ABENNY JACHIGA: THE KID WITH THE WOUNDED SONGS
Updated: Jul 9, 2020
He was destined to be my first Ohangla artist but I kept on shelving it. Firstly, because I really don’t know him and was going to rely solely on his music.
I got to know about him when an everlasting friend referred to me as “mano Kasinda” to my consternation. Then it was explained that there is a song composed on the background of trending infidelity in Kenya.
The first time I listened to the song I only paid attention to his sultry voice which he could make velvet whenever he wanted. Its semi nasal singing with music seeming to come from within his body then meets the words in his mouth just because of the ease with which he sang. He is not like these great singers who would use their lower jaw to produce a velvet voice. All the gears are shifted deep in his vocal cords. In any case since he had a boxer’s swathe jaws I don’t think he could move his jaws like Whitney Houston to help him produce that sound if he did not have gifted vocal cords. He has the gospel singer Aretha Franklin gift in deep vocal cords. Anyway I liked the song that way and moved on.
As days passed I started liking bits of the song in that he sang it in a soulful Otis Redding tearful soul and the message was also Otis Redding’s surrender. Then the organ, the scaled down ohangla percussion started falling into place. I then realised that this Kid has his own flowing style that is not forced. It comes naturally to him.
Who is Abenny Jachiga?
I am reading that he was Bernard Onyango was born in East Kolwa, Chiga Location Kisumu County in 1987. Incredibly he started out as an instrumentalist in support benga bands like Lady Maureen before striking out on his own which led to him to arrive at his hit record ‘Mano Kasinde’ (That is her cousin) in 2018. I despair of the disproportionate share of my music makers dying at such a tender age and the excuses are never in short supply.
Abenny struck a 1980s look in track suit as opposed to Congolese fashion which at first made me fear for him. Being an instrumentalist starter he appeared to suffering stage fright that most vocalists hide from in dark glasses. But there was something else.
Abenny had this look that appears he was seeing something behind you. As if he was interested in the camera man. Even in still photographs Abenny seems to looking beyond you. As if you are in the room and he knows but he is done with the room. Even in still photo ops when looking at the camera he seems to be seeing through you on to some object beyond.
And his hit song seems to be in that vein. The everyday narrative is a social commentary on liberalism and permissiveness that has encroached on the society that is fast becoming a norm. It is not like infidelity started with the current generation. And here is where Abenny branches away. Jathum (musician) the Dholuo word comes from Jadhum, a person who speaks in tongues. This is because originally dhum was a preserve of high priests. Abenny quickly changes gears into speaking in tongues.
In double speak which is praising the mystery of love he brings in the Garden of Eden, the scene of the first infidelity as if affirm the normality of infidelity as part of life. And singing about infidelity he is reminding his audience like this has been there from the beginning of time. And true in many cultures infidelity was never a reason for breaking a relationship. The man was just to do better. But Abenny takes it further. He does not threaten action; he does not ask her to stop ‘putting-it-out-there’. He just reports his sadness, his pain, his agony and his wishes. A simple wounded soulful music of the great American soul singer Otis Redding.
The music percussion is led by a gentle xylophone (or is it thumb piano) accompanying whispering synthesizer. Is it really a song?
It is partly a measured bitterness partly a measured spoken meditation. It’s typical of somebody with the gaze elsewhere. He is not talking to her and wishes aloud. But then again that in my opinion is that Abenny is always alone up to the very end of his time.
I do not presume to decipher everything Abenny is singing about and neither does he like all people speaking in tongues. When jadhum opens the song and repeatedly invokes his ancestors, nyakwar jobilo, who ruled the underworld like Gods because they gave life and took it away, I cannot pretend to know how he connects it to the Garden of heaven the creation ground where Christian God also took away everything of our liberties.
In most cases when mortals are about to meet their maker in the very the final moments, they know it and sometimes share it loudly or in sign language. It is just that we are too occupied with ourselves that we fail to pick the lines.
American civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King Jr just minutes before being assassinated asked the church organist, Ben Branch (another Abenny) who was staying at the same hotel to play, ‘Take my hand Precious Lord’. “And Ben, make sure you play it real pretty”. Elvis Presley regularly played “Amazing Grace”, song of redemption in the last days. Juma Toto the Benga veteran who recently passed on made a very unusual request of me when all he was saying is that I am ready to go meet Phillip your late brother.
After the sad news hit the social media, I was very blessed to be tagged into his last recording of jam session about a week before his final departure. It was no ordinary jam session because all the band members except one was not privy to it. The colleagues were evidently disturbed at this departure and could be heard jabbing questions. It is like someone on a road to perdition suddenly atoning for the burden and his colleagues could subconsciously feel it. In the song he sings of beseeching salvation and desist from secular life. And for the first time in my life I see him in big broad smile without abandon so much that you can see the see the full length of his front teeth from canine to canine and from gum to gum. It was a short and fleeting moment like a person without a care into the here and now of this world. But why this Agikuyu song?
This gospel is an old kikuyu ritual song that as kids in 1960s adults would punish you for singing it because the christian Agikuyu was still in strife with the traditional Kikuyus. I was in pre teenager at a place called Lumbwa and being Luos we could sing it without a fear to young vulgar Kikuyu kids. You know boys were brought into this world to break rules. Besides I was so young I had not known the difference between a girl and a boy. It was much later that I learnt that it was a song sung for candidates for initiation into adult hood:
Gitanda muka muratha, gitanda muka
Gitand muka muratha, gitanda muka (sic)
In other words "get ready my friend, get ready" (for the time has arrived to go to be initiated sic). If that is so, it means nykwar jobilo's spirits left all such songs in dholuo to sing in a foreign tongue for an impending preparedness. I think I am reading too much, Forget this,
The jamming with Abenny himself strumming the Agikuyu circumcision tune was a short and fleeting moment like a person without a care into the here and now of this world. In this moment in the video someone can be heard inquiring if he has just recorded a new song (for release).
He answered, “No this is just for me, jamming”. That he is just just goofing around for stage.
Well, if you say so Abenny Jachiga. Those in the know of superstition have the distinct feeling that Bernard Onyango had seen the mountain top and was looking beyond.
1. Mano Kasinde
2. Penzi ni Kama Yai
3. Fitina Mingi
4. Bana Asembo
6. Nancy Nyar Ugenya
7. Maraga Odagi
9. Weche Hera