert Weedon, and after the war he became the first guitarist in East Africa to use an electric pick-up. In 1947 he joined the film and music producer Peter Colmore's African Band contributing several hits and also appearing in Colmore's film Nyimbo za Kisasa.By the early 1950s, Konde was one of the most popular artistes in the region and regularly played in Tanganyika, Uganda and Belgian Congo. During the Mau Mau Emergency, he moved to Kampala but in 1954 he returned to Nairobi to work at the African Broadcasting Service. He moved on to HMV records as A&R man and studio engineer, recording with hundreds of musicians and releasing some 30 records of his own. Among these were hits such as Jambo Sigara, Kipenzi Wanui-Ua, Mama Sowera and Olivia Leo in which Konde's deep, relaxed voice combined with sweet harmonies, simple melodies and his understated guitar to create universally popular songs.

Konde later moved to the Hi-Fidelity and then Jambo labels, for whom he engineered and played on Fadhili William's massive hit version of Malaika, one of the standards of African music, internationally popularised by Miriam Makeba.

In 1963 he retired from the business to work his farm outside Malindi but six years later he returned to Hi-Fidelity. In those days, one person would often arrange a song, tune instruments, set up sound levels, run the tape and accompany the musicians while they played, and Konde had the all-round experience to do that effortlessly. Twenty years later he retired once again, thereafter accepting only freelance work as a performer and producer. In the 1960s he had abruptly quit drinking and now he also decided to hang up his guitar. He barely touched it again, although Konde's music was kept alive by radio play and many of his songs became standards which are still played by Swahili dance bands throughout East Africa. In 1991 he produced an album for the Nairobi pop band The Mushrooms, the success of which revived the Konde name.

A year later he linked up with Shikamoo Jazz, a band of veteran musicians in Dar Es Salaam. Konde did not formally join the band but he frequently guested and shared his experience with them. Konde's records had long been unavailable and RetroAfric first released this compilation of his hits in 1994. In 1995 he joined Shikamoo Jazz, the Zanzibari taarab queen Bi Kidude and Congolese guitarist Fan Fan for the East African Legends tour of Britain. On their return home Konde was engaged as a 'special guest' of Shikamoo and he contributed to their album Chela Chela (RETRO9CD). As a Kenyan he was due to pay for an expensive business visa to work in Tanzania, but he travelled on a 'missionary visa', which was much less costly and no less appropriate. The authorities knew who Konde was and it is significant that they accepted his contribution in that category. He died in Nairobi on June 29, 2000.

 

(An edited version of this article appeared as an obituary in The Guardian.)

Fundi Konde
'Retrospective Vol 1
(1947-56)'

(RETRO8CD)


 
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