Although Eric Wainaina is probably the most famous artiste locally for bridging the Kikuyu-Luo divide by singing a Luo-themed song titled Adhiambo despite him being Kikuyu, it is Tabu Osusa who has now gained international accolades for having done the same.
Examining genres such as Mwomboko and Akorino folk, through Ketebul Music, Tabu Osusa was the leader of a team of researchers and writers who produced the most insightful book ever on Kenyan music to date. Shades of Benga, published in 2017, is unmatched in its coverage of Kenyan music, from the colonial times to the recent past.
For his lifelong commitment to music – but specifically Kenyan music – the government of France, through The Alliance Francaise de Nairobi, bestowed the Order of Arts and Letters to Tabu Osusa for outstanding contribution to the promotion of Kenyan music.
The award was presented to Tabu Osusa at Alliance Francaise.
This award is described as having been “… established in 1957 to recognise eminent artists and writers, as well as people who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world.”
Osusa’s extensive music work began with the Retracing the Benga Rhythm in 2008, which has a CD of 13 sample tracks and a DVD Documentary.
In this compilation, Ketebul describes benga in these words: “Benga’s most distinctive feature is its fast-paced rhythmic beats and the bouncy finger-picking guitar technique. Indeed, the core of benga is the lead guitar, which essentially follows the track of the vocals.”
Here is a definition of sound that is peculiarly Kenyan, and which has dominated Kenyan music for years. What follows is a discussion of the history of benga and its leading musicians from across the country.
Tabu Osusa’s collection, following the pattern of the previous script, had 19 songs on a CD as well as a DVD. In this collection is not just a sample of the best of Kikuyu popular music, but also references that open a window to the entirety of Kikuyu music, from the traditional to the 21st century sound; from women and men musicians; from the countryside to the city, and so on. This collector’s item remains unmatched since its release in 2010.