Album: Urgent Jumping!

A new album compiles dance classics from East African music’s belle epoque

The winningly named Urgent Jumping! – the literal translation of one of the album’s Swahili-language track titles – is a double-CD compilation of dance music singles released in East Africa between 1972 and 1982. Most of the 27 tracks were recorded in Nairobi during the 1970s, the hub of the region’s modern music and a gathering point for musicians from Tanzania, Uganda and the Congo as well Kenya.

The two discs mine a rich seam of music, generically known as benga, which was at the time, and still is, largely unknown outside East Africa. Since Manu Dibango, Sunny Ade and Fela Kuti came to overseas attention in the late 1960s and 1970s, European fascination has been centred on West Africa, from Senegal, Guinea and Mali through Ghana and Nigeria to Cameroon.

Compared with much West African music of the period, urgency is not, in fact, at the forefront here. Benga bands, multi-national ensembles which frequently included horn sections strongly influenced by Congolese-rumba, might crack along at a pace, but their music is typically looser and lighter in feel than its West African cousins. A lone mutant-Afrobeat track on Urgent Jumping!, Orchestre Conga Internationale’s 'Nakupenda Sana', is one of the few exceptions. The release is compiled by London DJ John Armstrong, who has long championed East African sounds.