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  • Writer's pictureStephen Osieyo


Updated: Nov 16, 2020

It was convergence of man-made disaster and natural disaster when from out of nowhere, a swarm of bees that was perched on a tree away from the road side and noisy and bubbly school was somehow agitated by a young star going about his business like anybody else including a nosy and noisy boarding school just across the road. In one of these happenings we have filed to ask God in the afterlife, why the swarm of bees targeted Otieno Aloka’s key drummer with stings to death then the bees retreated to their hives and then disappeared after mission accomplished. Why only young brilliant Atoti? Otieno Aloka’s key drummer, the lance in the bands spear, the Thomas Sankara of Otieno Aloka’s Ohangla performing troupe had done nothing of the sort to incite bees.

Persecution of Otieno Aloka is nothing new to those who have followed Ohangla style of music from when it appeared on the horizon in the early 1950s. Ohangla is always persecuted and blamed for many things and some imagined and un-imagined.

So when Otieno Aloka was being flogged for his utterances in a private function, it was nothing new to those who have followed Ohangla or those born in Ohangla catchment area. And I am one of them. The only thing that is new and scary is the way misfortune targeted good man Otieno Aloka. It is not that Otieno Aloka was sexualising music more than Shakira (hips don’t lie), James Brown (sex Machine), Koffi Olomide or Fally Ipupa. It is like Barry White, Walrus of Love once said, “If I was a sex pervert, would I carry all this weight?”. It’s the same with Otieno Aloka, there is no perversion in his music, dressing or dancing or recorded music presentation, or lyrics. If anything Otieno Aloka dressing is too bland for showmanship like professional banker Dilu Dilumona of Empire Bakuba. Incidentally the stoutness of Otieno Aloka resembles that of Dilu Dilumona. The enemies of Ohangla music who have been stalking a weak artist to lynch found a weak chink to attack. All knives were out to finish him. How did all these misfortunes to Otieno Aloka start.


The first tragedy that Otieno Aloka faced was death of this young exciting and splendid drummer which makes me cringe. It is similar to the death of a son of Cabinet minister who was killed by a plane running him down from the sky like road driven vehicle. No insurance actuaries were able to calculate the probabilities of that incident in Canada. It was rare like when in 1975 California, a thief just tied a house to truck and towed it away. Of course I was young and just laughed instead of calling the police. Silly me. The Insurance companies were stunned. The death of drummer Atoti was such an incident of a non-insurable risk. It was a non-happening.

Atoti was born Romanus Ojow Otieno in 1987. Atoti was an apt stage name. It seems this guy's life was rushed, something the elders would frown upon. It would have worried them in a way that someone as young as Atoti could do so much within the short lifespan. But it seems no one noticed his almost strange life. With an ancestral name like Ojow (buffalo) hanging over him, Atoti rushed through life like the proverbial poor sighted African buffalo. The way he plays the drums like a possessed man points to something much more powerful than the being of Atoti (juogi) that was driving this young man almost to the inaudible chants of Jowi Jowi Jowi. He had 3 wives. Built one home for the two wives. Died before putting up a home for the 3rd wife who is now living in a rented home next to Atoti's home. The bees disappeared after stinging him never to be seen again. He was bedridden for a whole month after the bee’s stings. Alego people still wonder whose emissary did those bees deliver because in Luo land there are man-made deaths and no natural deaths. Alego is ruled by small Gods who giveth life and ungiveth life. Nothing happens without these Gods and Goddesses.

Atoti was one of the most spectacular drummers I have come across. In western drumming, the drummer is essentially a time keeper. In African music the drummer can be many things including a leading a player. The only difference is that the weaker measured and controlled hand is delegated the time keeping. For Atoti born in heavily cultured Luo frontier, this was the right hand. Atoti of Otieno Aloka Ohangla troupe was that one child with his left drumming hand plus much more. What does Luo folklore say about the oddity of being left handed people again?

