Review: Vijana Jazz – The Koka Koka Sex Battalion
January 25th, 2012 by robert

Whenever there is a rumor of a new East African collection being put together by Doug Paterson for Sterns, I wait in anticipation. I have never been disappointed and usually am completely blown away by the music he uncovers. A while ago I reviewed a killer release of music from Issa Juma and Super Wanyika on another siteNow in my greedy hands I have another choice selection of Tanzanian pop music, this time from the Vijana Jazz Band, one of the country’s best bands that is barely known around the world. 

Koka Koka Sex Battalion is the album’s title, but it’s also an alternate band name the band and its Kenyan producer used to finesse more money from the record label, AIT Records, which did not want to have too many songs from one band circulating. 

Vijana Jazz Band began as a government-sponsored youth band in 1971, becoming very popular throughout Tanzania and Kenya from the mid-1970s through the ’80s. Almost all of the fourteen songs on this collection were written by vocalist and band leader, Hemedi ManetiThere is a generous, nearly 80 minute collection of Vijana Jazz songs on this release, mostly from recordings made in 1975-6. 

Most songs, like the wonderful opening “Magdalena,” are in the band’s koka koka style that points directly to the Swahili rumba style that would dominate Tanzanian pop for decades. A couple of songs are much more folkloric, including “Heka Heka,” which begins with horns and sounds like the coastal tarab music, before the guitars and percussion kick into a koka koka dance groove. The sweet instrumental “Koka Koka No. 1″ begins with the percussion that defines the style, with conga and what sounds like pounding on a hollow log. One song I like particularly for the looping guitar phrases is “Lela.” The sound is great throughout, taken from master tapes and obviously treated with great restorative care. 

Here for your enjoyment is “Koka Koka No. 1″, provided by Sterns.

The CD comes with a 24-page booklet that has abundant notes about the band and its music, written by Paterson, along with translations of the Swahili songs into English. These are the things, along with the superior sound quality, that make me dread the impending death of physical music distribution. You can get this wonderful release here now, and it will be available in the US soon (I’ll post a link). Inferior digital downloads are available at the usual places, though I notice you get the digital booklet through iTunes. By the way, I found another, excellent, wobbly-in-places and presumably 1980s Vijana Jazz tape here, along with a few other Tanzanian tapes.

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