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How Babu Njenje’s leadership saved the day

...The Kilimanjaro Twins, revolutions and Granpa

THE time and setting had to be three decades of exhilarating fun; The rock- ing sixties, the rolling seventies and the swinging eighties.

Nonetheless the time monocle focus is on the early 1980s, The Revolutions (also formerly known as the Lovebugs), as they were originally known, embarked on an adventurous trip, almost an exo- dus, from Tanga to Dar, accompanied by the band owner and guitarist, a Goan lad (Joseph??? Oohh forgotten his name) who later migrated to Europe and left the band to Mabruki and his comrades.

Those were the happy go lucky times; Fun and time were always in abundance (a day was said to have had 30 hours). Indeed these were the funky eighties!!!

Briefly in Arusha and back to Dar, after a while, The Revs won a contract to play at the Simba Grill. A popular fashionable high end dinner/ dance spot located at the first floor of the famous Kilimanjaro Hotel in the City Centre.

What used to be a gentleman’s black tie ball room later became a dancehall ‘tie only’ night spot. No tie? Simply hire one at the entrance!! Hitherto, the resident band at the Simba Grill were the Barkeys (later renamed The Tanzanites) a kids group with a music hobby that grew out of Sea View.

It performed at the Simba in the late seventies before moving to Arusha. Now, just back from a stint at Mount Meru Hotel in Arusha, sounding matured and professional, they settled at the Simba; For a couple of years before leaving for greener pastures in the Middle East.

To fill that space, The Revolutions walked in. That important step gave the Revolutions a huge expo- sure.

Their song bird, Hemedi a nice pleasant chap, was the star of the show. Used to sing all Lionel Richie, Whitney Houston, Whispers, Kool & the gang and Michael Jackson songs perfectly, Marvin Gaye, Eddy Grant, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Chaka Demus and the Reggae & Ragga Muffin lot with precision and all the mduara, pop, chacha, samba, calypso and rumba bits seamlessly.

Not forgetting the Birdy song of Sega dance fame from Seychelles. He surely had the best voice in town. But as fate would have it, Hemedi passed on. His death left a black hole in the band.

On the other hand, Mabruki concentrated on the oldies rumba songs mostly Kenyan of Fundi Konde, Jean Mwenda Bosco, Frank na dada zake et al fame.

The group being a ‘copy & paste’ band continued playing popular tunes nonstop. Up to that point, they had not a single composition of their own.

That notwithstanding The Revs remained the most popu- lar upmarket band in Dar. You wanna dance the night away?

The Revs at Simba Grill was your place of choice. Having come thus far, The Revs were now at a dilemma; Either they remain a tourist hotel dance band comfortable with their monthly pay checks, an option offering no time for creativity, brand creation and eventual extinction or take the big risk of venturing out inde- pendently and look failure in the eye.

They thankfully opted for the later. Three important mile- stone decisions that completely changed the destiny of the group and its members hap- pened around this time.

The first one so to speak was the great leap into the unknown. The Revs made a landmark trip to the United Kingdom in 1989.

This was a groundbreaking expedition offering a worldly exposure to the group. Most importantly it presented an opportunity, for the first time, to get into a modern studio and record a few songs.

Secondly, before embark- ing on that trip they had to do a makeover. First, bearing in mind at the time, the Cold War was still raging between the East and West.

During those days, revolutions were associated with Socialism and Communism. In which case, only a mad man would take a band of that name to capitalist Britain.

And so hey presto..... The Revolutions was trans- formed to The Kilimanjaro Band. Thirdly, the Kilimanjaro band decided, as mentioned, to record their own compositions.

Creativity and professionalism conspired to catapult the band How Babu Njenje’s leadership saved the day ...The Kilimanjaro Twins, revolutions and Granpa to new heights.

Their new songs were enriched with local flavours from the Swahili Coast all the way to Kigoma on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

Cleverly, local traditional music genres from different ethnic groupings were artisti- cally fused with rock or rumba to form some beautifully crafted sounds.