Atoti was a spectacular entertainer and Otieno Aloka loved him very much. In a song he could direct play even if Otieno Aloka was leading. In a song he would attack the 5 drums so well replacing the western cymbals first introduced in African music by Tabu Ley Rochereau with immaculate use of different locations of the big cow drum to replace the cymbals and introduce 3 other drum sounds.

While Otieno Aloka does his part, Atoti would play sizing the mood of the dancers, the age group, and time his entry. When his time comes to blitz the revellers sometimes he would just signal to Otieno Aloka to re-do the song, or shift to another song because the crowd is not ready for show. At times Atoti just wanted a dancing crowd eager to dance. In that case there was no need for the spectacular show. His drumming would just lead Otieno Aloka to extended the singing and chant and let the revellers join in a long medley of popular covers of current and yester year popular songs depending on the crowd.

And when Atoti realised that the revellers were in need of show then he leads his virtuoso. He would push back his seat/stool then release a repertoire of dancing foot work, working his way round the drum sets, rocking his knees, twisting and punishing his body with acrobatic moves, jumping, climbing the foot drums and the trap drums while still maintaining the rhythm of striking the drums. At times you get the feeling that he has just gone through a super model Naomi Campbell fall on the runway but has covered it so well without a break in the drumming that you did not know whether there was a fall or not. Atoti would drum his way round the drums not caring whether he encountered a Sharon Stone wardrobe malfunction. And this included interchanging the cow drums to serve as the bass drum, snare drum and hi hats by playing the cow drum at different spots with different intensity. Don’t forget there are no brass or metal works in this 8-piece Ohangla set. It’s purely wood and leather. At this moment the Otieno Aloka Ohangla troupe are in a trance just with the sound of orutu, ajaw and ongeng’o. The revellers are now in fleeting mood with open mouths.

That is Atoti the quarter back of Otieno Aloka that he lost to bizarre harmless bee stings. Tales of mysteries from Alego. Atoti was Otieno Aloka’s equivalent of Jomo Kenyatta’s Tom Mboya. Otieno Aloka truly lost a valued field marshal. And his loss was more than the loss of a field marshal. It was the loss of whole battalion of elite commandos because he was the band member that Otieno Aloka would send to take up some engagements due exigencies of services.

To underscore the heart of Atoti is that Atoti would hire session musicians but rather than take the money then pay out the subcontracted sessions musicians, Atoti would tell the hirer, to pay them all at the same time because he wanted to be above board with all artists. That was a real loss to Otieno Aloka, to artists and to humanity in general. In this cynical world, it is a surprise that guys like Atoti are still roaming. What a shame that he is not with us. We mourn just as Otieno Aloka does.


When the highly in demand Otieno Aloka was coming to terms with the loss of Atoti, things just got worse. In a private party, a member of the audience who was not even the host and was not privy to the concert recorded a private singing session of one song and put it on social media. And social media exploded as to how lewd the song was. As usual the civil service is not short of idle capacity. And someone thought that this was more of an urgent case than any of the incidences of Siaya Occurrence Book incidences. Otieno Aloka was in another spot of bother with the law and very soon after losing Atoti.

First of all, the social media did not disclose whether this was a stag night or a hen night. In central London it is not uncommon to see young girls exchanging such sexually explicit gifts. In fact, the sight of young girls dragging a giant man size plastic penis to a hen night on Friday or Saturday is so common in western capitals of the of the world. Did I hear someone say that is foreign custom? Okay lets us talk African custom. In fact, let us talk Luo custom. Why waste time in Luo customs. Let us talk River Ndhoya-upon-River Yala Luo customs.


We are basically in Alego precinct and I could cite any of the array of celebrations like the Alego Kanying'we bridal song such as "iting'o kod atonga". However that will not reflect the universality of Luo Kitgi gi Timbegi (culture).

