7 Resourceful Kenyan Music Books

We're often asked what books we’d recommend about Kenyan Music. Unfortunately, many of the books on Kenyan music are out of print and this has been exacerbated by the discontinuation of the teaching of music in public schools. Depending on what information is being sought, the following 7 books contain a lot of information regarding Kenyan music.

1. Songs of Kenya: Embu, Gikuyu Na Meru by John Kamenyi Wahome (1970) – This is a collection of songs drawn mainly from the folk music of the Embu, Gikuyu and Meru communities. The book was targeted towards the primary school music curriculum and was meant to enhance cultural heritage in schools.

The book contains illustrations and sheet music of the following songs – Thai Thai Thathaiya Ngai; Gacara Witu; Muiritu Ukurimarima; Wakiri Baba Araraga Akinuma; Mwere wa Njigi; Ruiru Ruri Ng’ombe; Urethua-thua Niki?; Ciana Nyingi Niikuura; Nyina wa Mucuku; Ruru Ruru Mwana; Kanyoni ka Nja; Marobo; Mwarimu Witu; Niundu Ki?; Nyoni wa Ngare; Ngukuna Mwere Ngarira; Kamwongia Ugikiya Ucuru; Mwangi Murata Wakwa; Ui Maigoya; Cumbiri Cumbiri Gikanda; Twamutiga na Kiriro Kinene; Giti kia Wambui Witu; Ndainainagio ni Mami Wakwa Ndimukue; Mutahi Ukire Gutaha Mai; Mirimu Irothira; Airitu a Murimo Uria; Tondu Twathii Twathii ku?; Ngukwira Tuthii Githomo; Ithe wa Ruriri; Mbura Ura; Wakariru Cua Cua; Watumiri Tutu; Ngwamba Gwithikiriria; Kiere Kiria Kiiru Kia Maganjo; Ng’inwa Mwana; Kirima Gia Kianjiru; Ndetire Kaunda; Kirimaa Gukuya; Nyumba ya Matunguru; Nguciriria Mwathani.

The final chapter of the book contains brief information regarding each of the songs.

2. Folk Music of Kenya by George W. Senoga-Zake (1988) – This book is written for teachers and students of music and contains comprehensive information regarding music in the different ethnic groups of Kenya.

The book is divided into 5 chapters namely: introduction to Kenyan music; songs, games and dances of Gikuyu, Luhya, Taita, Swahili, Mijikenda, Lamu, Waboni, Mwaribe, Pokomo, Bajuni, Munyoyaya, Akamba, Kuria, Embu, Gusii, Meru, Nandi, Kipsigis, Luo, Maasai, Turkana, Somali and Orma; traditional music instruments of Kenya; music in prayer and other social functions; and the Kenyan music festivals.

3. Music in East Africa: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture by Gregory Barz (2004) – This book is about people singing, dancing and making music in contemporary East African communities. The main themes of the book are (i) the interaction of East Africans with traditional music and culture, (ii) the documentation of ways in which East Africans make music and dance useful and meaningful in their lives.

The contents of the book, which also comes with a CD containing 32 indigenous songs from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are; an introduction to music in East Africa; 3 case studies of traditional performances in Nyanhugi village, Bugwere village and Kisumu town; 2 case studies of fostering social cohesion by competition and traditional music performance of the Bulabo in Sukumaland and choir competitions in Dar es Salaam; 2 case studies of the lives and musical careers of Gideon Mdegella of Tanzania and Centurio Balikoowa of Uganda; the intersection of traditional music with the popular culture in the region.

4. Kenya: The Life And Times Of Kenya Pop by Doug Paterson (2006) - (A chapter of World Music – The rough Guide: Africa, Europe and the Middle East) – The book chapter covers the history of Kenyan pop, the major genres, names, events up to 2006. Some of the topics included are the interplay of guitars; brief rundowns of music cultures of Akamba, Bajuni, Borana, Chuka, Gusii, Luhya, Luo, Maasai, Mijikenda, Samburu and Turkana; Benga wizards of the 60’s and 70’s; and trends in Kenyan music.

5. Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008) – This is a narrative booklet, a 13 track music CD and documentary DVD complied and produced by Ketebul Music. The booklet includes amusing anecdotes, mini biographies and pictures of artists who shaped the Benga beat. The book follows Benga's spread from its roots around the shores of Lake Victoria in the early 60's to becoming the most popular music in Kenya.

6. Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010) – This is also a narrative booklet, a 19 track music CD and documentary DVD complied and produced by Ketebul Music. The 8 chapter book captures the story of popular Gikuyu music and the forces that shaped it, and is rich with biographies and pictures of popular Kikuyu musicians. Their narratives paint a picture of Kikuyu rhythms and melodies today and the promise of tomorrow.

7. An Introduction To Kamba Music by P.N. Kavyu (1977) – This  out of print book is written by the late Mr. Ndilya Kavyu who was a lecturer in the Dept of Music at the then Kenyatta University College.

The book begins with a brief introduction of the Kamba community and then delves right into Kamba dances and their organization. This is followed by a chapter on the composition of vocal music and then two chapters on initiation: Nzaiko nini and nzaiko nene (first circumcision and great circumcision). Next is a chapter on religious dance which delves into Kilumi and how the Kithembe (drum) is played. Covered in choral dance music is Kiole or Nzai dance, Kuvia and Kutingila. There is also a chapter on the mukanda instrumental dance and the role of drums (kithembe, ngoma, kyaa and mbalya) in Kamba music. The final three chapters are on melody, rhythm and form.

Also contained in the book are music scores for Ndumani Twe Ni Ndisi, Marumbeta, Inyaa Mwana Mbake, Inyaa Mwana, Sangia Ndau, Mbake Metike Nzi, Tata Niwambaika, Kamulili, Inyayu Mwaitu, Nzyululuke Kayolaa, Mutambo Nukathuke, Kuanzomo, Wingathiia Na Kumanya, Kulandeke, Kyuma Kitonye, Ndindili Nilume, Inyaa Mwana Nukuia, Nzasali Yamuisyo, Nzingithangye Kathumo and Kavola Muthungu.

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