Interviews: Q & A
Kinga & the Reggaelution is an ensemble of some of the most sought after reggae musicians from Copenhagen’s underground reggae scene. The Reggaelution play fresh and melodic music based firmly on the classic drum and bass synthesis of roots rock reggae; masterly blending subtlety and harmony with a brainstorming double-barrel approach. The head honcho, Charles Kinga (CK) talks about their forays in the Scandinavian reggae scenes and playing with some of Africa’s great reggae icons.
Kymsnet: Who is Kinga & the Reggaelution or is it Simba Ngoma?
CK: Both. Formed in 2002 as Simba Ngoma, Kinga & the Reggaelution the an 8 piece reggae band based in Copenhagen that play fresh and melodic music based firmly on the classic drum and bass synthesis of roots rock reggae. The full-band sound is a trademark of great solidarity as every time they perform. This band cuts right through different reggae tastes and styles and they score highly on their raw energy and persuasive style. Armed with dynamic modern roots reggae crafted around thought-provoking messages, Simba Ngoma is now recognised as one of the most exciting “live reggae acts” in Denmark.
Kymsnet: Have you released any albums? What is it called?
CK: I have not done albums in your usual way of releasing albums. I feel the market is flooded with half cooked music … maybe not bad in content or quality but overly abundant. I am yet to release an LP or album. However, I have recorded a couple of EPs, which were for demonstration purposes only and are therefore not published/released. The first was a self-titled 3 song demo completed in 2002 – we called it SIMBA NGOMA like the band was then. Most of the music I have recorded has been in Asia and in Europe. You may listen to my songs from these websites— www.reverbnation.com/kingathereggaelution; http://www.myspace.com/simbangoma.
Kymsnet: Where do you draw your inspiration?
CK: There is no singular place I can say that I draw inspiration from. My lyrics are driven by life observations, experiences, peoples’ stories– dreams, nightmares, aspirations, wise sayings or parables, current affairs/common sense etc…Inspiration comes either impromptu or is cultivated over the years. But my lyrics are almost always thought provoking social commentaries.
The most lost lasting inspiration is from day to day life and the memories it brings. If such memories stick to the mind, the inspiration is complete. It might take years to come to fruition in form of melody and song or lyrics OR five minutes. But if it stands out, it becomes music.
Kymsnet: That is interesting. Take me through the journey of your life—-when & where were you born? Are you the eldest or last-born? How many are you in the family?
CK: I was born at the famous Pumwani Maternity hospital, Eastlands, Nairobi in the early 1970s. I am the 4th in a family of seven (three brothers and three sisters): albeit my mothers first born son, and second child. I have a daughter aged four.
I went to school in Kenya. I took basic education at Martin Luther (in Nairobi) and Mulumini (in Ukambani) Primary Schools. I attended secondary school in Miu Boys High and Mission Bontá (Kiongwani) Academy, then proceed to India for my University in 1990s. I took a couple of Bachelors degrees and did a couple of years of LL.B. Was the proprietor of a reggae club called Simba Ngoma while there. I later moved to Denmark where I reside today and I am advancing my education at University of Copenhagen. I have just completed and presented my Masters thesis in African Studies titled TAMING MODERNITY: Understanding Emerging Trends in Political Electioneering in Kenya. I hope to pursue a Ph.D.
Kymsnet: What are some of the memorable thoughts of your life while you were growing up?
CK: I have had a full life with a lot of memories that actually carry me through even today. Growing up as a herds-boy and spending long hours on the savannah has definitely shaped my adult life. Again, the community life of the tenant yards of Jericho Lumumba estate, Eastlands brings back pleasant recollections of our (Kenya’s) rich cultural heritage and urban language culture. Playing all sorts of made up games on the parking lot, watching the bigger boys play football (Uwanjo soo), Tazama mobile outdoor flicks (walk-in) and plenty more … One has to write a book if one has to put it all on paper.
Kymsnet: What did you want to do in life?
CK: I cannot say. I wanted to be many things. I was always good with books (education) and romanced with the idea of being a lawyer in my teenage and early adult life. My father chided me by calling me Professor when I was young I remember. I believe that will come to pass some day soon.
Kymsnet: Did you always want to be a musician? What prompted you to choose your career as a musician/artist?
CK: I did not. It chose me, but I made the effort to make it worth the while for everyone else. Music was a hobby that gained momentum over time … I had the talent and utilized it. I sang in the choir in primary school, many times the soloist … led in singing the national anthem at secondary/high school etc. I’d a strong voice.
Kymsnet: Who is/was your role model in the music industry?
CK: I am influenced by so many different sources that it is difficult to point to one or two. But the local unsung heroes did the most – to mention those that stand out, I should thank: Moses Kamau (aka Kam Kong), Basoli, Irap Mac De PETER and Masasu Explosion for putting that eagerness to play music in me. Later on, Tom for tutoring me on the piano and the musicians I joined at Polygram Studios after my ‘O’ Levels – Kam Kong, Flavian Ngugi and Karis. My own band mates and University college mates: Tom Mumbo, Frank Wandama, John Ngila, Tom Onserio, Mark Buyu, then Vicant Okoth, Oti, Ndede George etc.