I bet you have all heard of Malongo, the twin ritual dance of the ceremony called “yawo rude” (reception for the twins). Ask any Luo with the names, Opiyo, Odongo or Okello but exclude Jews with Opiyo name because in Jewish culture they have the naming but not the ritual. Not one person stopped to query who posted the song on You tube whether this was yawo rude or not. The readiness to vilify Luo customs blinded all. As far as I know if you post Swaziland naked dancers, Facebook admin will come for you and not King Mswati of Swaziland or the pretty dancers of Swaziland. However here was Otieno Aloka being made an example of because either he was a Luo or because he was Ohangla musicians. I grew up at a time when Luos were generally made an example of. Even a prostitute on Koinange street waiting for a European tourist would abuse an unrelenting bouncer at Florida Mud House, “You Uncircumcised Kenyan” while waiting to patronise uncircumcised foreigner. Let us just assume it not some self-loathing by another Luo. Let us assume it was Ohangla explicit lyrics. Did any of his persecutors know the anatomy of Ohangla?


Ohangla Genesis and evolution

Luo Ohangla did not come with Luos during the Exodus . It is not clear how it parachuted itself in to Luo land because it is very different from the Luo traditional cow drum used for spiritual as well as secular activities. In as much that the main and actual Ohangla drum is similar to the neighbouring Luhya Isukuti, they are different is use mechanical operationally and methodology of play. Yes, they are all hang over the shoulder but it appears that is the only similarity. The Luo Ohangla is an oblong drum covered by ng’ech (monitor) skin.

The earliest oral history can place Ohangla to have arrived after 1950 much after the second world war. This is not surprising because the Lake basin was the seat of East African power served by a strong populace in Kisumu in the years preceding this period.

It got its popularity because the original and equalling vulgar tung’ (cow horn wind instrument) was the preferred ceremonial musical instrument. So a son in law would use it to pay a visit. A royalty would use the same. Around this time public announcement of a ceremony was very important. So a bride entering the 4th stage of a matrimony would resist loudly and jodong’ (the follow up girls) would be just as loud with huan and buaja.

It therefore follows that a loud instrument was necessary to announce approaching of the ombuny (entourage). The loud sounding one drumming was replaced with the tung’ (Abu) wind instrument. Then came the equally noisy and boisterous Ohangla to accompany tung’ for some time. What followed is that there was evolution (sounds more like revolution) just for youth revelling Ohangla divorced tung’ and went solo after all this this the old guard nyatiti was for purists. It is fair to note that as Ohangla was raging so was rock and roll across in Europe and the Americas.

Then with modernity ripping into Africa Ohangla was relegated to the poor relics among the traditionalist in the 1970s. Still in a function the entrance of Ohangla would stifle the modern jazz band the way long skirts were trashed by the mini skirt.

In the 1970s to 1980s the administrative sub chiefs waged war on Ohangla and other meeting ceremonies during the Moi oppressive rule over Luos and it went underground. In a separate move when President Mobutu Sese Seko killed western brass and all hardware wind instruments in the Congo for five years, a generation of bands like Zaiko, Lipua, Lipua, Shama Shama etc unleashed cavacha music style. Cavacha was heavy in percussion like Ohangla. Ohangla had a new lease of life competing with the western disco in the hinterland of central Nyanza.

With the arrival of multiparty politics in Kenya in 1990s which removed the sub chiefs’ knees of the throat of Ohangla there was a dramatic re-entry of Ohangla as it embraced Orutu and 8-drum set to roll back modern music of benga music in Luo land. It was payback time. And all music genre wish the sub chiefs had not tried to strangle Ohangla. Ohangla was back with a vengeance and has refused to go away

Now even the modest mother in-laws readily wear wigs to disguise their ages to dance to Ohangla. Nobody is safe now because even the politicians have joined in the fray.

Ohangla Structure

The new face phase of Ohangla has had a remake. Tung’ has some how been dropped out of the marriage. Retained is orutu and 8-piece drum set. There is something special about the 8-piece drum set in Ohangla.

