Yaseen Mohamed: Kenya’s Japanese Harp player

Yaseen Mohamed: Kenya’s Japanese Harp player

Yaseen Mohamed was a popular Taarab artist born in Mombasa, Kenya in the 1920s.

In the early ’50s, while working for Assanand & Sons, a Mombasa record shop and music studio, Yaseen Mohamed learnt how to play the Taisho koto – a Japanese string instrument.

Image source: Afro7.net

The Taisho koto was introduced into Kenya in the 1940s and Yaseen helped popularise it. It was first used acoustically and later amplified. It has been referred to as a type-writer banjo’, with strings being stopped by an armature akin to a typewriter’s, with a piano-like outline of black and white keys. 

Yaseen had his hands full, recording his own music, performing as a session musician, acting as a studio technician, and scouting new talent for the in-house label, Mzuri.

His band, Yaseen and Party, spearheaded innovation in Mombasa taarab by using instruments such as the Taisho koto, the accordion and the clavioline which came before the synthesizer.

Image source: Pan African Music

Yaseen’s arrangements had influences from Indian and Egyptian film melodies, the twist, mambo, samba, rhythm and blues, and jazz. He would then use Swahili poetry to sing about his life, love and sometimes political issues in the region. Their small band was starkly different from the large orchestra approach of taarab music present during the 1940s and 1950s.

Yaseen’s songs were often accompanied by his wife Saada who was credited as Mimi in earlier records.

Yaseen and Saada had their firstborn in 1962 which became a turning point in Yassen’s musical career as he then began to work regular jobs and music remained a hobby.

Here you can hear him singing with his wife about their first child while incorporating a popular Swahili lullaby as the chorus in ‘Nimepata Mwana’.

Yaseen struggled to support his family of four children and they faced discrimination from his family because Saada was Digo and he was of Omani heritage.

Image source: Afro7.net

He then moved to Oman and found work as an electrician and mechanic. There he performed occasionally on national tv and radio with his Taisho koto but he did not record any more music. He occasionally came to Kenya to visit his wife and children. 

Yaseen Mohammed passed away in 1985.

The Taisho koto that was used by Yaseen Mohamed


Sources
Yaseen & Party. (2021, August 24). Retrieved from Jazz Aggression
Yaseen Mohamed’s most remarkable ’60s songs collected in new compilation. (2021, August 23). Retrieved from Pan African Music
Yaseen & Party ‘60’s taarab compilation from Yaseen Mohamed’. (2021, August 23). Retrieved from Afro7

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