Matata - Wanna Do My Thing
London in the early seventies was a hot bed of creativity; musical and otherwise. I'd just moved to the capital as a twenty-one year old and couldn't get enough of all that diverse talent. Matata was just one of the outstanding African bands from that period and when Cherry Red's John Reid asked if I wanted to write about them I jumped at the chance.
Matata – the name means “trouble” in Swahili, and in retrospect it was well chosen. The story of this African funk band who took London nightclubs by storm, jammed with giants of soul, jazz and Latin music and then splintered apart not once but twice is enough to make any half-decent scriptwriter sit up and take notice. At its heart is the music – a pulsating brew of black American funk and African rhythms that help define an era whilst still making people dance more than forty years later. Matata recorded two albums for President Records between 1972-74 and every last track from
those sessions, plus a few extras, are included here.
The band has its roots in the Congo although it formed in Nairobi in the mid-sixties, not long after Kenya gained Independence. Jomo Kenyatta presided over one of the most politically reactionary countries in Africa. It was a place where political exiles from all over Africa gathered, and Nairobi – known as “the Green City In The Sun” because of the palm trees lining its modern streets – was brimming with ideas, hope and music. Saturday evenings meant a trip to the Starlight Club, on the corner of Milimani and Valley Road. That’s where you could hear the best upbeat party music, drawn from African music and American jazz and rhythm and blues. The club had proven a great success since opening in the summer of 1965. Twelve thousand patrons went through its doors every month and owner Robbie Armstrong, a white Englishman, recruited some of the biggest bands in Kenya like the Ashantis, Cavaliers and Air Fiesta Matata.
“Kenya was booming when it came to music and the Starlight was really popular,” recalls singer and keyboard player Anwar Richard. “There was a bar in the building and dancing, and then you walked to the big, massive garden for a barbecue. They didn’t just sell beef or chicken, but meat from wild animals like elephant, lion and ostrich... We’d be there, playing Congolese music and funk, Tamla Motown and Earth, Wind And Fire... I was listening to records by all those artists and James Brown was massive, let me tell you...”