By Ogova Ondego
Published May 23, 2006
Have you ever wondered why Kenya–despite its rich creative talent in music–has put only one song, Malaika, in the annals of world music?
It is because the man who produced the song was ‘legislated out of business by the government’ in Kenya. It did not matter that his other song, Harambee, was adopted as the signature tune played before and after every news bulletin on the national radio station known from 1961 as Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, renamed Voice of Kenya in 1964 and then KBC in 1989 for almost 40 years. But without any compensation to the producer.
That creator, 96-year-old Charles Worrod, speaks to ArtMatters.Info about the controversy surrounding Malaika, how he hired and trained musicians to perform professional music, how politicians interfered in his business, and how he was hounded out of Kenya.
Although the late Fadhili William Mdawida claimed in an interview he granted me shortly before his death in 2001 that he had composed Malaika in 1959 in honour of a girl he loved, 96-year-old Charles Worrod for whom Mdawida worked now discounts this.
A couple of weeks before passing on, a visibly ill Fadhili William Mdawida came to see me at the newspaper office where I worked to emphasise that it was he who had composed Malaika for a girl he loved and who, to him, looked like an angel.
“This girl was called Fennie and I nicknamed her Malaika,” he said. “I played guitar while Andrea Cholo played the mandolin. Though I was deeply involved in teenage love, I had no money with which to pay bride price for Fennie who was from a wealthy family. She was instead given away to an older man who could afford her. I composed Malaika to let her know how I felt. I wanted her to remember me and the only way to do so was through music.”
The lyrics the late Mdawida provided were:
Malaika nakupenda malaika
Kidege nakuwaza kidege
Pesa zasumbua roho yangu
Kama ningekuwa na pesa
“Although I sang this song for Fennie, I don’t know where she is or whether she is alive,” he said.
At the time he composed the song, he said, he was in Form Two at the then Government African School, Pumwani, in Nairobi. He transferred to Form Three at Shimo la Tewa School in Coast Province but then dropped out “to pursue my love for music.”
Though the late Fadhili William Mdawida composed other songs–Bura kwetu hakuna kazi, Kibingilisho igombe, Mwanamwali wa maridadi, and Awasi kwanisiva–while in school, none of them equaled Malaika.
He joined Jambo Boys Band under East African Records of Afcot Limited in 1959 and left in 1962, he said.
Later, Charles Worrod bought East African Records and renamed it Equator Sounds that comprised Fadhili William, Peter Tsotsi, Nashil Pichen, Ssongo, Daudi Kabaka, and Gabriel Omolo.
Previously, Jambo Boys Band consisted of Fadhili William, his brother Harrison William, Joseph Nazareth, Mumba Charo, Nahshon Gandani, Samuel Lefondo, and Sheila Monroe.
Told that producer Worrod had a document showing that Grant Charo and not Fadhili William had composed Malaika, William simply said, “Worrod was a pirate. He didn’t know about our songs. Charo was a friend working with BAT while I worked with East Africa Records. We had a singing quartet whose members included my brother Ruskin, Grant Charo, a twist dancer whose name I can’t recall and I.”
A guitarist, he said he taught them how to accompany him with vocals as he composed, sang and strummed away.
“At the time I composed Malaika, I asked Charo to accompany me in harmonising it. After recording the song I paid him off for his service. I put his name on the L.P. because he asked me to: “You already have a name, why don’t you credit me on this project so that I, too, may have a name?””
Saying he had joined Equator Sound later on after Banyora, Tsotsi, and Pichen, Fadhili William said, “Worrod wanted to make Malaika his song but I couldn’t let him. He tried to grab it but I was cleverer than he thought. He even tried to use Laventhac, a promoter in New York, to get it. Although Worrod received royalty on publishing, all the other rights were mine.”
He said Worrod paid the band members a retainer fee and not a monthly salary.
“Granted, he spent some money trying to promote us but that was well below what we would have received overseas. And he was aware of this. He never took me to Kenya Conservatoire of Music for training.”
Asman Ali, who says he worked with Kenya Broadcasting Service as a broadcaster and sound engineer-cum technician, said Grant Charo’s wife, Betty, who worked as a messenger at KBS, had often lamented that it was her husband who had composed Malaika and not William.
“From her innocent facial expression, Ali said, “I had no doubt that she was telling the truth.”
From what Worrod, the unsung ‘creator’ of Malaika says, it looks like the controversy surrounding this well loved song that Miriam Makeba belted out on April 29, 2006 in Yenagoa, Nigeria during the Africa Movie Academy Awards as she ‘retired’ from music is far from being resolved.
