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BARONAGES The Spectacular Band That Wowed Crowds

Baronages were undoubtedly one of pre-independance Namibia’s hottest live music bands.

The band was formed in Windhoek in 1968 as a three-man ensemble by business magnate Ben ‘Boone’ Zaaruka, the lead guitarist and bassist of the group, who roped in his childhood friends Killian Karitja (on vocals and drums) and lead guitarist Alex Kamaundju, who also did the vocals.

They were initially known as the Swinging Blue Jeans at the time.

Explains founding member Zaaruka: “We started laying music at a time when live bands caught the imagination of people all over the world. We were very principled because music bands were known as a group of people who drank alcohol and smoked dagga.

“We settled for the name Baronages because we considered ourselves as something out of this world, something elite, and we had ethics. Also, the B in Baronages played a role as well. If you look at all my businesses, like Ben’s Building Supplies, it must start with the letter B.”

Baronages started more like a friend’s group from the same neighbourhood, and they were all impressed and influenced by the Bee Bob Brothers, who were led by ultra-gifted Baby Tjirimuje on drums and lead vocals.

Zaaruka was attending St Joseph’s High School at Döbra at the time, while his fellow band members Karitja and Kamaundju attended Augustineum High School.

“We became very influential in Namibian music circles, by the time we changed our name to Baronages, we roped in one Carlos ‘CK’ Kambaekwa, who alternated on the lead guitar. We were the Ndilimani of those years because we used to perform mostly at Swapo rallies.

“We had influential people like Bob Vezera Kandetu, the late Ovaherero paramount chief Vekuii ‘Rocco’ Rukoro, John Kaujeua, academic Rukee Tjingaete and Kakopi Rheiz-Ndjavera as our roadies [non-playing band members],” he says.

The former bassist says they were self-taught instrumentalists who learnt a lot through watching and listening to the Bee Bob Brothers, adding that they were bought their first instruments by his uncle, the late Swapo veteran and businessman David Meroro.

Zaaruka says the earlier stages of Baronages’ repertoire was highly influenced by top American bands like the Commodores, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Grand Funk Railroad, and also British groups like Deep Purple and The Who.

Says Bafana Tjiueza: “Baronages were not your average band. I was one of their biggest fans because my nephew Little Gotcha Humavindu was also singing for the band. It was not usual that you see a young boy who is your own age singing for a band.

“The boy could sing and he really added value to Baronages’ act. He used to sing Michael Jackson’s song ‘Ben’ with aplomb and he also killed the hit ‘Misty Blue’. We could only attend the matinee gigs on Saturdays and paid 50 cents at the entrance,” Tjiueza recalls.

Kambaekwa, who was taught to play guitar by the much-hailed lead guitarist Killer Kamberipa, introduced the second lead guitar and the repertoire of Baronages started to appeal more to Coloured audiences, with the introduction of the bassist ‘Blare’ Camm and singer ‘Klonkies’ May.

Both the masterful Camm, who happens to be rapper J-Twizzle’s father, and the baritone-voiced May are Capetonians who made Namibia their home after they came to the old South West Africa before independence.

Zaaruka recalled one incident at the former Junior Sports Ground, which is now home to the Namibia Football Association’s Soccer House, when they were rounded up by the police after singing a song mentioning the name Namibia.

“We were trying to entice the name Namibia to the audience, which irked members of the police force present and the next moment, we found ourselves in the police cells where they asked us what we were singing and we vehemently denied mentioning Namibia, saying that we could only recall singing about Suruvia,” which subsequently led to their release, he laughed.

Kambaekwa also had another guitar teacher in Claud Bown, a founder-member of crack South African pop group The Rockets, who also came to stay in Windhoek for a little while.

Baronages roped in renowned keyboardist Axali Doëseb of the Ugly Creatures – who stopped playing at the time after some of the band members went to study abroad –as well.

Kambaekwa, who is still actively playing with the Sigera band, switched to the keyboard after Doëseb left for studies overseas.

The group completely changed its repertoire after they poached May from the Khomasdal-based Crimson band, with Lesley Kozonguizi also joining in 1975.

Baby Tjirimuje, formerly of Bee Bob Brothers, also took over as drummer and vocalist and the new-look Baronages even battled their way to the runner-up spot, after Children from Pluto from Walvis Bay, during the Battle of the Bands competition at the Katutura Community Hall in 1976.

Other bands taking part included Chicitos, Deadwood, Gypsies, Motion, Ozibisa from Lüderitz and Poppets.

“I just love the harmony that prevailed among the members from the different bands during those years,” Kambaekwa says. “There was absolutely no animosity among us and if, for example, the Uglies didn’t have a gig that night, anyone of their members could just join us on stage and vice versa.

“The public does not understand the trouble that the bands had to go through to set up a decent gig for them to enjoy those years. The problems we faced then, we are still encountering today. We had to rehearse non-stop and buy instruments and travel to towns with no sponsors,” he says.

The Baronages were mostly playing in Coloured townships like Narraville at Walvis Bay, Luiperdheuwel at Grootfontein, at the Star Hotel in Khomasdal, Windhoek, and Krönlein at Keetmanshoop, while Lüderitz became another favourite town to visit because the people there were hungry for entertainment.

Unfortunately, every good thing must come to an end and it was no different with the Baronages, when they decided to disband after the introduction of discos in the townships saw dwindling crowds at live music shows – a trend which is still continuing today.