The western drum set introduced from the west had 5 or seven set. However, during the ban on western music by President Mobutu Sese Seko the ensuing research bureau led by Ray Lema found that Congolese and Africans could never conceptualise the progression piano play. Each finger had to do its own thing just like Nyatiti. As Ray Lema demonstrated using the nursery rhyme “Baba Black sheep, have you any wool” you can visualise the 8-nyatiti strings. Why do I say this is important? The earliest inhabitants of the Congo Basin in the 1st century were from the Nile valley. Its only until the 11th century that new arrivals came from the west. So it’s not inconceivable that Ohangla as an instrument is a percussive nyatiti hence its replication and complementary with the 8-set drum as perfected by Atoti. The drummer could have only three drums or ten drums but essentially the drumming just like Ohangla is broken into 8 pieces.

A drum kit is commonly described by the number of pieces it consists of. To work out how many ‘piece’ drum kit, you have, simply add up all the drums, ignoring the cymbals and hardware. Another method it to count the toms and then add 2 (for snare and bass drum). So if an Ohangla drum kit has 5 toms then it’s likely to be a 7-piece kit (assuming it has one snare and bass drum).

If a kit has one bass, one snare drum and one tom then it is a 3-piece kit. The most common configuration is a 5-piece kit consisting of a bass drum, snare drum, and 3 toms (high mid and low) – and then of course you also have the hats, cymbals etc but these don’t count towards the number of “pieces”. You could have a 5-piece kit with 100 cymbals- it is still a 5-piece kit. So what is the fun with hardware.

Not with the Luo Ohangla and not with Atoti's Ohangla drumming and rightly so. All the cymbals are taken off the table. Different parts of the cow drum will produce the sharp sounds to spice the music. In other words, Ohangla drums are beyond classifying into a regimented 5-piece of 7-piece. If anything it is an 8-piece set just like Nyatiti.

The Urban Ohangla has even had a new rebirth incorporating any new instruments from a harmonica to a synthesiser co-habiting with any music genre from Agikuyu mwomboko to reggae and the fusion is not considered unholy matrimony. Still the detractors persist to stalk the Musa Jakadala, Emma Jalamo, Abenny Jachigga of this trade.


The Ohangla band layout is the opposite of western band layout. In a western or Congolese band for example dancers would be positioned in front of the vocalists and show men. The guitarists would follow next and the drummer and the conga would be at the back which is quite in order because the African instruments were a late comer in European music. In football this would be a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 or 4-2-4 progressively depending on attack emphasis of the tactics. With the goalkeeper/drummer at the back. A more defensive line up would be 3-5-2, 4-5-1 or 5-4-1.

As an illustration, Kabaselle and African Jazz of Congo stage lined up with more people at the back, a style favoured by Tabu Ley gave a laid back style of music with rich hardware sounding instruments. On the other hand Franco and OK Jazz formation on stage with more African wood instruments favoured more Ohangla intensity music meant to pull you on the floor and do your thing. We all know how that Franco's Ohangla-like attack tactics ended up dominating in Congo and more or less the rest of Africa.

On the lakeside, Ohangla is reversing those positions because the Ohangla drummer and the drum set man is in the front line as strikers. It’s like having the goal keeper line up next to the offence and conducting the attacking affairs. The dancers when joining would be with the dancing revellers and not part of the offence line. In football this is an attack minded formation. And rightly so because an Ohangla band with the twin attack of the drummer and Ohangla drummer in the offense line has dished untold thrashing of other music bands whenever there is a gathering. The nyatiti is anon starter. Benga music is the poor cousin. Tung’ can compete because tung’ just like wing attack football is very expansive in arena. Ohangla would try to nullify this tung' mobility advantage by having the main Ohangla drummer "overlap" the arena or roam all over the home like a Brazilian "football libero" or free man.


