Unreleased recording of the Cuban Marimba Band

Posted January 14th, 2008 at 11:39 pm (UTC-4)

In early 1973 the Public Affairs Officer at the United States Information Agency office in Tanzania received a request from David Wakati of Radio Tanzania. Mr. Wakati had previously worked at the Voice of America in Washington D.C. and later became the director of broadcasting at Radio Tanzania, from 1979 to 1991. Radio Tanzania needed help organizing its tape library and Mr. Wakati was hoping that the Voice of America could help. So in April of 1973 USIA (which at the time governed the VOA) dispatched Leo to Tanzania to help Radio Tanzania organize its tape library, and to record Tanzanian music for VOA programs.

Leo remembers walking into the ‘tape room’ at Radio Tanzania and finding stacks of open-reels piled on the floor. After days of working with Radio Tanzania staff members the piles of tapes on the floor were transformed into a catalogued collection, with a Radio Tanzania staff member designated as the tape librarian. This done, Leo hit the road with two colleagues from Radio Tanzania; a technician and a journalist/broadcaster (whose names he unfortunately doesn’t remember). From Dar they traveled West to Lake Victoria, stopping along the way in Morogoro, Dodoma, Tabora, and Mwanza. Leo made several recordings during this trip (copies of all the recordings were deposited in the Radio Tanzania tape library). One of the most interesting reels features the Cuban Marimba Band.

Leo remembers the recording session taking place in mid-morning. The group was set up on the stage of an open-air nightclub. There was no rehearsal and no second-takes. Leo set up his equipment and the band cranked their way through seven tracks. The recording was captured by at least 6 microphones (we don’t have an exact number) running through a 12 input Sony Mixer into a two-track binaural Nagra tape machine. Leo mixed the channels live to tape as he recorded.

The famous leader of the Cuban Marimba Band Salum Abdallah died in a car accident in November 1965 and, according to Werner Graebner, the singer Juma Kikaza then became the bandleader. We don’t have any documentation accompanying this reel other than what you see above. So we don’t know who participated in this recording. Any and all help in identifying the line-up would be very appreciated!! The guitar player has adopted several of Mbaraka Mwinshehe’s guitarisms… check out his chicken-scratching during the breakdowns.

Halima is a love song that features some gloriously out-of-tune horns and some very nice guitar playing. Halima is driving the singer crazy… “Halima, my love I’m calling you. My love is overflowing. My love, I’m suffering. I can’t sleep. I’m hurting’.

Next up is a tribute to the late great Siongo Bavon aka Bavon Marie Marie from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One of the bandleaders of the popular Orchestre Négro Succès, Bavon Marie Marie was also the younger brother of Le Grand Maitre Franco Luambo Makiadi. He died in a car crash in the early morning of August 5, 1970.

We continue with Zaida, another love song. As the singer says to kick things off “I takua ngumu” which can be roughly translated as “it will be difficult”… and this is a tough tune! I love the echoplex on the guitar.

The band seemed to pick up steam as they worked their way through their repertoire. I think the last two tracks on the reel are the best. This one features some wonderful guitar playing.

The last track on the reel is my favorite. The horns are punchier, the guitars have more bite and the rhythm section is throwing it down. This song is somewhat of a riddle that I am hoping those of you are understand Swahili can help solve. The more or less literal translation of the words is ‘Oh Subiana… you’ve come to suck again. You still want to suck? Then you have to go to Karatu, you can go and suck there too. Eh Subi, eh Subi. I’m sucking, I’m sucking. I am warning you not to play with Subi Subi. You can’t manage Subi it sucks your blood.’ So… who or what is Subi? Could ‘Subi Subi’ refer to a politician who is ‘sucking the life’ out of the people?

I hope you enjoyed the music!

20 responses to “Unreleased recording of the Cuban Marimba Band”

  1. Anonymous says:

    What a fantastic site and what a fantastic find this Cuban Marimba reel is. Tip of the hat to your colleague Leo for producing what must be the most sparkling recording of this great band. Please, please see if you can podcast it so I can listen to it away from my computer.

