Benga is a beloved form of popular music in the east African country of Kenya, but few people over here are listening to it.


That may change. Today, a new album comes out from the band Extra Golden, and with it many American listeners will hear Benga for the first time.

Music critic John Brady has this preview.

JOHN BRADY reporting:

By day, Ian Eagleson is an ethnomusicologist studying the interplay of music and culture; by night, he plays guitar in the indie rock band, Golden.

(Soundbite of song from album “Ok-Oyot System”)

In 2004, Eagleson traveled to Kenya to do research for his Ph.D. Normally, when a graduate student goes off to do field research, the result is a dissertation, but Eagleson came back from his trip with something else entirely: an album. Here's the first track, Ilando Gima Onge.

(Soundbite of song “Ilando Gima Onge”)

BRADY: Eagleson was in Kenya to study benga, a type of dance music popular in the clubs of Nairobi, and throughout the villages and towns of western Kenya. In Nairobi, Eagleson met Otieno Jagwasi, a well-respected benga guitarist. Jagwasi can be heard here singing and playing on the song, Osama Rach.

(Soundbite of song “Osama Rach”)

OTIENO JAGWASI (Musician): (Singing in foreign language)

BRADY: Eagleson and Jagwasi set out to blend the genres each loved -rock and benga. Eagleson brought in Alex Minoff, a fellow member of Golden. Otieno brought in respected Nairobi drummer, Onyango Wuod Omari. Together, they recorded the album, Ok-Oyot System, in a whirlwind afternoon session in a down- at-the-heels Nairobi nightclub.

(Soundbite of song “Nyajondere”)

BRADY: This is Nyajondere, a song composed in the traditional benga style. Its languid, plaintive start gives way to an exuberant climax full of the bright, ringing guitars and the percussive baselines that customarily characterize benga.

(Soundbite of song “Nyajondere”)

BRADY: Adding to the sonic pleasure of the track is drummer Wuod's delicate but imminently groovy ticka-ticka-tapping on the cymbals.

(Soundbite of song “Nyajondere”)

BRADY: At this album's heart are three songs that rub benga and rock together to produce a wonderful amount of musical heat. On the album's inspired title track, Jagwasi and Eagleson perform a notable guitar call and response. Jagwasi's chiming rifts are given a rock-and-roll answer by Eagleson's squawky, fuzzed-out guitar.

(Soundbite of song “Ok-Oyot System”)

BRADY: Sadly, this creative cross-cultural effort is tinged with tragedy. Jagwasi, who had long suffered from kidney and liver disease, died of liver failure in 2005. So, in playing the CD, the listener feels slightly bittersweet, wondering about what could have been, even while twirling and dancing in the pleasure of the present.

(Soundbite of song from album Ok-Oyot System)

BRAND: John Brady reviews music for DAY TO DAY. The band is Extra Golden. The new CD is Ok-Oyot System.

(Soundbite of song from album “Ok-Oyot System”)

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