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Walking Down Memory Lane with Sal Davis

Originally published on: April 13, 2008

By: Mohamed Said

I am today the proud owner of the CD by Sexteto Habanero titled ‘Sexteto Habanero 1926 – 1931’ (a gift from my friend Dr Harith Ghassany) which contains the song ‘El Sonero’ that I used to dance to fifty years ago.

I grew up as a young boy in Dar es Salaam of 1960s that people of my age refer to as the roaring 60s. In my view this ‘word’ roaring emanates probably from the fast life of the times.
This was an era of Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard, The Beatles, Mick Jagger, The Rolling Stones, Eric Burdon and the Animals, Ray Charles, Helen Shapiro, Connie Francis etc. etc.
Wood Stock came much later in 1969 with Jimi Hendricks, Janis Joplin, Ike and Tina Turner The ‘soul music’ of James Brown, Wilson Picket, Ottis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Sam and Dave and others came much later.

Those of us who lived through that period and are still living find it very difficult occasionally not to reminiscent over those ‘good old days.’ Saturdays was the day for movies – the afternoon shows at Empire Theatre.

Popular ones were westerns and musicals but not ‘The Sound of Music’ type of Julie Andrews. We went for pop music – ‘The Young Ones’ and ‘Summer Holiday’ starring Cliff Richard.
We loved pop music because we were young and we loved to shout and sway in our seats when Cliff or Elvis was singing hot numbers. You just cannot shout when Julie Andrews sings ‘My Favorite Things’ accompanied by a full orchestra.  The least one can do was to doze off.

The furthest my mind can go back associating with my childhood music is mid 1950s at Livingstone Street Dar es Salaam at the house of my Aunt Bibi Mwanaisha bint Mohamed.
She had a gramophone; closing my eyes I see her putting my favorite song on her gramophone, ‘El Sonero’ by Sexteto Habanero [Cuban Music groups], and amusingly calling, ‘Mwamedi (a corruption of Mohamed) now show them how to dance I was about four or five years old.

Their music, recorded by His Master’s Voice (HMV) label was the music, which ‘Sauti ya Dar es Salaam’ played when broadcasting began in Tanganyika in 1951.
I liked the gramophone so much that my aunt used to tell me it was going to be my wedding present.  I remember when my aunt had to move the gramophone to another house say, for a party she would wrap it in a bed sheet and carried it on top of her head.

My aunt would clap her hands in time with the music to encourage me. I would stand up and dance and there would be laughter all over. The gramophone was an important object of entertainment in many homes just like the CD players today. The gramophone played those big 78-RPM records, which had to be handled with care, as they were very fragile.

It was the gramophone, which introduced me to my first party-a wedding party.That is the first time I heard the song ‘Harusi’, which is now, played at every wedding party by many bands hired to entertain people at weddings.The song does not seem to loose its taste several years after it was composed. The composer of the song is Frank Humplink- a young guitarist who began his carrier in Moshi. He started playing the guitar while singing alongside his two sisters Maria and Regina.

Humplink moved to Nairobi and joined the ‘Jambo boy’s band after he was spotted and persuaded by Peter Colmore. As fate would have it I became acquainted to Peter Colmore early enough in my carrier as a writer and this encounter developed into a personal friendship, which lasted until when death struck Colmore.

Before his death Colmore would invite me the Muthaiga Country Club whenever I was in Nairobi and I came to know much about his life. Colmore pioneered the Music recording industry in East Africa and he is reputed to have owned the first tape recorder in Kenya- a machine he bought from a fellow army officer.

In those days tape recorders used paper tape that were known as a ‘sound mirror.’  With this tape recorder Colmore began his carrier in recording music, being himself a gifted stage artist and composer.

Colmore was a regular performer at the Nairobi Royal Theatre and had his own band ‘The Peter Comore African Band. He regularly travelled to Dar-es-Salaam to record local bands like Ulanga Jazz Band, Morogoro Jazz Band, Home Boys and others. Colmore was responsible for recording for His Master’s Voice (HMV), Blue Label and ‘Jambo Records’ which was owned by one of his friends Dr. Guy Johnson.

Jambo Records also recorded music of talented singer and bandmaster Salum Abdallah. Colmore with his friend Dr Johnson also ventured into   filmmaking. Colmore then founded his own recording company – High Fidelity Productions Limited that was Nairobi based.

Colmore’s signed Edward Masengo the gifted guitarist from Elizabethville, Belgian Congo to promote Coca-Cola. Masengo had come to Nairobi with a group Je-Co-Ke meaning, Jean Comedian Katanga.

Colmore who was already in broadcasting was informed that there was a young man in town who excellently played the guitar. He straightaway went to Masengo’s lodge where he found him in a dirty hotel at River Road. Sitting on the floor, Masengo played the guitar that gathered several people around him to listen to his music.

