For over 75 years that Benga music has been in existence in Kenya, there has been a misconception of it being associated with people from the low social class. Amid such beliefs, a crop of youthful bands is determined to break the stereotype.
One such group is Ricky Na Marafiki, a band born in the year 2010, with the aim of connecting the world through music.
The group based in Nairobi, Kenya, started as a four-piece band made up of friends who enjoyed making music together. Over the years the group has grown to a five-member band that is determined to give Benga music, which evolved between the 1940s and 190s, a fresh feel.
In a recent interview, Patrick Nanjero, the Ricky Na Marafiki band founder, divulged to Kahawa Tungu that passion has greatly contributed to the group’s success both locally and internationally.
The 38-year-old says that unique vocals, instrumentals and songs that relate well with the on-goings in the modern society make the group stand out in the entertainment industry.
“Music for us is not a casual undertaking, with this understanding, our shows have always left our fans dancing, laughing and many overwhelmed with emotions,” he said.
Other members in the band include Papi Odeq, an experienced percussionist, singer, and songwriter and John Were an experienced guitarist and singer.
Ricky Na Marafiki Benga Band [Photo/Courtesy]Ricky Na Marafiki’s Michael Okinyo, a pharmacist by profession, plays the Keyboard and sings too. Edward Barasa is the band’s drummer.
Ricky, as he’s popularly known in Benga circles, is a talented Afro-jazz bassist, who has successfully led the band in various performances.
With the Jazz skills, Ricky is determined to make Benga the “Kenyan sound.”
“Many people hold the view that Benga is the low-class kind of music, and Jazz is synonymous with the elite. I’m aiming at bridging the gap because I can play both,” said Ricky.
The band has been privileged to perform in many towns in the country as well as in Uganda, Tanzania, United States of America (USA) and Europe.
Ricky Na Marafiki band is currently in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in the ongoing fourth edition of the East African Community’s Jumuiya ya Afrika Mashariki Utamaduni Festival (JamaFest). The festival that began on Saturday, September 21 is scheduled to end on Friday, September 28.
Last month, Ricky had the privilege of attending the Victor Wooten bass players camp at Nashville City in Tennessee, United States.
Wooten is an American bass guitarist, record producer, educator, and recipient of five Grammy Awards.
In the US, Ricky shared a platform with Wooten and other jazz icons in the industry namely Steve Bailey, Mike Stern and Lenny Stern.
While in the US, Ricky says, he also got to interact and learnt a lot from American musician Bootsy Collins who he described as the father of funk bass.
Ricky says the journey to owning and managing a band has not been easy.
The father of two began his journey as an artist at the age of 19.
“My brother who later became my first producer managed a band so I used to skip school to go watch their band perform. I started with the drums, I joined our local church and started learning,” he said.
Later, he started playing at local restaurants on Saturday evenings a move a majority of his church ministers didn’t approve of.
He had to change churches to continue with his weekend gigs.
“The church did not approve of me playing in a restaurant on a Saturday evening then playing with the praise and worship team on Sunday morning. It contradicted the beliefs of the church. They felt it was wrong to play for a secular and gospel crowd,” he added.
Ricky has played for popular American televangelists Juanita Bynum and TD Jakes when they visited Kenya in 2005.
Locally, he has performed with Kenyan singer and songwriter Erick Wainana and veteran musician Suzanne Gachukia.
The talented artiste also played for Kenyan music group Les Mangelepa as well as performing at Safaricom Kenya Live events.
Ricky released his first album, “Tucheze”, in late 2010.
Since then, with the support of his team, the band has been able to produce a number of albums that continue to receive a good reception among their audience.
He enjoys quite a lot of support from his family.
In fact, his nine-year-old son is following in the father’s footsteps.
“My son has started playing the bass guitar. I’m confident that he’ll be one of the best bass players not just in Kenya but the whole world,” he added.
The band’s latest album, “Soko Huru”, that they released this year, has 10 songs. They are; New Day, Dhak Dereba, Mamayoo, Abednego, Soko Huru, Kitheka, Baraka, Marafiki, Gimme Chamo and Hinya Wa Mutumia.
The artiste takes pride in the band’s achievement so far and he hopes to make the world a better place through music.
“We shall be launching another album in February next year, I urge our fans to keep supporting us. We are grateful guys, we owe you more music!” Ricky said in his parting shot.
Watch the band’s performance here: