It is a fitting tribute to the legacy of African Heritage founder Alan Donovan that just a week before his death on December 5 he received the news that one of the musical bands that he mentored had received a Grammy Award nomination.
Jabali Afrika, the group that first went on a world tour with Donovan’s African Heritage in 1995, has been nominated in the Best Children’s Music Album category for the 64th Grammy Awards that will be announced in January 2022.
The group is recognised for the contribution to the album “All One Tribe” a compilation album featuring music by 26 Black Family Music Artists under the 1 Tribe Collective.
The success of Jabali Afrika replicates that of nyatiti maestro Ayub Ogada (Job Seda) a generation earlier, who was also a close associate of Donovan and with whom they founded the African Heritage Band in 1978.
Just like Ogada, Jabali Afrika too was mentored by Donovan and encouraged to focus on their traditional harmonies and presentation to carve an international identity.
“We are the most successful African Heritage alumni after trailblazer Ayub Ogada, says Justo Asikoye of Jabali Afrika.
“He may have been unwell in his last days but Alan lit up when I broke the news of the Grammy nomination to him. He was already planning the costume for the group to wear to the Grammy ceremony,” recalls Justo.
After the disintegration of the original African Heritage Band in the mid-1980s, Alan met a young band of percussionists performing at the Garden Café of the African Heritage.
The group that came to be known as Jabali Afrika joined African Heritage for a massive tour of 11 cities across Europe and America with a convoy of lorries carrying instruments, costumes, fashion created of authentic African textiles, lighting, and sound, and two elephants.
After the tour, Jabali Afrika stayed behind in New York in 1995 where they have been based for more than two decades until a few years ago when they began gradually moving back to Kenya.
Coincidentally Joseck Asikoye of Jabali Afrika was admitted as a voting member of the Grammy Academy in 2021 the same year that the band received its first-ever Grammy nomination.
“We have been beneficiaries of the uproar over diversity in the Grammy process and there were more people of colour admitted to the Grammy Class of 2021 that enables you to vote during the nomination stage and eventually for the last phase,” he says.
“This is a revolution and it all started with our work with African Heritage and Alan Donovan back in the 1990s,” says Joseck.
Jabali Afrika has been creating music for children since they made an appearance on the Emmy award-winning TV show “Mr Rogers Neighbourhood” in 1996 and lit up America with their rendition of Fred Rogers song “Tree Tree Tree” (Mti Mti Mti).
“Children’s music and nursery rhymes were very integral aspects of our musical journey and even today they are some of the most noticeable songs that we perform,” says Joseck.
“There is a lack of diversity on showcasing black or African stories in this world of children content and whenever such stories are told it is often translated to suit a Western audience,” he says.
All One Tribe is a collective of black family music artistes who came together to change the narrative on children’s content by bringing together a range of artists to contribute their music.
The album includes Jabali Afrika’s song Mtoto Mzuri featuring Joseck’s 6-year-old son Ahadi, originally released on the album “Hesabu Moja Mbili”.
“We want children of colour to enjoy seeing characters and imagery they can relate to through stories and the music”.
Early this year, three artists sent a letter to the Grammy Recording Academy requesting that their names be removed from consideration calling the lack of diversity in the Children’s Music category as an “embarrassment for the field of children’s music”.