So who is Worrod and how does he come in the equation?
When he was born in Coventry, England, in 1912, Charles Worrod says he was a sickly child who medical experts predicted could not live beyond 12. Yet he has lived to a ripe old age of 96!
Worrod not only taught himself but went on to become a personality in the performing arts–theatre, music and film–both in South Africa and Kenya.
The story of Africa told to him by his father, a British soldier who had served in South Africa in 1948, he says, inspired his wish to visit Africa.
He left Britain for South Africa in 1948, arriving in Kenya in 1960 as an executive with Alexander Advertising Films and becoming father of ‘African Twist’ and ‘Kenyan music’.
Although not having attended school due to illness, Worrod went on to found a recording studio and an advertising agency and promoted artists in South Africa.
He moved into the music recording business in 1958, becoming production and publicity manager for Trutone Records.
Here, he promoted the famous penny-whistler Spokes Mashyane’s debut long player, King Kwela, to international stardom and then moved on to become the controller of Alpha Films Studios.
On arrival in Kenya he, together with two partners, bought East African Records from Afcot Limited at what he describes as a “bargain price”. But the company went rapidly downhill owing to the old equipment.
Worrod sold the company and launched Equator Sound Studios Limited in 1961 with the aims of employing musicians full time, and equipping them with first-rate instruments which they could also use to play for dances and other engagements, for their own account.
“Notwithstanding that the company owned the copyrights in Kenya law,” he says, “I would pay local royalty on all record sales and split all overseas and share broadcasting royalties 50-50 with the composer. And we would all make money!”
Recognising that sales of tribal music would be limited, Worrod says, “I realised the key to success would be my ‘African Twist’, which I based on the Afrikaans and kwela “off-beat,” the two rhythms that had fascinated me during my South African years. My African Twist rhythm would open up world markets for Equator!”
At Equator Sound, Worrod says, “I was the recording engineer; I wrote lyrics which were translated into “up-country” or “coastal” Swahili. I supplied some of the tunes and I also tuned the guitars.”
He says he collected musicians who were capable of playing “European’-style music, to put their melodies into his Twist rhythm. “I drummed the Twist rhythm into them until they were proficient. I showed the bass guitarist how to play a ‘rolling bass’ which one intrigued American musicologist later referred to as ‘a walking bass’.”
Working a 14-hour day, seven days a week, Worrod says he built up Equator Sound Studios until it was “the most progressive studio in East Africa.”
In the 1960s, he adds, he was the only record producer who employed musicians and paid them royalties.
Feeling that Kenyan music should be innovative after the origination of “Twist” by the Chubby Checker recording, he devised the beat, which he called African Twist music with an accent generally on the off-beat.
But the ‘Twist’ rhythm, he says, was too much to match the dance movements of various Kenyan communities. He gives Helule Helule, that he describes as “a Kabaka/Worrod effort: Kabaka’s words, Worrod’s rhythm and a joint melody,” as an example of ‘African Twist’.
“In spite of his claims, Fadhili William did not write Malaika. The truth is that the Jambo Boys who were employed by East African Records “workshopped” the music with Grant Charo supplying the words and the original idea,” he says.
“I have a signed statement from Fadhili admitting that he was not the composer of Malaika,” he adds. The supplier of the words and theme of Malaika, he says was Grant Charo.
The original recording was of very poor quality, he says.
“When Malaika was recorded by law all copyright belonged to the company because the musicians were employed for the purpose of writing and performing musical work,” he argues.
“The idea supplied first by one man, was modified by mutual agreement and the lead guitar, rhythm and bass players devised their own parts.”
Realising that Malaika could have worldwide appeal, he says he set Fadhili William and the Equator Sound Band to work on a modified version and it was this version that “set the song alight”.
In spite of the law, Worrod says, “I decided that Fadhili William, the musician who, with me, had been responsible for the international success of Malaika, should enjoy royalties.”
The international success of Malaika saw Miriam Makeba and Harry Belafonte, The Brothers Four, Boney M and many other artistes redoing it!
“Miriam Makeba then pirated the song, putting out a version by Gail Garnett and registering herself as the composer,” Worrod adds.
Worrod’s explanation appears to corroborate Fundi Konde’s who had told the Sunday Nation in 1996 that he, Konde, was the recording engineer when the original Malaika version was done by the Afcot record company in 1960.
