Music

Shah gives rumba a sweeter rhythm

ShyamShah

Shyam Shah whose stage name is SHAMA is a UK based Kenyan rumba guitarist, singer and producer. PHOTO | POOL

Summary

  • The survival of Rumba as the popular sound of East and Central Africa is facing a threat from the dominance of other African pop sounds that have transformed to meet the demands of the continent's youthful generation.
  • The West Africans have rebranded their trademark genres of Highlife and Afrobeat into the contemporary Afropop and Afrobeats while South Africans have tweaked Electronic House music into Amapiano.

The survival of Rumba as the popular sound of East and Central Africa is facing a threat from the dominance of other African pop sounds that have transformed to meet the demands of the continent's youthful generation. The West Africans have rebranded their trademark genres of Highlife and Afrobeat into the contemporary Afropop and Afrobeats while South Africans have tweaked Electronic House music into Amapiano.

Kenyan guitarist, singer and producer Shyam Shah, now simply known by the stage name Shama, who is based in the UK is a man on a mission to give rumba a new face and sound that can conform to modern global trends.

Many people still raise eyebrows when they see a musician of Asian heritage playing rumba but the Nairobi born and bred artiste is a product of diverse musical influences that formed the soundtrack of his upbringing. It is the sweet sound of rumba that left a lasting impression on him and influenced the choice he made to pursue music professionally.

Shama who relocated to the UK in 2019 after four years and two studio albums with Orchestra Masika Afrika, the band he founded, has successfully completed his debut solo project.

His latest single “Dunia ya Haraka” released two weeks ago, is a lively dance arrangement, retaining the distinct multilayered rhythm guitars fused with diverse global elements.

They style of the arrangement has also been changed as the “sebene” (climax) kicks in a minute and a half into the song in a format that resembles the snappy energy of modern pop songs.

“The attention span of music fans today is such that you cannot hold their attention with elaborate 15-minute songs of the past,” says Shama who was originally trained as a classical and jazz musician.

His mission is to develop an identity for himself visually and sonically.

“I have worked on changing the sound, production, vocals and just like you would be able to identify the sound of rumba greats like Tabu Ley or Franco, I too, want to have a signature style.”

Unlike his previous productions that involved working with a large group of musicians, the new project is self-written and produced by the artist himself who also played guitar, bass and mastered the music himself.

“That big band setting of the traditional rumba bands is dying a slow death because it is too expensive to sustain,” says Shama who is also studying for a degree in Music Performance, Production and Business.

He says musicians must now wake up to the reality of juggling different roles in the production process and the more skills you can add to your portfolio the better for you. “Technology and skills allow us to create the music as we wish on our own,” says Shama. “I enjoy the independence and self-reliance even though I still miss the experience of playing with other musicians.” While in London he has been collaborating with some of Africa’s finest musicians including the band Groupo Lokito led by Mbokaliya Burkina Faso who is best known as lead guitarist with Wenge Musica BC BG.

Due to the lockdown, Shama and the band got together for an online show which is available to stream on YouTube. Their next big performance will be at the world famous WOMAD music festival in July, while keeping fingers crossed that the event takes place as planned given the uncertainty that has been caused by the pandemic. He has travelled to Cuba twice to engage with the traditional music links between the Latin music of the island and African rumba music. Being located in the cosmopolitan city of London has enabled him work with musicians from across the world.

“This is a learning experience for me because I am being exposed to different styles of music from around the world,” says Shama.

He has also collaborated in a three-way project with the legendary Les Mangelepa and the UK band Village Cuts for a song that is currently under production set for release in the summer. He also has worked on three songs on the upcoming album by Ana Bulnes from Honduras which comes out later in the year.

After days of teasing his new single "Nashangaa" on social media, his second song from his upcoming project is finally available to stream and download across all digital platforms from today.

Shama describes it as a song that is targeted at music fans who would not ordinarily have rumba as their first choice of music, saying it is a dance-oriented groove, with an emphasis on the beat rather than the lyrics.