COVENTRY Music Museum Curator Pete Chambers BEM writes for the Observer.
Charles Worrod – Coventry World Music
IN THIS year of culture, it’s great to talk about Coventrians who have left their mark far beyond their native city in world music – one such Coventrian is Charles Worrod, who left a huge legacy in Africa.
Charles Worrod, maybe a name that is not recognisable in his home city, but Charles was not only one of Africa’s top music producers, but a pioneer on the East African music scene, who helped to create the infrastructure of what it is now.
Charles was born on June 23, 1912, in Milton Street, Coventry. He grew up in 67 Dean Street.
Charles said: “One of my earliest memories I recall is Binley Road when ladies and gentlemen still went to market in dogcarts and traps among the ever-increasing numbers of Coventry car marques.
“As a boy of my time, I roamed the countryside and ran in the city streets in perfect safety, playing cricket and football on ‘Gentlemen’s Green’ (now Stoke Green).”
He left post-war Britain and relocated to South Africa – Charles was a jack-of-all-trades, dipping his toes into the world of journalism, television repairs, bomber construction and repairs.
He moved into theatre where he became a fleapit manager, rising to senior executive of the African Consolidated Theatres in South Africa.
Charles added: “It was here where I produced reviews and pantomimes and handled the visits of international stars including Danny Kaye, Johnny Raye, Maurice Chevalier and Alfred Hitchcock.
“On becoming a 20th Century-Fox executive, I launched Elvis Presley’s films and left that company to become Trutone Johannesburg’s Production and Publicity Manager.
“I became fascinated by kwela and Afrikaans offbeat music.”
Warrod left South Africa, and settled in Nairobi Kenya, setting up the Equator Sound Studios Limited.
“When I founded Equator Sound Studios Limited the Kenya recording industry was in a shocking state,” said Charles.
“African artists were being paid as little as 30 shillings-a-record.
“I suppose it was a case of being the right person at the right place at the right time that I was able to help put things in order.
“I became the first employer to employ full-time musicians, enrolling them with the Nairobi Cultural Centre for music lessons.
“I instituted local royalties and sat with the broadcasting authority to work out the details.”
Charles was responsible for the career of legendary East African musician Daudi Kabaka.
Famous for his African Twist (an off-beat number to which one could ‘twist’ American style), he recorded the songs Harambee Harambee African Twist and Helule Helule.
Harambee Harambee was intended to be a nation-wide call for Kenyans to ‘pull together’ after Independence but President Kenyatta nationalised it and claimed it for his own party.
Helule Helule was covered by the Tremolos and became a number a top twenty hit for them in 1968.