NB: IT IS A LONG, PROBABLY BORING BLOG. DON’T SAY I WASTED YOUR TIME.
Today, I want to write about the power of music. Music and smell are inextricably tied together. You remember all the worst ‘worst smells’ to ever assault your nose, the worst fart from that high school miscreant, and the smell of your worst shag. And music, yes, is fundamentally tied to all the memories we cherish.
I have friends such as Nyambega Gisesa whom I have never seen express any discernible interest in music, or even buy a music album. Even my home boy Ben Moseti is so indifferent to music I wonder what makes him tick.
But to me music is the best invention of mankind after fire. All that I value and cherish in this world is tied to music. The earliest song that registered in my mind was Lady Isa’s Maisha. I remember one time arriving from the countryside with my dad, and we went to certain bar around bus station or OTC or whenever the stage of Kisii Express or Gusii Deluxe was back then. Now the old man loved his liquor in ruinous fashion. That song stuck in my head.
When we were slightly older, we used to have our own version of the chorus of that song.
Bibi na bwana wakigombana nyumbani,
Waache wenyewe mpaka wataelewana..
We used to replace that g in ‘wakigombana’ with ‘t’ and we had fun. Speaking of my childhood, between the age of six and eleven, I had my issues. I was not wholly accepted in the village, having just recently arrived in the village. Young boys can be mean in innocent fashion and ever so quick to put you in your place. I think that is the first time I discovered the injustices in these world that occupy me to date. Most of the time, I was isolated. Even in a group, I always a lonely boy. And music rescued me.
We had this National Panasonic radio that I truly cherished. It used five battery cells and back then, Eveready was the shit. There were red cells that were weak and there were yellow ones that were stronger and long lasting. Now, my mum now a widow, fended for us by engaging in small businesses. Like on Wednesday, she will team up with another lady and a man who run a hotel at a local market. Together they made and sold food on the market day. That day, she took the radio with her. And put the yellow cells there and she would play mostly Congolese and peasant Kwaito songs that were in vogue in villages back then.
Now that radio, always came to my rescue on Saturdays. When mum left for church, I will stay at home and tune in to Nick Okanga Naftali’s Saalam za Weekend that aired between 10.00 am to 12.30 pm or there about on KBC. Nick had an authoritative, charming and engaging voice that left a huge impression on me and I thought I would have loved to be a news presenter. I was about seven. And that is about the time that my knowledge about music begun to become encyclopedic. I gathered every fact about Congolese and South African musicians that used to be played in the programme.
Now, ninety percent of the weekends Nick never disappointed. As long as he played a Sokouss Stars song, Lucky Dube and Sam (probably a South African or Namibian, by then I think he was already dead but I can’t seem to find any of his music on YouTube) I was sorted.
My favourite was Madilu Sytem’s Apula. Anytime he played the song, I was over the moon. Followed by Sokouss Stars’ Rhoda (credited to Ngouma Lokito). These two songs pretty much summed up my life in that godforsaken village in Kisii. Recently, I tried to search some cheap Kwaito songs we listened to back then and I was overpowered by emotions, I had to switch and swear that I will never listen to them again. They brought what to me remains the biggest nightmare of my life to date.
Having formed that bond with music, it has been my best escape route since then. Not alcohol can beat. Not bhang (all my attempts to get high on weed have failed). Not sex. Nothing in my life gives me relief than good music. Not food. And certain songs stand out to me, not because they are my best. No. Because, they bring some memories to me, some good, some bad, and some rather trivial. And that radio, if I ever lost anything that I cherish, it has to be it. I will give anything to have it and the tapes.
So here are some of the songs that possess some of the indelible memories. In no particular chronological order.
1. Even if my heart will break Kenny G
When I was in Form 3, in one of the terms, I was sent home for school fee. Now in Kisii town, in the old matatu stage, where Keroka Matatus used to pick passengers, opposite Zonic Hotel, there used to be a music store. The guy packed modern music, mostly American and European rap and R&B. I had this Sh 150. I decided to buy a tape. And settled for one that had the best collection of Rhythm and Blues. I bought one that had, ‘I knew I love you’ by Savage Garden, ‘NSYNC’s God must have spent more time on you’ Whitney and Bobby’s ‘My love’ (a cool jam that I never hear anywhere), Jaheim’s ‘Fabulous’ (definitely one of my top 50. But it was Kenny G’s guitar that stuck in my head. I played the tape on the Sharp radio that my uncle owned. I fell in love. With no one by the way. But I will never forget that time. My grandma-now gone-always treated me like her favourite grandson and my grand dad was still there, in good stead and there was no place like home. So much has changed.
2. All Out of love-Air Supply/Invisible man-98 Degrees
When I was Form 4, I went to visit my bro, Wycliffe at Fort Tenan, somewhere in Kericho where Zinjanthropus or one of those early men was discovered. He was working there with the Ministry of Health. Best place I have ever been to. It is cool, bright and green.
Now his neighbour was a colleague with Ministry of Health. He had a sister-in-law baked straight from heaven where the heaven white forest is baked. Light-skinned and impossibly beautiful, I was infatuated. Kalenjin women can be beautiful. And of course they have the most gracious skins anywhere. She was definitely older than me and I fantasized the whole day what it must be to be inside those yellow, slightly fat thighs. I wanted to grow old.
The first time she spoke to me, my heart melted. My heart danced. I felt so whole. So rich. And then she asked me to write her the lyrics of the song playing on the CD. The song was All out of Love by Air Supply. Good Lord, I wrote the lyrics, and I started feeling that she was not old after all and she really wanted me. The following day she smiled at me, but she never bothered coming for the lyrics. I have never recovered from that, since the following Tuesday, I had to go back to school. But she stuck in my head. I kept tabs on her until I learnt she got a baby and did marry some skunk and I lost faith in womanity. Why do beautiful woman always settle for jerks.
