Before Jomo Kenyatta International Airport became JKIA the terminal was known as ‘Embakasi,’ derived from the Maasai word ‘Empaakasi’ probably meaning grazing area or grassy patch, where the airport was built.
But the airport’s earlier name spawned one of East Africa’s fire hits, the classic ‘Embakasi’ by Orchestra Les Mangelepa.
It was a heart-breaking song about a man who flies from Kenya’s airport and stares down at his lover, a lady known as ‘Susan,’ also looking up at the departing plane, carrying her man away in tears.
The song composer and singer Kalenga Nzaazi Vivi has been announced dead and just like his 1978’s tear jerking hit, the death has sent the entire region into mourning.
Kalenga Vivi was a top musician and among the founding members of the famous Mangelepa Band.
Like many of the Congolese musicians who escaped the Dictator Mobutu Sese Seko’s leadership in the former Zaire, Vivi and company came to East Africa in 1969.
They were together with Gaston Ilunga wa Ilunga (Baba Gaston) of the fire hit, Kakolele Viva Christmas, and Kasongo wa Kanima who would later front the Super Mazembe band.
The first account say the Musicians entered Tanzania via Kigoma, during the time when the legendary MV Liemba was the sole means of transport connecting DR Congo with other East African countries through Lake Tanganyika.
Upon arriving in Kigoma, Kalenga Vivi and fellow musicians that founded the Orchestra Baba Nationale, travelled to Dar es Salaam.
The second account claim that they actually entered Tanzania through Uganda and upon crossing to Tanzania on Lake Victoria, they landed in Mwanza where they were received by members of the ‘Super Vea 69’ band there, which had some Tanzanian musicians such as Zahir Ally Zorro.
All the same, from Mwanza their destination would be Dar-es-salaam City during Mwalimu Nyerere’s Tanzania.
Residents of Dar-es-salaam offered them a warm welcome since Congolese music was extremely popular in the country (and still is).
They were very popular and made a big fan base.
But with lack of a proper music industry in Tanzania, the musicians would be forced to travel to Nairobi for recording their songs, then released on mostly vinyl.
It was usually a back-and-forth journey between Kenya and Tanzania such that in 1975 they eventually decided to settle in Nairobi for good, in order to cut down the overhead.
Either due to misunderstandings or financial concerns some musicians led by Bwami Walumona and Kabila Kabanze Ivani, split from the group to form the Orchestra Les Mangelepa, this occurred a year later, to be precise in July 1976.
The band lineup included Badibanga Wa Tshilumba, Bwamy Walumona, Kabebe Mukangwa “Picolo”, Kabila Kabanze, Kalenga Nzaazi, Kasongo Fundi, Lukangika Maindus, Lumwanga Mayombo, Lutulu Kaniki Macky, Mukala Kanyinda, Mukala Wa Mulumba, Mwepu Mutshi, Tabu Ngongo and Twikale Wa Twikale
Mangelepa’s most popular earlier hits include Vivi’s own composition, ‘Kasuku,’ ‘Nyako-Konya,’ and of course ‘Embakassy.’
The band would later release great works later, such as ‘Mimba,’ ‘Dracula,’ ‘Amua,’ ‘Walter,’ ‘Masanga,’ ‘Maindusa,’ and ‘Christmas.’
Their ‘Mtukufu Rais Moi,’ song in praise of the former Kenyan President, Daniel Arap Moi, would be frequently played in the national radio station after the failed August 1982 Military Coup.
Some of the Les Mangelepa band members who have since died include Badibanga wa Tshilumba Kai Kai, the vocalist and a trombone player.