Tribute to Christian Longomba: And the Legacy of ‘The Longombas”

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The best age to be in December 2002 was 18, preferably, just done with your KCSE.

Kenyans had thrown out a dictator in an election won by a landslide by Mwai Kibaki. Patrick Quarcoo, the Ghanaian media mogul had launched Kiss 100 that was revolutionizing our entertainment sector. And young men and women had birthed what was a new Kenyan sound, soon to be called Kapuka (the name came from a diss track by the K-South, but stuck, for good reasons) that was to rule the 2000s, thanks to Ogopa DJs.

The best show for teenagers was the Top 7 at 7. We waited at 7 O’clock for the news, followed by The Top 7 at 7, a show by Maina Kageni and Cess Mutungi, before Shaffie Weru and Debbie Asila, or whoever came afterward took over. We loved the competition between Ogopa DJs and Calif. And man, Ogopa could go wild on the bass.

And then, one of the best truly brilliant musicians of the era was The Longombas, made up of brothers, Christian and Lovy Longomba. The two were descendants of one of Africa’s most vaunted music families. Their grandfather, Vicky Longomba was a founding member of TPOK Jazz, and a successful musician in his own league. Their father Lovy Longomba was one of the members of Super Mazembe. Awilo Longomba is their uncle. So, music ran in their blood.

And what a gift they were to us. Despite being of Congolese heritage, they adopted Kenya as their home and contributed immensely to the creation of the Kapuka/Boomba sound. I can imagine what it was to bang and dance to their hits of their 2000s.

Let us start with Dondosa. When we will finally compile Kenya’s greatest songs of all time, it will definitely be in the top ten category. Nairobi Cool listed Dondosa no. 18.

Read the top 100 Kenyans songs of all time here: https://nairobicool.com/100-greatest-kenyan-songs-of-all-time-part-1/

Dondosa was a genre-defining hit. Its beat, the unique vocal delivery of the duo, Christian in particular, gave the song an everlasting feel. To date, young and old people still bump to the song, any time it is played as part of the nostalgia treat. Few songs get people to the dance floor as Dondosa did.

Then, there was Piga makofi, which came out as we were starting to love them, especially for their foreign heritage. I love Piga Makofi, oddly enough for the video. There is a dancer there in a green shawl covering her right leg and the left leg is naked, all the way up. There is a way, she grinds on some lucky dude at the 1.34 mark for the next 4 seconds that is so erotically magical. I love it.

Whereas their oeuvre was not long enough to warrant a notable album, their singles have stood the test of time. In Kenya, where most musicians for reasons ranging from commercial, low consumption culture to laziness, they gave us good enough jams to entertain a generation. There was Vuta Pumzi, a song that sensitized us about HIV/Aids, written creatively not to enforce the stigma that was prevalent at the time, but at the same time warning people to take precautionary measures against the disease that is still part our lived experience. The beat had so much energy.

There was Usinihande with a different slowed down bit. And their sign off tune Queen was a love ballad, arguably one of their best with 1.7 million views on YouTube at the time of writing this article. Christian’s opening verse is one of the best verses one can sing along to.

The duo exited the stage when they were on top and settled in California, to pursue their music. Lovy would later write songs for Iggy Azalea, TI, Gwen Stefani among others.

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Christian Longomba told Mukurima Muriuki in a 2015 interview in California that despite being born into a musical family, he never thought he would end up in music. His interest in music was piqued when he visited Samawati Studio where his father recorded some of his music and watch him perform with his bandmates.

He would later learn music by watching his cousin Nasty Thomas of the Deux Vultures duo. That is what motivated him to write Dondosa, the chart-topping number of the aughts.

“The funny thing is that when I wrote it, I wasn’t looking around me — my family and the numerous possibilities for partnership(s) at my disposal,” he told Muriuki in an interview published by The Nation and Medium. Initially, he had paired with someone else but the song lacked a certain flavour, and they parted ways in frustration. That is when he roped in his brother Lovy and thus The Longombas were birthed.

They were still in school, and they would skirt around school looking for excuses as they started off their music career. The finessed Dondosa and by the time they got to the seventh version, they reached out to Nasty Thomas (he had just released Monalisa with Mustafa) who took them Ogopa DJs studios in South C. They sold their belongings to raise studio money. They met Lucas Bikedo, then operating from his parent’s home.

They gave him the “Dondosa” CD demo. He told them to leave, but before they could get to their estate gate, he came running after them, and told them,

“Men, I have listened to your track. I don’t know who was working on it before, but it has potential. Please let us go back to the house.”

After replaying the song several times, they felt the song was right and when asked who they were, they answered “The Longombas”. Lucas would introduce them to his networks at KBC and Capital FM.  Eve de Souza was the first to play their song at Capital FM. And it would rule the Kenyan airwaves ushering them to the Kenyan mainstream as one of the key anchors of the Kapuka sound.

Rookies in the music industry, little known beyond their solo, they didn’t know how to secure show, and their cousin Nasty Thomas came to their help again. At the time, Deux Vultures were performing their hit Monalisa, and asked the Longombas to curtain raise for them without pay.

They got their first pay at the Tusker Pool Challenge, where they met Big Ted, who was working with The Vultures. There performance was so good that fans demanded a repeat. They would perform in other avenues across their country as their popularity grew.

Gradually, they became household names and paid back by dropping their conscious hit, Vuta Pumz that talked irresponsible sexual behaviour and help curb the spread of HIV.

Having conquered the Kenyan music sector they moved to the United Stated.

“We felt we needed to explore a different way of making music, to think outside the box. We wanted to take our music beyond Kenya and Africa, to expand our horizons,” he said. Having been popular in Kenya, there was nothing to show for their popularity.

However, their music production trickled down, as Lovy ventured into music writing as well as start a church. Christian’s health would be beset by a brain tumour in 2015, that will take him down on March 12, 2021, on the 33rd anniversary of his grandfather’s death.

Sickness

In 2015, after suffering occasional headaches that he treated with painkillers, he never thought it was something worth paying attention to. At times he would vomit and would charge that to something he had eaten. He would get tired, but he would think he needed rest.  Then while lounging with a friend, he lost his consciousness and had a seizure. Luckily, the friend was a nurse and knew what to do, he called paramedics who took him to the hospital.

After several tests, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour- Falx and parasagittal meningiomas. And it was huge according to the neurosurgeons. The surgery was major and invasive. It went well, but not without setbacks. He suffered internal bleeding, necessitating another surgery to remove blood clots from his bran.

“My recovery was so amazing that I realised that God was there for me. My illness has taught me a lot, especially faith in God. I have learnt to appreciate every little thing God has given me — the ability to smile, mobility,and even the ability to go to the bathroom. People take these little things for granted, yet for some people, they are luxuries,” he said in 2015.

Over the last five years, he slowly recovered, though the surgery had left him in a poor frame, and the complications of the tumour would plague his health until his death.

Christian was married to Bella for 13 years and he has left her behind with a son and daughter.

REST IN PEACE CHRSTIAN.

Part of this report and tribute was compiled from an interview with Christian by Mukurima Muriuki that was published in the Daily Nation and Medium.

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