In Summary
  • His breakthrough came in 1968 when singer and composer Gabriel Omollo, of the 1970s "Lunchtime" hit song fame, invited him to join his Blue Shades Band.
  • In 1990, he was among the Kenyan artistes invited to London to take part in a music copyright training session.
  • Today, he is the resident pianist at Nairobi's Panari Hotel on Mombasa Road, where he entertains patrons in the evenings from Wednesday to Friday.

Older music lovers in the country remember him best for a song he released in 1970 in praise of Kenya's most popular football club, Gor Mahia.

The song, "FC Gor Mahia", became a big hit across the East African region and helped announce the arrival of Juma Toto as a musician to reckon with.

Another notable song by Juma Toto is "Rose Jaber", which he composed to eulogise his wife.

Several decades and many hit songs later, Juma Toto has seen it all, but he is not about to hang up his guitar and microphone. As he strolls down the streets of Nairobi today, the veteran musician, 70, goes largely unnoticed.

He is one of the few legends who made their name in the 1960s still alive, with a regular entertainment gig that pays his rent and meets his other financial needs.

ROYALTIES

He is in the league of other living legends like David Amunga, Shem Tube, John Nzenze, Fanuel Amimo and Peter Akhwabi.

Toto, together with Amunga, has been involved in fighting for musicians’ rights by pushing for payments of their royalties.

The song "FC Gor Mahia" had a danceable enchanting beat and alluring lyrics in praise of the star Gor Mahia players of the time. It was popular on radio and on the club circuit.

This week, the former Hodi Boys Band member paid a courtesy call on the Saturday Nation. For him, the music still goes on.

It has not been an easy journey, as he has had to cope with new challenges in the music scene. "But I am happy that things are going well now," he said.

MAISHANI BAND

Today, he is the resident pianist at Nairobi's Panari Hotel on Mombasa Road, where he entertains patrons in the evenings from Wednesday to Friday.

In most of his career, Toto has spent his time as a resident performer at one top hotel in Nairobi and Mombasa or another. He however sorely misses his favourite instrument, the guitar, which he began strumming from the late 1960s.

Coming from Nairobi's Eastlands, it has been easy to maintain his fan base as many of the country's top sports people — footballers, martial artists and artists — grew up in the area.

Juma Toto first arrived in Nairobi in 1966 from Gem, in Siaya County. At first, life in the city was not easy, but he quickly adapted to it.

He made his debut as a musician with Maishani Boys Band that was then based at Rwathia Bar in downtown Nairobi.

“Being my first band, I had to get used to singing in a blend of Kiswahili and English, having been used to only Dholuo, and to cope with my new colleagues," he said.

CAREER GROWTH

Later, Toto joined Stereo Band that was then based at Small World Club, near Ambassadeur Hotel. The group also featured Pierre Zombie, Omondi Jerry and Kamanu.

His breakthrough came in 1968 when singer and composer Gabriel Omollo, of the 1970s "Lunchtime" hit song fame, invited him to join his Blue Shades Band.

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