The Ohangla just like tung’ lyrics has always been the same and those persecuting Otieno Aloka have nothing better to do with their lives. I have never known a tung’, nyatiti, orutu session without explicit lyrics just like the double speak of taarab from the coast. That is why I take the siege mentality that this is the usual persecution of anything Luo. One could argue that Otieno Aloka clip the back up and music was even non-existent but the person who posted the video on social media never disclosed the occasion. Maybe it was an on the spot challenge by the host. And he who pays the piper calls the shots.

When taarab king Robert Matano sings Usumeno hukata nyuma na mbele nobody sees it as explicit but the mere dance of a Luo to Ohangla has alarm bells ringing. I grew up to the following lyrics:

Tung’ or Abu:

Kuon omuogo lor gi ochiego jodongo.

Here ochiego jodongo was fresh fulu depicting young trendy girls while kuon omuogo, I will leave to your imagination.

Nyamit Aleng’a, kamin ombero sung loudly in grandma Anna’s memorial: Again I leave to your imagination


Ja Uyoma, Dokta Nyawanda chuo kata maro

Up to 1982, the celebrity nyatiti player used to perform at a pub in Nairobi Ziwani in the presence of elite Luos who is who including Dr Barack Obama. And this was the main song sung by Nyatiti player Amolo Kongo. It appears if smart phones were there Dr Obama, Dr Okach, Dr Osia, Dr Okoth Korombo, Amolo Kongo etc would have been dragged to the Pangani police station.


Then the revellers consideration. In most dholuo songs there is a session for praise and showering of the musicians by the revellers. Heavily cultured Africans like Congolese and west Africans do it better than the tight fisted anglicised East Africans. Still American superstar singer composer, song writer Lionel Ritchie captured it well with his hit song All Night Long (Jambo, nipe centi moja) in the early 1980s immediately after split from the Commodores pop group graduates of Tuskegee University.

Maybe Milambo Luos are new to this but central people are not new to this. The following are a list of praise names that I have heard in either nyatiti, Ohangla, Orutu or tung’. The sex and approximate age of the praise chanter is in brackets.

  • · From Asembo/Uyoma clans (F/ mid 40s): Asusa nyathiwa to ng’a ma olieli no, kose yier oturo wembe. (1997)

  • · From Alego Komenya (F/ mid 60s): Thuon piere oyugno (1972)

  • · From Seme (F/ mid 40s): Ochok kudho ma ikolo ji ariyo (1997)

  • · From Ugenya (F/ mid 50s): Agulu piere ochayo mach, so ye uru osik moro. (1984)

  • · From Sakwa Kapiyo (M/mid 40s): Omera mak na niang’ alaye, bende inyamo ilayoe. (1987)

  • · From Gem (F/60s): Ching’ ye thow mar mon (1989).


Otieno Aloka may have been guilty of killing the music and concentrating on the explicit lyrics. What if the ceremony was the ritual of yawo rut where there is no semblance of lyrics except vulgarity which I dare not repeat here? Do the Kenyans police European wedding ceremonies like stag nights and hen nights?

All in all, the development of Ohangla has run parallel to the development of African American to what it is now whether as reggae or hip hop. In the end persecution of reggae artist or rap gangsters has just affirmed their commercial might because Notoriety is sometimes mistaken for fame.

Let’s face it the guilty party to me was not the person with the smart phone but the person who posted it on social media, but then again I wonder what Article 19 of UN Charter say about Freedom of information (FOI) and Freedom of expression (FOE) and in particular the freedom of expression by artists?

And what do dollar funded human rights activist say when a gay is so much as questioned by the police? What of when police go in hot pursuit of a terrorists of a violent criminal?

Yet in a case when the person who posted the video should have been held accountable if any they went for Otieno Aloka.

I am sure the purpose of decentralising the government was not only to bring resources to be pilfered. Consideration such as to police a county with relevant laws and culturally sensitive local legislation must have played a factor. Nyanza county governments must be culturally suave to avoid meeting the full force of the popular vote in the coming elections.


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