An afternoon with Lele (Mwanzo wa Ngoma)

It was a sweltering afternoon. The location was the Bowling Green Restaurant at the City Park. The event was Twendelele. I had never been to The Bowling Green before and, to be honest, didn’t even know it existed until Charles extended to me the invitation for this particular event. Actually, he has invited me for a number of such concerts before but something always came up and prevented me from attending them. This time, however, I’d promised him I’d be there. This month’s Twendelele was ‘a celebration of the shared love for music, the realization of dreams and the hope for greater heights.’

I am sure you are wondering what I am going on all about. Maybe I should have started from the beginning to put you into the picture. Well then, let’s go back to the beginning, the beginning of music, of Lele Ngoma.



Lele is an acoustic, urban Benga Kenyan band formed in 2009. The word Lele is Swahili for ‘the beginning of music’, or, if you want to put it in a different way, the height of music, lifted from the Swahili proverb mwanzo wa ngoma ni lele. The members of the band are Kevin Koech (Guitar/ vocals), Catherine Miano (Vocals), Wangui Githu (Vocals), Charles Bodo (Vocals), Jack Towett (Bass Guitar), Josh Masese (Keys) and Victor Monyi  (Drums). This young and talented group has, in their own words, “set out to create a new and different Afro sound that combines Rock, Benga and Afro-soul. With their songs, they aim to influence society positively, express themselves and share their love for music.”

The band members are an interesting mix brought together by one thing: their passion for music. Kevin is an Actuarial Science graduate from the University of Nairobi; Kate is a Bachelor of Law student at the University of Nairobi; Wangui is a student of Music at Kenyatta University and also attends piano lessons at the Kenya Conservatoire of Music; Charles is a graduate from the School of Journalism at the University of Nairobi and is currently a freelance writer; Josh is waiting to join campus later on in the year while Jack is an IT specialist.

Despite their varied academic backgrounds, they manage to blend well on stage and one would be excused for thinking that they all studied music at university. In fact, only Wangui has an academic background in music. Being in the band has helped her a lot in putting into practice the theory she learns in class; she finds in music something that helps her grow from within, something that she really loves doing. While growing up, she had wanted to become a lawyer but discovered instead that her passion lay in music. She has never regretted the choice.

Kate started singing in primary school and has a passion for children. She loves working with them and eventually wants to become a children’s advocate. Kevin has a BSc. In Actuarial Science but at the moment he is doing what he loves best: music. He loves his guitar which he describes as a ‘very beautiful and very expressive musical instrument.’ Charles is an artist, a designer and a writer. He loves writing, visiting art galleries and museums and critiquing works of art as a hobby.

I have known Charles for the last…mmmh, let’s see… 1, 2, 3… wow, ten years! And all I can remember about him during this whole period is his passion for music. This ardour can also be seen in faces of Kevin, Kate and Wangui as they perform on stage: the bright smiles, the hearty singing, and the banter as they perform song after song much to the delight of the crowd.

The crowd at the open garden of the Bowling Green is a young energetic one. In today’s culture where society many times does not trust the youth to have fun without ‘misbehaving’, this particular group of young people proves that it’s possible to do just that. They are seated in small groups, some on chairs under the tents put up, while others are seated on kangas and lesos spread on the grass, attentive to the sound of Lele Ngoma. A few of them are sipping soft drinks as they listen to the melodious voices but for the majority of them, the music alone is enough to quench their thirsty souls.

Some of the songs composed by Lele Ngoma include Auma, a song about a girl who goes through a tough life of poverty. She is raped but refuses to abort the resultant pregnancy. Unfortunately she miscarries and has to go through life with the stigma of the rape and the fact that people think that she got pregnant because she was a “loose girl”. Kimbia is about escapism; about people who run away from certain realities and want to pretend that these realities do not exist. It reminds this type of people that mbio za sakafuni huishia ukingoni; Ni Sawa attempts to enlighten us on the fact that the value of life is not in wealth but on living a virtuous life. It has an interesting line: utajiri si mali bali hali. Haiye talks (or sings) about hope after a tragedy. Its recurrent theme is that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Other songs the band has under its belt are Nakupenda, Itakuwaje, Atim Nade and Mayo among others.

From what I saw last Saturday, this band is definitely going places. Watch out for their album which will be coming out soon. For them, though, it’s not really about where they are going to be in the next 30 or 40 years, but where their music is going to be. They want to produce music that will stick in people’s hearts and remain there – forever.

by Sylvester Oluoch

For more details on Lele Ngoma:

Join their Facebook page:

Or follow them on Twitter:!/LeleNgoma

Or visit their blog:

And check out their interview on YouTube:

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