Swahili Blues is Leo Mkanyia’s trade mark; one that he speaks about proudly for it is an identity for a man who chose to do things differently.
And in an industry that is saturated with almost the same stuff he has every reason to thump his chest over his uniqueness, for it is a brand that has taken him places.
Two months ago, Leo Mkanyia and Swahili Blues Band have released his third studio album titled Bangili one that was recorded in Ketebul Music Studios in Nairobi.
Though he sticks to his blue print, the new album takes a slight departure with several collaborations from across the border.
The new album features a host of Kenyan musicians such as Winyo Shiphton, a saxophonist, Juma Tutu from Swahili Jazz, Nyota Ndogo and Makadem among others.
Though the launch was in the usual Leo mkanyia way at the Alliance Francaise featuring a couple of other artistes from Dar , it was about time to sample what the rest of Africa thought about Bangili.
Throughout June Leo was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he shared ‘Bangili’ with his Abyssinian audience for the first time.
While in Ethiopia, Leo and the Swahili Blues Band staged several shows that drew record attendances at different venues around the city of Addis.
“Music has a universal language and that is why it was easy to connect with the audience that barely speaks Kiswahili given the fact that most of our songs are in our native Swahili,” Leo told The Beat.
The Ethiopian expedition included a rare chance of playing alongside famous Ethiopian Jazz guitarist Girum Mezmur who is also a teacher in Jazzamba school of Jazz Music in Addis Ababa.
“This was a privilege given what Girum Mezmur has achieve in the past two decades as a performer, producer and as well as an instructor. He co-founded the Jazzamba Music School and also teaches at the Yared Music School in Addis Ababa Ethiopia,” says Leo.
According to him it was always interesting and good to play and sing to an audience that was enthusiastic something he rarely gets especially when singing in a language that the audience doesn’t understand.
“When you find yourself in this kind situation then you have to be real good and technical in the art of sound which is music itself,” said Leo Mkanyia.
This was the second time for the band to tour Ethiopia and to them it is always an experience that they cherish given the diversity that it brings.
“ For us as musicians to perform outside our comfort zone or our countries strengthens the cultures of both sides, because people would learn from you and at the same time you also learn from them and this is how we grow as artiste,” says Leo Mkanyia
The Swahili Blues Band is made up of five experienced musicians who have worked together for a very long time.
The group has learnt a lot from Henry Mkanyia (Leo’s father) who used was part of DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra aka Sikinde for more than 15 years.
During his time, Henry recorded a number of popular albums and also toured Europe extensively in the early 90s with the famous Mlimani Park Orchestra.
Kilimatinde Mohamed Selemani aka Mr energy is a percussionist whereas Simon Costa plays the low frequency guitar aka bass guitar doctor while Jose Dose is on the drum kit.
One of the unique features of this band is that every member is a multi-instrumentalist which means they can all sing and play several instruments.
In Dar es Salaam, the band plays regularly at the Serena Hotel on Fridays and at Coco Beach on Wednesdays.