Tabu Osusa

Tabu Osusa (Born on 21 July 1954) is one of the most recognisable figures in the East African music industry. In 2007, he founded Ketebul Music, a not-for-profit organization that identifies, preserves, develops, and promotes the diverse musical traditions of East Africa.

When he was nine years old, he moved to Tororo in Uganda. In 1966, he joined the St Peters Seminary in Mukumu Kakamega where he aspired to become a priest. However, he left the institution in 1972 to pursue other interests. 

Following his relocation to the DRC in 1974, Osusa taught English in Kisangani before taking the famous boat ride along the River Congo to settle in Kinshasa. Afro Mogambo and Perruque Bleu were popular jazz spots in Kinshasa where he worked. Having returned to Kenya in 1977, Osusa has been active in the music industry for over four decades as a songwriter, a recording artist, a band manager, a tour manager, a promoter, and a music producer.

He has shaped the careers of some of the leading bands and individual artistes in East Africa such as the acclaimed Orchestra Virunga of Samba Mapangala and the Nairobi City Ensemble.

In 2004, Tabu Osusa was the lead music consultant for the radio series titled “Movin’ & Groovin; in East Africa”: a music program that was commissioned by the Nation Media Group’s Convergence and Special Projects department, to trace the history of East African popular music. In the same year, along with the director of Alliance Francaise of Nairobi, Osusa co-founded the “Spotlight on Kenyan Music”, a project whose aim is to discover and promote music with traditional rhythms of Kenya. Apart from being the executive producer, Osusa was the creative director of the programme and chaired the Steering Committee of this talent search, which has recorded well over one hundred musicians across the country. Most of the music has been released on CD format starting with volume 1 in 2005 , ending with volume 6 in 2014.

In 2006, Osusa was the creative producer and consultant for Muziki wa Kenya, a series of concerts supported by the Goethe Institut aimed at showcasing Kenyan of music of the yesteryears.

Since 2008, Osusa has been the project coordinator of the Retracing Series: a series of research-based documentaries that seeks to capture historical events that have helped to re-define the East African music scene. The project, which was supported by the Ford Foundation Eastern Africa, has so far produced the following multimedia documentary packages:

i. Retracing the Benga Rhythm (2008)
ii. Retracing Kikuyu Popular Music (2010)
iii. Retracing Kenya’s Funky Hits (2011)
iv. Retracing Kenya’s Songs of Protest (2013)

Osusa is also a member of the Equation Musique, a programme initiated by the Paris based Institut Français which brings together music professionals from the southern hemisphere and supports their presence in professional music markets. He is among the few Africans involved in the arts and culture to be recognized by the France Cultures guidebook Raiders of Cultures. In 2009, Osusa represented East Africa in the selection panel of the proposed Centre for Black Music (Le Centre des Noires) during the selection process held in Paris. From 2011, Osusa has been the Project Coordinator for the Singing Wells project; a partnership project between Ketebul Music and the Abubilla Music

Foundation (UK). The Singing Wells project aims at recording and archiving traditional sounds and music of Eastern Africa. In 2014, Osusa and Ketebul Music were appointed by the Ministry of Sports, Culture and the Arts Kenya and the Smithsonian Institution to program and curate the music that would showcase Kenya at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival held in Washington DC from 25th June to 6th July 2014. The following year he was among a group of authors selected for the book ‘Do-it-Yourself, Do-it-Together’ about African Popular Music Archives, edited by Sarah Baker.

In 2016, he was nominated in the Five Music Rights Champion category by the International Music Council. In the same year, he joined the panel of judges at the All Africa Music Awards (AFRIMA) held in Lagos, Nigeria. He was also appointed as the Visa For Music Country Representative for Kenya. In 2017, Osusa became the first Kenyan to receive an award from Visa For Music (Morocco) for his tireless efforts in documenting and archiving the diverse music traditions of East Africa.

Osusa was the lead author of ‘Shades of Benga’: The Story of Popular Music In Kenya 1946-2016. The book published in August 2017 traces the origins of Kenya’s popular music to the end of the Second World War to date.