ANATOMY OF NAM LOLWE BENGA LYRICS
Updated: Jul 9, 2020
(This is magenga talk. And magenga talk is riddled with anecdotes. At such a time as this lockdown magenga stories are the panacea to idle capacity. Any similarity with anybody or any group of people you know is just a coincidence.)
THUM in dholuo is from the word dhum. Dhum is to speak in tongues and was mainly a spiritual language of communication between the priests and the priestess with the gods of our ancestors. So music in dholuo has its origin from worship.
“TUM” is an ancient dholuo word of over 3000 years. In its original form Tum means noise or sound from Hebrew. In deed even now in Yiddish as spoken in Western Europe, Russia US and not to forget Israel, Tum is noise or music.
Dholuo popular love songs are true stories of blooming romance or love story gone awry. Except for a few music composers like Kabaselleh Ochieng’ and Juma Toto of yester years, most Benga artists sing about real subjects in the love songs. The song lyrics are a dedication or vilification of a relationship.
Coincidentally the Lyrical map of Dholuo love songs is distinctly marked. And you would expect that out of sheer law of averages the locality with most musicians like say Karachuonyo would have most love songs from that area. Or areas with bigger demography would have most subjects in these love songs. It does not quite work like that.
If thum is an inspiration from the spiritual world then surely these spiritual relationships must be inspired out of this world from either a good love story or unfinished love story. Those restless spirits must be having a say in juices of creativity to invoke a love song. But why the concentration in some areas and not others.
Is there a concentration of an underworld or supernatural world more than the other in some lolwe area locality, a kind of Bermuda triangle that sucks spiritual influence? Or more bluntly are there areas in lolwe that has seen more cases of love stories gone badly?
In my thoughts and belief I have to take you to Luo settlement history. In earlier years, Luo land frontiers faced several armed conflicts. Most conflicts were fought by young men in the prime of their lives. In addition to these, Luos were mainly Vikings and at that age a young person’s preoccupation was raiding of neighboring groups for livestock and women. These young men were always housed in garrison like Simba to be the human shield to the rest of the homes.
In any combat these young men were the ones most exposed. Thus leaving young lovers wailing. It's this restless spirits of deserted lady lovers that is the subject of these love songs.
UGENYA and GEM people faced the wrath of Arab slave traders approaching through the collaboration of Nabongo Mumia, a notorious slave trader. These frontier skirmishes continued up-to 1934 with the martyrdom of firebrand Alphayo Odongo Mango in Musanda (Musanda wang' war cry).
•ALEGO people as pioneers had their own hands full driving out the sitting tribes they found there. In addition there were palace coups and bad government in Alego itself. One chiefdom had this habit of killing his newly married subjects and feeding them to hyenas at Got Seje. He believed that the laughing hyenas were actually human spirits demanding a sacrifice or else...
If you add this to passing through rival encroaching clans like Ugenya Boro sub clan. You can see how Alego clan saw a disproportionate size of young men's lives lost.
Infact at one time the warlike Ugenya Kager sub clan instigated another coup that even though was later overturned, led to a blood bath of young supreme warriors on account being imagined collaborators.
NYAKACH were another frontier clan against very volatile tribes people. In ancient dholuo Lang'o is martial. So this famous line by the God father of Benga , D Owino Misiani (Nyakach un Lang'o) was to underscore the history of Nyakach people as a battlefield frontier.
KANO of Luanda Magere
The people of Kano and warring legends of Luanda Magere needs no retelling. Which reminds me that, I am supposed to track this body of the wife of Luanda Magere that is preserved in a British Museum. Luanda Magere himself became a rock.
In short Kano like Nyakach was a front-line. And front-line are marked by blood of the fallen.
BANTER OF ENVY, JEALOUSY, KIDOLOGY, VILIFICATION
I have always tried to find out what the girls/women from the other regions think their placing among Benga artists is in comparison ranking. I guess I will have to make do with my own imagination.
The results that I recall over 30 years of this verbal banter is interesting and makes one laugh at the richness of envy, jealousy, kidology and sometimes utter vilification by the ladies from the maligned clans.
