Leo Mkanyia is a vibrant young composer, multi-instrumentalist, and performer from Dar es Salaam. Leo’s unique style of music is called “Swahili Blues”.
Mulatu Astatke, legendary Ethiopian Jazz musician, described Leo’s music as “fantastic” during a Tanzania Ethiopia fusion project that brought Leo to Addis Ababa in 2015 and 2017.
Biyi Adepegba, Art Director of Joyful Noise Recordings UK and the London African Music Festival described Leo’s music as “blues which recalls the wonder of the King of African Blues Ali Farka Toure”.
Rachel Doyle from the New York Times admired the “mix of Tanzanian drumming with blues melodies and dansi”.
Tabu Osusa, Director of Ketebul Music in Nairobi and producer of Leo’s third CD praised Leo’s “multi-instrumentalism and his strong ability to perform and record live”.
Swahili Blues bridges the gap between old and new. The songs tell stories of history and culture, politics, migration, inequality, and love. They are throwbacks to the 70s and 80s with classic Tanzanian “zilipendwa” dansi sounds, and a contemporary twist; blues, and afrobeat. All are original representations of Tanzanian traditional blues, a genre which Leo is adamant must be preserved.
Leo was born in Dar es Salaam in 1981. Leo began playing the guitar when he was eight years old. His father is an African jazz guitarist who played with the renowned Mlimani Park Orchestra. Leo spent years playing his father’s guitar when he was alone in the house and copying the chords, which he’d seen him play. Music doesn’t pay in Tanzania, and so his father was adamant his son should follow another career. When he found Leo playing a classic Tanzanian song one day, he decided to give his son his wish, and taught him all that he knew.
Today they play together – Leo leading his band and his father on solo guitar.
Leo sings mainly in his mother tongue Kiswahili and sometimes in French and English.
2010: Leo self-released a four-track CD, Dunia Hii.
2011: Leo self-released his first full-length album, titled Jasho Langu.
2017: His third album, produced by Ketebul Music in Nairobi, is Bangili, a 15-track CD featuring Kenyan traditional musicians Winyo, Nyota Ndogo, and Makadem.
Leo has played at a number of music festivals
2011: London African Music Festival on the prestigious Southbank
2012 and 2015: Sauti za Busara in Zanzibar
2013: Bayimba International Art Festival, Uganda
2015: Doadoa Art Market, Uganda.
Ethiopia: Leo has played in venues across Addis Ababa in 2015 and 2017/8 with Ethio-Jazz musician Mulatu Astatke and other prominent jazz artists.
Kenya: Leo is a regular on the live music scene in Nairobi, both as a solo musician and with his band, playing venues such as Choices, Go Down Arts Centre and the Elephant.
Tanzania: Leo and his band performed weekly at the Serena Hotel in Dar es Salaam for six years until 2018, and now play at venues around the city.