By AMOS NGAIRA
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Veteran band leader, composer, guitarist and singer Laban Juma Toto is dead.
Toto will be fondly remembered by many older music lovers for a popular song ‘FC Gor Mahia’, which he composed in honour of the Kenyan soccer giants in the early 1970s.
Until his death at the age of 70 on Tuesday night at the Kenyatta National Hospital, the soft-spoken Toto, who mentored many into stardom, was the chairman of the Kenya Musicians Union (Kemu), an organisation bringing together both long-serving and up-and-coming artistes.
Speaking to the Nation, John Katana, the band leader of Them Mushrooms Band, said he was informed about Toto’s death Tuesday morning by a close relative of the singer.
“He died of suspected brain haemorrhage after he accidentally fell and injured his head last week,” Katana said.
Toto was in the class of a few surviving veteran musicians, who in the 1960s and into 1980s excelled with performances of popular dance beats at various hotels across the country.
His contemporaries include David Amunga, Shem Tube, John Nzenze, Fanuel Amimo and Peter Akhwabi.
For several decades a resident of Jericho Estate in Nairobi’s Eastlands, Toto — who also performed with the legendary Hodi Boys Band — had earlier performed with Gabriel Omollo, known for his chart-bursting song ‘Lunchtime’.
A cover version of the song was done by rapper Poxi Presha (deceased) who was backed by Congolese singer Padi Makani.
The Hodi Boys Band featured the legendary Saxophone player Geoffrey Ngao. Fadhili William of the Malaika hit song and Slim Ali also recorded songs with the band.
Richard Mbewa Opiyo, a retired hotelier, commended Toto for his remarkable shows in the hotel entertainment industry.
“Many of us who grew up in Nairobi in the late 1960s and 1970s will recall those days that were dominated by top groups such as Hodi Boys,” he said.
Toto, who has been a resident pianist at Nairobi’s Panari Hotel on Mombasa Road, is also known for his song, ‘Rose Jaber’, which he composed to eulogise his wife.
He previously performed at the Panafric and The Stanley hotels in Nairobi.
Benga music producer George Ouma of Jojo Records said: “Toto will be remembered for his resilience despite the challenges he encountered.”
Toto’s fans also expressed sorrow after learning of the death of the former leader of the Toddy National Band.
One of the stars to emerge from Toto’s tutelage is talented guitarist Okello Jose, formerly of Les Kinois Band of Samba Mapangala and who later joined the Ivory Band. Okello, who later went solo, now lives in Australia.