The journey hasn't been simple for international collaboration Extra Golden since recording its debut benga-rock crossover album in 2004.
First, it lost vocalist Otieno Jagwasi to liver disease at age 34. Jagwasi co-founded the group with Washington, D.C.-based musician Ian Eagleson; the two met when Eagleson was in Africa researching his doctoral thesis on benga – a guitar-centered, dance-oriented genre of Kenyan popular music.
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Then, after Kenyan benga singer/guitarist Opiyo Bilongo stepped in for Jagwasi, visa problems threatened to cancel the band's U.S. debut at the Chicago World Music Festival in 2006. (A call to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's office helped resolve those issues, and a tribute to the presidential candidate appears on “Hera Ma Nono.”)
On top of all this, in late December, the African musicians' livelihoods and families were threatened by election-related riots that halted food supply and closed businesses, including nightclubs where they played gigs.
With all Extra Golden has been through, you might expect a more somber turn on its 2007 follow-up “Hera Ma Nono.” But the collaboration between Kenyan and American musicians is world music with praise, optimism and hope.
When Extra Golden brings that spirit to Charlotte next week, it will be joined by Jagwasi's brother Onyanga, who opens “Hera Ma Nono” singing an upbeat, groovy tribute to his brother (“Jakolando”).