Wednesday, 23 April 2014


Chapter One
Watching a Surging Tide
Mombasa, Kenya Colony, 1941

Shariff Salim Abdallah Salim
aka Sal Davis

When I was born my father named me Salim which was his father’s name. But today I am known as Sal Davis a name I picked for the stage when I began my carrier in England. That was 1959. My real name is Salim Abdallah Salim and if you wish you can call me Shariff Salim Abdallah Salim for we are from the lineage of the Prophet (May Peace be Upon Him).  I will begin to tell my story from Kongowea a small village a few miles from Mombasa where my mother was growing up as a young Christian African girl attending the local Mission School. The year is 1940 and my mother was in upper primary. The inhabitants of Kongowea were mainly the Giriama, Warabai and Wataita who form the Christian community at the coast. My mother was a Rabai. The Second World War in Europe was still raging and it must have affected life in Mombasa, for my hometown is a port in the Indian Ocean.

Mombasa being a port it could not help getting involved in the war whether it was a British colony or otherwise. African askaris from the King’s African Rifles (KAR) boarded war ships at Kilindini, Mombasa which took them to Burma, Indian and Ceylon to fight and die for King George of Great Britain so that the sun would never set in the British Empire.  These African askaris were from Tanganyika, Uganda, Nyasaland and others far from lands not in the British domain like Belgium Congo who were at that time were allies of the British. There were also askaris from Kenya who went to serve abroad the most famous being the famous musician Fundi Konde who like me hails from Mombasa. Mombasa was not without the hardships associated by a country at war.

There must have been the shortages and the never-ending curfews. This must have disturbed the life pattern of the people of Mombasa who as is the tradition of all coastal people, observe certain indulgence like drinking coffee with halua in the evenings in coffee shop or relaxing over a game of dominoes mostly played after l’asr outside hotels. These games always went along with lots of cups of black coffee or tea. Arabs mostly owned these hotels from Hadharamut, Yemen. The war suddenly ruptured this easygoing life. It must have been a very difficult time for my people both in Mombasa town where my father had his residence and in Kongowea where my mother was living with her family – the Saburis.

How my mother then a young Christian girl still in school met my father Shariff Abdullah Salim a prominent personality in the Arab community of Mombasa and respectable Member of Parliament in the Legislative Council (Legco) and got married to him is a story in itself. The story or rather the saga is easy for any African to understand but difficult for someone outside Muslim or African traditions and culture to comprehend. My mother attended the same school as my elder sister Shariffa bint Shariff Abdullah Salim. It goes without saying then that the two, my mother and my sister Shariffa were of the same age. This means my mother could be her daughter. Later in life Shariffa was more of a mother to me than a sister.

It was while my father went to school to collect my sister that is when he saw my mother at the school and fell in love with her. My mother was attending a Christian Missionary school in Kongowea the same school which my sister was attending. For my mother to attend the Mission school was not surprising. What was surprising was for that little Arab girl, my sister, the daughter of Shariff Abdullah Salim not to enrol in a Muslim school in Mombasa but in mission school in Kongowea, miles from town. The answer is simple. My father was a modern man much as he was a Muslim of pure Arab blood he had taste of western life. Shariff Abdullah Salim was an educated man. I really had never gotten down asking his academic qualification but he was fluent in English which in those days was a qualification in itself let alone that he served as a member of the Legislative Council for thirty-two years.  My father realised that much as Sharrifa was an Arab girl, which in itself was the reason for modesty, which could be inculcated into her if she is kept indoors typical of any Arab girl at that time, the only way she could progress in life and be equipped to encounter male chauvinism was through education.

Many Arab girls in those days were burdened by the prejudices and obstacles, which were traits in the conservative Arab community, be it in Mombasa or Zanzibar. It was this vision which my father had over all his children, that to make a head start in the world they should go to school and get proper education that made my father take my sister to the mission school and later send me at the age of sixteen to England to study. Mission schools in colonial Kenya by then were known for excellence, providing good quality education. She must have been the only Arab and Muslim girl in the whole school. This is how my mother and my elder sister came to attend the same school in Kongowea.

When my father married my mother, my father was already married to Shariffa’s mother, Bibi Dada bint Suleiman Al Mazrui. Shariffa’s mother therefore was from the Mazrui - a prominent family in Kenya.  When my father sent me to school in England it was Ali Al’ Amein Mazrui who later came to be world-renowned political scientist who received me and I stayed with him in Manchester. At that time Ali Mazrui was an undergraduate student at Manchester University.  My father wanted me to stay with Ali Mazrui for two months to acclimatise before I began school. As fate would have it, I began my singing career while in the custody of Ali Mazrui. But, the iron of it all were Ali Mazrui would rise to be an intellectual of high repute in academic circles, I would excel in quite an opposite direction, that of show business.
(Excerpts from unpublished manuscript, ''The Life of Sal Davis.'' by Sal Davis as told to Mohamed Said)

Sal Davis in Germany in 1960s

Sal Davis at Nairobi Air Port 1963 Returning Home to Kenya
for Independence Celebrations of which he Composed a Song ''Nyimbo ya Kenyatta,''
Sal Davis Listening to the Song watched by Phillips Manager

Sal Davis With Me Chef Pride Restaurant Lumumba Street, Dar es Salaam

Working on Sal Davis' book at his house in Nyali Beach Mombasa 2009
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