3. We doing better than this-Beenie Man
I’m not really a ragga person. But everyone likes at least one Beenie Man or Elephant Man song. By the way, aren’t any more surnames in Jamaica, why do they insist on this Man surname so much…Yellow Man…
When the song was new and fresh I was either in second or third year in campus. I took this chick I so much wanted for a weekday dinner at one of those Highland’s joints. Then they were averagely super. We had the usual chicken and starch meal stuff before we grabbed a couple of beers. The club was deserted. We were probably the only ones. The chick, arguably the prettiest woman who has ever given me audience, gifted with a sizable bum and a body I can have breakfast with, rose and danced to the song, swung it my way briefly. But I have the stiffest body in the southern part of the equator; I can’t dance even if you hurled a grenade my way. We left shortly, but that image of her dancing to me stuck in my right part of the brain, and will till eternity.
4. Land Under-Men at Work
I was on a flight from either from Dubai to Hamburg or vice-versa on Fly Emirates. Now I could not watch the movies, I’m rather impatient. But I stumbled their music collection, mostly top 10 billboard songs from each year starting from early 1970s to the 90s. I focused on the 80s. All those soulful tunes. And then, this song by Men at Work, stuck in my head like God-knows what. The flute and the piano are a master piece.
That day, I enjoyed the sunshine above the clouds. I must conclude that seeing clouds from above is nicer than from below. Awesome. I traveled back in time and really felt what it must have felt like being in the 1980s.
I always knew the song, but it had never registered in my mind. I knew it was by Madilu and it was a monster of a song. The day the song registered in my head, I was deep in Chad-thereabout. I was with my boy Plato. We were in a place without any internet connection for 6 months, no better food other than badly prepared chapatti, beans, ugali and meat. Eat that for six months and your penis becomes white.
Now in the evenings, we would go to a small market, order a can of Pepsi and sit on the wooden chairs and breathe the clean, crisp air as the sun that earlier on kept us in shades and houses, set in the West. Occasionally, we would find them playing good music. Often it was some Chadian or South Sudanese music that sounded so basic, so violent on the ear.
Now this one evening, they were playing a collection of Rhumba and Leau was booming. I listened as Madilu mentioned all the Congolese greats through the song and you can understand why I like Madilu System. Listen to the song and you can concur with me, at least if you are over 25.
I had heard the song once or twice, but listening to it on a big speaker at Belle Vista in Mombasa three years ago, was a revelation. I was down there with some campus lass and I haven’t been there ever since. That song, whether you liked or hated Jaguar in club, it was a monster.
6. Words-Antony David and India Arie
Donno, why I regard it as the best neo-soul song. May be it probably is.
7. For you I will & Monica & Rise-Gabrielle
They take me back to high school. My best friend Silas and I had similar taste in music. We used to cut those Sunday Nation’s lyrics and sing along to those songs. Too bad, Silas will lose his sight, but glad that he keeps his head up. Super boy and a great lawyer in the making.
8. Usiende Mbali-Juliana and Bushoke
Will always remind me of Club Spree along Moi Avenue. We partied there in our final years in campus and that song was fresh and will never grow old for me. Ditto, TID’s last effort ‘Sura yako’.
9. More than I wanted-Cece Winans
I remember in the early 2000s, when the song came out, it played on Kiss FM and I remember my Bro commenting that Cece Winans only sang gospel music. I didn’t know. The song registered in my mind.
Now in 2007, while doing those mandatory post high-school computer packages I lived in Kibera with my bro. EATV was the new kid in the block, relied upon for entertainment. In the morning they brought gospel songs. Mostly recorded and repeated every day. They just alternated the patterns; if they played local (East African gospel) as from 6-7, they will play American gospel as from 7 to 8 and vice-versa. Now for American gospel, Cece Winans’ above mentioned song was a constant and my day never begun until it played. Then I will go to college.
If life was fare, I should have married Cece.
10.Snitch-Obi Trice and Akon
One of the two or three songs that I care about an Akon chorus. Akon is too irritating. This song came out after those high school years and it is the last rap song that I accepted wholly. After that I stopped caring about music. At all.
11. Kubera Woli- Radio &Weasel feat Obsession
One of the songs you wonder why it never hit Kenya in big fashion. May be it is because it came out when I was perambulating between Kampala and Juba. When I used to stay in Juba, the staple music depended on the neighbourhood bars. Given that 89% of the bars are owned by Eritreans or Ethiopians, it means they played their music that sound like painful, monotonous Taarab. If you listened to it for long, your tongue turns blue.
Occasionally when they had Ugandans over, or South Sudanese fellows, they would switch. Kubera Woli to me is the best Radio and Weasel song. It is in my top, best 50 ever as well. And yes, it renewed my crush in that Obsession chick.
12. Airplanes-BoB and Hayle Williams
I first caught the song in a Bakulu bus-terrible bus company that plies, more like those Paradiso buses that ply the 600-odd kilometres to Juba. It was the raga version and Hayle Williams’s voice is probably the unknown cure for Erectile dysfunction. I loved it instantly.
13. Not ready for goodbye-All for One
One of those songs, not famous enough, yet magnificently great. We used to listen to it on those Ugandan FM stations that leaked to Western Kenya. Back then FM radio was sensible. Then stupid people ruined it. Also there was that Blue (the British pop group) song ‘You make Wanna’ that was as good as all their songs.
There is one I have forgotten. But I will remember. And I will share.