Ugenya especially, the kaGer sub clan has so many lyrics around their ladies. I once put this banter ranking to certain Kisumu clan ladies and got a real vilification back.
"Ugenya girls are door mats", they said. "They try to maintain this past time title of being the greatest home makers in Luo land. So they put up with all the trash from a musician. Not us"
Wow! Anyway as for me I don't believe that at all. I place it on the wondering spirits of the fallen Ugenya lovers left behind seeking love and platitudes. They are the ones who possess these young 'Jodhum' and invoke appreciations in Benga songs. You listen to the story lines and they are truly young ladies dying to be spoilt with words.
•2. KISUMO clan ladies
I once bantered with the over romanticized Alego clan girls, "Why is it that Kisumu clan ladies patronize all these Benga artist who flock to Kisumo to sing platitudes about Alego ladies?" I asked.
"What's the point of singing about nyi-Kisumo? And what is your point? Kidwa wer to wer awera ok omoni", came the reply with finality from this Alego lady. Enough said.
Anyway in brief I am not aware of legendary battles involving joKisumo and rival tribes. May be that is the reason for the dearth of love songs in honour of Kisumo clan ladies.
•3. KANO and NYAKACH ladies.
As far as I can remember Kano has always been a catchment area for Benga lyricists. Nyakach really dominated in the 90s and is still conspicuous. Given that these are true stories I can't help but link these 'dhum' to bloody battles as explained at the top of the page.
Seme ladies would not buy this. Infact I see some girls hitting at the weakness of Kano and Nyakach ladies. You know how Seme ladies are assertive. "Lando ma gibuogo go nyi Kisumo no kik gikel koni! Satan!". Something to do with unfair advantage due to their mixed race status.
•4. ALEGO clan ladies
As for Alego ladies, their reputation precedes them. Nothing they do counts for anything. Let me transcribe verbatim the scoff from a Karachuonyo rival:
"Bet e wii nyang' mondo eka owera? Maka nyang' kayo piera!"
Ouch!! In brief, it says 'it's too hazardous to get a Benga artist to compose a song about you'. But Benga artist have basically made a career singing about Alego ladies. I don't think they are rivalled. Not even close.
I was put down by a Sakwa clan girl why the flamboyant Karachuonyo ladies don't get as much lyrics targeting them. She went to great lengths to try to convince me that Karachuonyo ladies are not for singing about. "They are everything you want in a woman but not for singing about" she said.
Then I pointed out that George Ramogi and his Central Kendu Band did sing about 'Alice Anyango of Kendu’.
She jabbed back "That was about a local girl. Local leagues don't count in this business"
The Jury is still out. Did Karachuonyo engage a big bloody battle? I am not aware.
•6. GEM Clan ladies
Gem people have this weak line of argument to legislate any advantage they have. It is really cheap. Evidently Gem people were really educated especially the Kojuodhi sub-Clan. But someone needs to tell them that it's a tired line to brag about
So when I put it to this lady from Yimbo Usenge , her scoff was curtly. "Kata Ka dak gi chuo tinde ipuonjo I school?”
But she conceded that there is prevalence of Benga artist to sing about Gem ladies just like Ugenya ladies.
•7. MBITA clan
Personally I think Mbita ladies were held back by the vulgarity of word ‘Island’ in dholuo. So in platitude the vulgarity would be too provocative.
Rival ladies from Kanyadians as they are fondly called think otherwise. In Luo genealogy Kanyada are Ugenya people. How they ended up on the other side of the lake is another story for another day.
Kanyada ladies reckon Mbita ladies are what you term "ng'wen oluwo taya".
Some dholuo terms and words are not easy to explain. I will seek out the most apt translation. But beginning with Okatch Biggy era, Mbita girl have been punching above their weight in Benga lyrics.
The Deja Vue of Benga love lyrics being lived sung in these bloodied battle areas seem to me like juogi lovebirds living their unfinished love to the full through the bodies of another generation.
In pop star Michael Jacksons, Thriller song the video music is based on African spiritual belief that the departed live their lives after death. Such that the dead will never miss a chance to do a jig where the living are partying. This sort explains why in magenga talks a persons heroics and their likes are the general theme of the anecdotes. There is logic to these Luo madness called customs, after all.