Among the established artists :- I have been influenced by the music of: Simba Wa Nyika, Fundi Konde, Kakai Kilonzo, Katanga Boys band, Kamaru, Daudi Kabaka, Kabaselle, Mbaraka Mwenshehe Mwaruka, Remi Ongaro (Sura Mabaya) Franco (Lwambo Makiadi), Tabu Ley and any other group whose music reached Kenyan radio from Zaîre etcetera. All these people have had their impact.
Later, my ear caught reggae where Bob Marley and his work looms large; then came Alpha Blondy and the rest of Jamaican musicians after. Burning Spear, Steel Pulse, Third World, Prince Lincoln – the list is longer, all depending on mood and/or message. Linton Kwesi Johnson’s dub poetry is a solid listen for his thought provoking lyrics and use of patois on an academic level. Of course funk and soul has had its part to play too, though it seems to lack substance at times. I was taken up by MJ and the wave that followed his work just like most youth then. All these songs they played on Radio; programmes like Unapofanya Kazi, Sundowner, Reggae Vibrations by Jeff Mwangemi.
I do like rock as well, from hard to soft; Pink Floyd and Dire Straits top the list, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, STING and the Police, Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, Bon Jovi and so forth. I actually played bass guitar and sang in a couple of rock bands in India.
Kymsnet: What is your opinion of the music industry in the Kenyan and African music scene?
CK: The Kenyan or African music industry suffers no vibrancy pathologies. I believe it is the most vibrant on the planet considering all the diversity Africans have been capable of incorporating (and borrowing from outside). However, the piracy and the cheapness of the recording outfits should be done away with or controlled through a musicians and composers union. All the fast food music on the streets of Nairobi is probably good enough for the domestic market but it should be solidified with a piracy policy and better production … else jackals and hyenas will eat the sheep from the shed the musicians have built.
Kymsnet: Please give me some highlights of: your happiest moments/ memorable time; your trying/challenging time.
CK: The most challenging time must be when I lost my sister to HIV complications. I expect to still have many happy days so I cannot speculate on the happiest moment – though seeing my parents and family after years in Asia was GREAT. Then of course my daughter creates many happy moments for me… She’s the queen of my ghetto.
Kymsnet: What are the other things that you like doing when you are not working? What are your hobbies etc.?
CK: I like reading non-fiction, mostly text books. As mentioned before, I am advancing my education at University of Copenhagen. I hope to pursue a Ph.D. I follow current affairs, news and politics – though I prefer to see myself as apolitical. Learning languages from any part of the world do take a major spot and I do speak a few international languages. I play football too when I get the time. And martial arts occupied much of my distraction as a kid and later in secondary school. I don’t indulge in gambling or speculation of any kind… but I enjoy a good old cold beer and a whiskey.
Kymsnet: Have you collaborated with any of Africa’s big names. What are some of these big names?
CK: I have done what you call curtain raising for Freddie McGregor, the late Lucky Dube, the Nazarenes and played in festivals that headlined big names… Alpha Blondy comes to mind in this case.
Kymsnet: How did that feel?
CK: … well, the McGregor show was an experience since the band allowed us to play on their back-gear. We were pretty new in the business, the hall was large and well packed, with the best acoustics you could imagine. Apparently, they were showing appreciation cos I had lent their guitarist my guitar amplifier. That was in 2004.
Kymsnet: That was awesome. Anything else?
CK: In the same year I was asked to open for Lucky dube in the same venue. Their sound check made us feel small I remember… after the show was over, we had a good chat back-stage with the band. Lucky and I spoke for a short while during a break where he autographed my No Easy Walk to Freedom (Mandela). I wanted that for my younger brother. Lucky was a very humble down to earth man, almost shy with that coolness of a big brother. God rest his soul.
Later that year we appeared in Upsalla (Sweden) for Scandinavias biggest Reggae festival. I met my teenage reggae hero Alpha Blondy and spend much time with him after his mind blowing performance. We spoke of all sorts of things (in a mix of English and French), no holds barred. Then he pulled a first one on me and asked for me to autograph a demo CD I was presenting him… you can imagine how that felt. I hope to see him again this October when he performs in Copenhagen.
Kymsnet: Reggae is associated with the “holy herb” also called Ganja. Tosh and others sang about it and pleaded it to be legalized. What is your opinion of it? Have you ever tried it?
CK: Marijuana is a drug. One should keep off it. I know the temptation is very high (for teenagers especially) to experiment or to cope with peer pressure. Fair enough! At the same time I feel that we have (the authorities in Kenya) have demonized the herb and stigmatized it’s (ab)use so very much that apart from further attracting the youth’s interest it has become a sign of anti-establishment individual rebellion.
Ganja is not necessarily holy; but I know that in Indian religions it is seasonally used to induce spirituality… now to us as Kenyans, those religions are foreign. In addition, the strain that grows on the sub continent or elsewhere (say Jamaica), is not the same potent strain that grows in Africa. Seriously, this perception that it is a sacrament is far-fetched, though I’m not disputing anyone’s religious dogma – remember Rastafari is not officially a religion. So if one is to attempt smoking cannabis sativa or taking any other form of drugs, one should know what they are partaking in fully. Just as coffee can be excessive so can this so called holy herb.