    I’m still waiting to hear Subi Subi No 2 as the link didn’t throw up a player window but gave an error message saying Run script “void (o) and then a lot of numbers, so you might want to take a look at that.

    But, again, many thanks and keep up the good work.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hello Tim. Thanks for visiting the site. I’m so happy that more folks
    can discover this music. Sorry about the problem with the links.
    I think I have solved the problem.
    Yeah…Leo’s recordings are great. My favorites are the ones he
    made in Nigeria in the mid-1960s. I’ll post some tracks soon.

  3. Anonymous says:

    You’ve uncovered some amazing music on this blog–the Burkina Faso post in particular blew me away. My question is whether there are plans to make any of these incredibly VOA reels available to the public. I’d think you’d have a decent market, at least. And VOA seems to own the masters, so licensing probably wouldn’t be much of a problem–making sure the right people get song royalties would be the biggest hurdle. Anyway, after listening to everything on this blog, I think it all needs to be made easily available to people who want it.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Really, really enjoying the site so far. One request, though: Could you <i>please</i> post the song files as MP3s so they can be downloaded easily? RealAudio <i>sucks</i>!
    (Actually, I’ve figured out a way to extract the files as MP3s but only in Netscape and it’s such a roundabout way of doing it, it’s a huge hassle and hard to explain, so <i>please</i> save us all a lot of trouble!)

    One of your readers requested Gnaore Djimi. I’ve got some vintage Gnaore from 1992 or so, so I’d be happy to post some on my site.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hello John, I’ll see what can be done about posting the tracks in a different format. I would love to hear the Gnahore Djimi recordings you have. Your most recent posting (likembe.blogspot.com) of Ethiopian music was great. It may take me a little time to excavate the Gnahore Djimi stuff I think we have.

    Joe, thanks for your comments. Burkina Faso is a country that too often gets overlooked. There continues to be a lot of great music coming out of Burkina. I’ll add more details in the comments section of the Burkina post but I just got the word that Maurice Sempore the bandleader of the Harmonie Voltaique passed away last friday in Burkina.

    At the moment there are no plans to commercially release any of our recordings. I have been trying to find ways to share our recordings with as many folks as possible and a blog seemed to be a reasonably effective solution. There are no plans for commercial release, however, not because we are categorically against the idea but rather because we are a radio station and our first priority remains getting quality programs on the air. We are always open to suggestions.

    After I posted the Cuban Marimba tracks I asked my friend Alex Perullo (who knows a lot about Tanzanian music) if he had any idea
    what the Cuban Marimba Band lineup could have been circa 1973. Here is his answer:

    ‘Band members rotated quite often, but this is the lineup around 1972: Gaspa Sekulu (bass), Waziri Nyange (guitar), Paul Majuto (guitar),
    Mtendeji (percussion), Juma Bamam (drums), Juma Kilaza (leader, singer),and Suwedi (Sued) Athman (singer and congas), Ali Shabani (singer andpercussion). The saxophonists are most likely Selemani Mtoto, Nzige, and Mkenge.’ Thanks Alex!!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Just wanted to say that it is so good to have a couple of blogs that not only post sublime music, but equally relevantly provide quality, in-depth background information and contexts. While the majority of recordings are commercially unavailable, and probably won’t be viable to release, or have unresolvable licensing issues, this (as Matthew says) seems the best way to get some of this inaccessible music and untapped knowledge out in the open. The response of listeners seems to corroborate this – so thanks, Matthew, John B. and the likes! Matthew, I realise this is way beyond the scope for the moment, but do you think the Smithsonian Global Sound could be a model for this kind of thing in future?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Hello Daan… I have been thinking some more about the idea of commercial releases of some of our recordings. All of our unique VOA recordings were made with the understanding that they would be used for broadcast only… not for commercial purposes. Granted these recordings were made quite some time ago and they now have a different value than they did… I don’t know if we do have the right to commercially release this music.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Hi Matthew,

    Thanks for creating this site and letting us listen to the VOA archives. A couple of weeks ago, I managed to find a couple of old Cuban Marimba 45s in Musoma. Will post them later on my site. I haven’t had a chance to listen to the VOA tracks (internet streaming doesn’t work well here in TZ) but I will manage somehow.