The end result was an explosion of vibrant music with loud African rhythms, beats and percussions. Afro rock was reborn at its roots; The next best thing akin to the legendary Manu Dibango, Osibisa, Fela Kuti, Tatu Nane et al.

By now, The Kilimanjaro Band was an established brand on its own and Mabruki featured largely in all the band’s hits as the lead singer.

The Kilis rode the crest of the wave churning a num- ber of albums thereafter. One blockbuster after another hit the market place. Locally, they became popularly known as Wananjenje, from their pioneering hit Njenje.

Luck ran with them for a good three decades, registering full house attendance everytime they performed.

The Kilimanjaro Band was now enjoying a household status. For local revellers and foreign visitors alike, the place to go dancing was still where Kilimanjaro performed.

As venues changed, they moved places; Police Officer’s Mess at Oysterbay, Gogo Hotel (now Airtel HQ), Msasani Club and finally at the Salender Bridge Club (formerly Italian club).

However, the most unique thing about this group is that, apart from their music, they have remained strong and united for a good four decades, overcoming rifts and all sorts of personality clashes on the way.

Babu Njenje’s leadership saved the day. Mabruki, being the older member of the band acted as the wise man and a bonding agent; Successfully leading the group up until a couple of years back when he suffered a stroke.

His state of health confined him indoors and away from the public eye.

Meanwhile, The Kilimanjaro Band was simi- larly suffering more or less the same fate. Creativity had slackened and equipment was fast getting moribund; facts that exasperated their fans and generally dismayed the night revellers at large.

Monday the 24th of May 2020 promised to be a happy bright sunny day as Muslims the world over celebrated Eid el Fitr after fasting the entire month of Ramadhan.

Little did we expect, waking up to a news flash on our mobile phones announcing the death of Mabruki Khamis in the early hours.

He was, later in the afternoon, interred at the Kisutu Cemetery in the presence of hundreds of his staunch fans. Mabruki’s story cannot be told in seclusion to the Kilimanjaro and likewise, The Kilimanjaro Band history would be incomplete without Mabruki.

Interchangeably he and the band were one and the same. Lifelong fans are stunned in mourning pulling back memories from the past.

Truly, an emotional link exist- ed between the two. Many a fan had proposed to their future spouse while being serenaded by Njenje music.

I vividly remember their spectacular rendition of two epic chacha hits; Historia de un amor (History of one love- Carlos Eleta Almaran 1955) or Flor D luna (Moonflower- Carlos Santana, 1977) to men- tion just two.

Stuff from out of this world, to say the least! While we pray for Mabruki aka Babu Njenje (or Grandpa Njenje), he will be remem- bered for all those joyfull and happy hours spent in his com- pany.

He used to be a very humorous man always pulling a joke from his sleeve at the slightest chance.

Both of us, him and I, had a standing joke. And I would not miss a chance to hit him with it every time we met. I always used to tease him about one of his popular songs.

The song LAMBWA, its lyrics site a woman narrating tongue in cheek, she eagerly awaits her husband to come back from work as she prepares food for him.

She also asks him on the way to fetch sugar to enable her complete the cooking.

Basically, the song reflects on an excited, amorous loving wife eagerly waiting for her husband to get back home so they can ‘rumble and tumble’. It goes thus; ‘Lambwa ee lambwa ee, lambwa tika.

Maharage yako jikoni nimeshayapika Nangojea sukari ya bwana haijafika.’ I used to tease him that he could hardly fit the bill as the ‘excited longing wife’.

I would ask him jokingly. “Couldn’t you find a female singer to do those lyrics?” And he would always retort with a burst of laughter. Alas! That’s Grandpa Njenje for you. RIP old man!!!!!

  • Ahmed Saggaf ahsaggaf@gmail.com +255 754 744333

AS the globe continue to tackle the Covid-19 ...

Author: Ahmed Saggaf


  • avatar

    Joe Rebello is the name you are searching for. I first met the band when all of them lived in Tanga i.e. in the 1970s.

  • avatar

    The lad you mentioned named Joe Rebello lives in Toronto and is still a musician,

  • avatar
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