This was the beginning of the association between Colmore and Masengo. Colmore promoted Massengo to become one of the greatest musicians ever, to emerge from Kenya.
There was the famous poster of Masengo with his guitar and Coca Cola bottle in one hand. Through Masengo, Colmore signed a talented singer and guitarist, Jean Mwenda Bosco a cousin to Masengo from Elizabethville. In January 1959 Colmore and Masengo flew to Elizabethville to fetch Bosco for a short contract for the promotion of ‘Aspro tablets’.

Bosco was a household name in East Africa but none had seen his photograph or knew how he looked like because he had never travelled out of Congo. The Belgian government made Colmore to deposit 30,000 franc as a collateral to make sure that Colmore would return Bosco to Congo. At that time Bosco was recording with Gallatone a South African recording company.
Bosco stayed in Nairobi for six months. Colmore also organised shows for Masengo and Bosco to perform together at dance halls in Nairobi.

Before he left for home, Bosco composed a song in praise of Peter Colmore, Shangwe Mkubwa in which he sang of his flight from Elizabethville to Nairobi. Massengo married a beautiful Masai girl, Lucie Akukuu Mainge.

Colmore promoted other entertainers and musicians such as Mathias Mulamba, Esther John and John Mwale. He also brought into the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation [KBC] famous radio personalities like Stephen Kikumu, Julius Kilua, Said Omari and comedians such as Omari Sulemani best known as Mzee Pembe, Halima bint Said amongst others.
I have been living outside Dar es Salaam for the last ten years but I come to Dar each month and to keep abreast of news in town I have my ‘Baraza’ [sitting for Peers].

We people from the coast have places in street corners were we sit down in the evenings to talk and relax over a cup of coffee.

The Baraza is strictly a male is strictly a male affair. Since we are now adults we no longer frequent the ‘baraza’ in the street corners because of various reasons. First and fore most the ‘barazas’ no exist or have been taken over by the young generation.

The Dar es Salaam of 2000s is not that of 1960s. There are today no respectable places in Dar es Salaam particularly in Kariakoo where one can hangout.
The high-rise buildings have completely changed not only the scenery but also the atmosphere, customs and traditions. My ‘baraza’ is now a restaurant the ‘Chef’s Pride’ which I go to for a cup of tea or for snacks. This is where I came face to face with my childhood idol – Sal Davis.

You must be wondering why I did not introduce him at the beginning along with other stars. Not that he was a mediocre compared to say Cliff Richard and other stars.
I did that with a purpose. Sal Davis had a special place to me and to most of us in that generation.

Sal Davis was of our own. Based in London of 1960s Sal Davis is the only star from East Africa to acquire international fame and popularity as a singer and composer.
Young as I was at that time listening to his earlier numbers like ‘Poor Little Rich Girl,’ ‘Mama You Treat My Sister Mean,’ to mention only a few of his hit numbers, the way he sang astounded us.
The accent in his English, the orchestration, and the chorus girls in the background – for most of us initially it was not easy to tell whether Sal Davis was black or white. It was only when ‘Makini’ was released in which he mixed Swahili and English lyrics that his identity was revealed to me.

I was surprised to learn that his name was Salim Abdallah. Sal Davis changed his name to acquire one, which went with the trade. May be the name was just too mouthful for English fans or would sound and look out of place on billboards and record labels.

The song ‘Mama You Treat My Sister Mean’ makes me recall my childhood friend Abdallah Rugome, now deceased. The song was like his national anthem. Abdallah died young and a very devout Muslim. That was his favorite song, which we used to sing together and immediately after finishing ‘his song’ I would burst in with ‘my song’ – ‘Poor Little Rich Girl’ and Abdallah would join in:

Poor little rich girl
She fell in love
With a poor little good boy
Who had no hands
But they couldn’t go together
Cause her folks would not understand
Poor little rich girl she is aloneIn her house at the hill top
She solved aloneWith rubies and diamonds
And the storm in her heart wont die
Poor little rich girl she cant forget
Every night in her pillow her cheeks her wet
With tear drops like rain drops
And the storm in her heart wont die
He mother said he is not the boy for you
Her father said her folks are common too
But I say don’t cry you pup love will soon die

This was and still is one of my favorites of Sal Davis all time classics.
Abdallah adored Sal Davis so much that he tried his best to sound like him. Today when I talk to Sal Davis and listen to the way he speaks I see my late friend Abdallah Rugome standing there in front of me.

Sal Davis came to Dar es Salaam and recorded a program with Chipukizi Club. This was an elite music group of young talented boys and girls still in school. They used to record a music program with Tanganyika Broadcasting Corporation (TBC), which was very popular among the youth.

When Chipukizi were on the air none of us would be in the streets. The signature tune, which introduced Chipukizi in the airwaves, was a song titled ‘Here We Go Loo Be Loo.’

About The Writer:

Mohamed Said is a Tanzania Author, currently based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

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