Worrod says he was also the man behind the nationalistic Harambee song that, he claims, helped keep the then fractious Kenya together at independence.
Worrod, the managing director and recording engineer of Equator Sound Studios, realising the value of a national battle cry at such a crucial point in the nation’s fledgling history decided to produce a gramophone record to help in its countrywide promotion. Besides entertaining, the song would be used as a clarion call to unite the various ethnic communities into one nation.
He contends he set his musicians to work after playing John Brown’s Body to them saying, “Don’t copy it but keep the music and words simple and easy to remember like this famous American pre-civil war song, and remember the message is ‘Let us all pull together’.”
Though three musicians are said to have tried their hand at the song composition, it was Daudi Kabaka’s effort that bore fruit.
Kabaka and Worrod worked together on the song with the former supplying the lead and rhythm guitar parts and Worrod teaching Charles Ssonko to play the “rolling bass.”
Worrod made sure that the final version of Harambee was not only simple and easy to remember but also bright and happy-sounding. “The recording session was one of the shortest ever,” he says,”but it produced an evergreen number as Harambee caught the imagination of the nation and president Jomo Kenyatta alike. It was played over the radio before every news bulletin, a practice that continued long after independence and only ended” at the advent of multi-party democracy in Kenya in the late 1990s. It was also used for state occasions like Madaraka, Kenyatta and Jamhuri days to celebrate Kenya’s national pride and self-government.
While Worrod was in the studio promoting Kenyan music, his wife, Wynne, was the managing director and principal of Queensway Secretarial College, which she helped found and guided to become a leading college in East Africa in the 1960s.
Worrod says he is proud that Harambee helped to keep the country stable in its early republican years. His only regrets, he says, are that through the corruption that has been rife in Kenya’s music recording industry, he has received no royalties and that his reward was to be legislated out of business by the government of Kenyatta as a non-Kenyan citizen.
Soon after leaving Kenya, the Kenya government opted for a Kenya performing rights organization and all payments to Equator Sound ended.
“My letters were ignored. Eventually the officers of the society were charged with theft and corruption. A new body was formed but Equator has never received a cent. Over the last 30 years at the rate of, say ten shillings per performance on six services six times a day, my Harambee number alone would have earned over a million pounds,” he laments.
Due to ill-health Worrod was unable to return to the British climate and decided to move down to South Africa where he became a columnist and theatre and television critic for more than a decade.
Saying “I was very fond of my musicians and even after numerous and ongoing transgressions,” he adds, “I invariably and inevitably made allowances for the disadvantages they faced. It was rather like having an unruly family.”
Although “Kenya law gave me the full rights to all Equator recordings as being commissioned, I had introduced royalties for composers. My African musicians could not understand that my singing a melody for them to copy, or putting music into a different rhythm and supplying the story-line entitled me or the company to share in composer royalties. But in the meantime they continued to draw salaries, receive royalties on record sales and use Equator equipment for their own account.” He says Nashil Pichen, Peter Tsotsi, Fadhili William and Daudi Kabaka got together and informed the Performing Rights Society (PRS) that Worrod had in no way contributed to the composition or lyrics of “their” songs.
“Both Fadhili and Kabaka untruthfully told PRS they had not received royalties from Equator. I have statements issued by the companies that pressed Equator records, and they carry proof of royalties paid to these artists as composers.”
“Until I opened my studio and employed musicians, they had always been itinerant. They did not take easily to the idea of one studio and no ‘walkabout’ and although they were bound by contracts they repeatedly ‘moonlighted’, playing for shopkeeper-producers and saying “Sorry” when found out.”
Worrod says he enrolled Equator Sound at the Nairobi Cultural Centre for a two-year practical and theory music course after they complained that unlike white musicians, they could not afford to take music lessons.
In December 1965, Worrod says he “set Fadhili William, Nashil Pichen, Charles Sonko and Peter Tsotsi up in business for their own account as Satellite Radio Productions’ after they complained that all record and radio-production producing companies in Kenya were either Asian or European owned.”
Within a month, however, Worrod adds that two members of the band had cheated by recording for another company and one had helped himself to the ‘kitty’ Worrod had given them as starting capital. “At their own request, Satellite Radio Productions closed down and I re-employed them,” he says.
Today Worrod lives in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa, from where he says, “It is a fact that if the whole country, from the president and the opposition, down to the man and woman in the street would put the spirit of harambee into practice, Kenya would remain on the path to stability and prosperity!”