    Looking very much forward to hear more of those archival tracks!!


  9. Anonymous says:

    it’s certainly worth considering the possibilities–this blog is a fantastic way to start getting this music out there. The Smithsonian could potentially serve as a model–international intellectual property laws are complicated, but I imagine there must be someone who could figure out what the requirements would be.

    Anyway, I figured it was something well worth considering, not to mention something that might be able to bring a little more attention to VOA and what it’s accomplished over the years. The archive has genuine musicological value.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Mathew, thanks for more great recordings.
    I’ll second the commendation for Leo Sarkisian’s audio engineering on the fly, though it actually doesn’t sound so inferior to the normal process used in recording many of these singles as detailed in the liner notes to Zanizabara 3.

    like, John, I’ve figured a way to extract the audio files (so that I can listen to them on my way to work) but it would be great not to have such a cumbersome workaround. One other technical note – is there an RSS feed for the page a a whole? I’ve found one for the individual blog entries, but those of course only let you know when a comment has been added rather than when a new entry has been made

  11. Anonymous says:

    Joe… I agree!!! I think it is well worth considering releasing a series of our recordings. I would love to have a series of releases that also feature Leo’s artwork. Most places he traveled he also made charcoal drawings.
    Zim… these Cuban Marimba recordings were made with a less elaborate setup than Leo typically used. His best recordings were made with 12 different microphones running through the two mixers into the tape machine.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Lovely recordings and great music. The lone guitar in the mauritania post is really wonderful.
    As to accessing the music files, I don’t know how it’s done, but you can always use something like Audio Hijack to capture the audio in real time I guess. What bit rate are your mp3s?

  13. Anonymous says:

    i think i enjoy much this song you know what juma kilaza
    is my father but we dont have any copy of his songs i like
    can you reply to my e-mail pls

  14. Anonymous says:

    one of the greatest bands in east africa in the earlies of 70s,led by
    juma kilaza cum leading vocalist,one of his composition-morogoro
    hoyeee,praised his hometown morogoro,beauty beautiful beatified
    mountainous panoramic view,recall their stylish beats-mikambo sindi

  15. Anonymous says:

    Asante Sana and kudos to you Mathews. My God you just blew me away!
    Nina penda Subi Subi, I just love the subi subi 2 song. I like the idea of commerical release of the recording. I hope it can be done.
    You got it right. It refers to politicans who love to “nyonya nyonya
    wananchi”. Sucking the life out of the people!

  16. LD says:

    Gorgeous tunes. Thanks for sharing, and thanks especially for posting the mp3 files.

  17. Robert says:

    These recordings, and others I have just discovered on your site, are amazing. Thank you so much for your efforts. I wonder, though if someday you might be able to post the files at a higher resolution? It’s a shame to lose much of the incredible music you find through compression. Best wishes.

  18. infant tutu says:

    With everything that seems to be developing inside this particular subject material, many of your points of view are somewhat radical. In any case I did appreciate reading it.

  19. Thanks for a marvelous posting! I actually enjoyed reading it,
    you may be a great author.I will remember to bookmark your blog
    and will come back very soon. I want to encourage you to continue
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  20. Robert Mihayo says:

    Thank you for posting Halima which I had never heard before. It’s a fantastic song as usual from the group.
    Incidentally do you have, by any chance, in possession another fantastic number by Cuban Marimba titled MARY. It was released in the early 1970’s if I am not mistaken. I would love to hear it again.
    Thank you!



Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award-winning radio program “Music Time in Africa” and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with Doctorate and Master’s degrees from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

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