COLLELA MAZEE IS IMMORTALISED
Updated: Sep 7, 2021
COLLELA'S "HOT GUITAR" WORKS THAT WELDED THE COMMUNITY TOGETHER.
Is there such a thing as immortalising such a person? Some will disagree. But what about statues and pyramids? Or is it the builders who are immortalised. Of course if Macbeth immortalised Shakespeare then the philanthropists who conceptualised the project have been immortalised by the project Collela Mazee museum. Some have argued it should be mausoleum. Others are pushing for a tomb only followed by an academy? Why academy? They say because in his songs he always praised young women who sought academic excellence.
Collela Early years.
The record I have is that Richard Owino Osalla was born in 1954 in Gem Clan in Central Nyanza before the parents migrated to the then fertile and spacious South Nyanza where he lived until his passing away at the age of 46. This is normal of great people to pass on to the next life they are always in a hurry to leave this world. Theirs a poetic world.
The other information I picked is that he left school in 1971 when he started the musical path. Again that is just about the same age musician are challenged by their new calling. I also pick that he joined Victoria Jazz of another Benga great Dr Ochieng Nelly. And the association lasted only 1 year and that nicely takes it to 1972 or there about.
As Collela was graduating from Ochieng Nelly tutelage, I was also graduating from primary school into form 1 in 1973 in Homa Bay School. This is significant for me. In a Lake side Benga war of North-side and South-side at this time there was only one winner. Lake Victoria South. It is here where I met Collela Mazee. Not physically but through music.
The first of Collela Mazee records I danced to was Isabella Mula/ Hezron Makoto in April of 1973 during the very half term in high school. I still feel good about the blues associated with coming of age as a form 1 pupil. The nostalgia. The memory of a first dance with age mates from Special Blood High School are engraved in that Collela song. The first high school outings and innings are woven nicely in Collela song. For me therefore it is Collela’s greatest record. It gets me into unnecessary arguments with fans who also like me believe their first coming of age song is Collela’s greatest song. They think they know better. But even in the cold of the morning years later I still maintain that this was a complete song to me. Let me leave it there.
Then in 1974 there was Helena Nyaduse but in-between there was another heart wrenching Jannetta. All these three songs were simply rich in melody with strong lyrics. As far as I am concerned no records from Collela will surpass these three. I have an attachment to them. And that is why I say this is where I met Congolese aptly named Collela Mazee.
Physically, I met Collela at the most unlikely place, at the City stadium in a middle of the table football fixture. Nobody watched middle of the table Reunion playing some random game un less you are a fan trying to reminisces the dizzy heights of Luo Union FC beating every team in sight. I met him several times at Reunion FC football games and did not understand the attachment. I did not ask because I feared that the god of Benga may say, “I had nothing to do so I wandered here but in reality I am a supporter of XYZ FC”. I feared to be spurned by him. So I pretended it is okay for him to be there. I would have also wanted to find out about these three songs but the chaos of the stadium did not allow us to. That is the closest I got to Collela. Any other story is a lie.
However, there are three things that are not lies. One is that Collela’s anthology will never be complete. It is practically impossible to collect all his records and they spill all over Africa. So we will never have a definitive anthology of Collela Mazee. If I say Isabella Mula is the first, and that is a rumour then the last is Solea modak Ulaya. Again that may be a rumour as some songs maybe out there.
In between the two we probably can make out Collela anthology by your first love, what were you doing, which family gathering, which truth telling story. In other words, you can momentarily remember a handful until one morning a song comes in your head and you remember what you were doing at that time. Or you hear a band performing at a burial in faraway Zimbabwe in a typical melody of some 10 years of Collela reign. Or you bump into an internet xylophone troupe from South Africa tapping a way a Collela song of 1974 and you remember the song story very well. And even more ridiculous is that you are in a party somewhere in Europe and a total stranger from Guinea Bissau pins you to the wall to narrate what Collela was singing about in a particular song that he can only mime.
The second fact about Collela anthology is that every band either reminds you of how they are related to Collela or how the rivalry went with Collela. For example, when Isabella Mula was great, Collela was a middle group while the front runner was Ochieng Nelly (Achacha jakoranga DC); Owino Misiani (Simaya Chunye Oketo); Omedo and Metric Jazz (Oguk Edward) and George Ramogi (Jimmy M’cOloo). It was not just walking into a recording studio with some half baked tunes to fill the internet space. An artist was competing for dance floor time at a funeral matanga disco, high school inning/outing, clubs and pubs, juke boxes, ASK show, wedding, 3rd class of Nairobi-Kisumu bound train, myriads of simba huts, miaha luring-snaring and entertainment. Basically every such venue was a competition site all over Africa.
After one year Collela had nudged all and was trading places in 5- way race at the top. North of the lake had been crushed and distorted in this classical mess. They were now imitating Congolese sounds with marginal cosmopolitan fan base. In 1975, Collela had shorn off the others and was now racing Owino Misiani at the top, trading blow for blow or is it record for record.
Many musicians came but Collela stuck at the top till the end. He cut loose with the young and the urbanites, the college boys and all. Okatch Biggy was a different caricature with a different pull altogether and Benga purists say that North of the Lake had not really rolled back the frontiers. Behind the scenes Collela songs were being bootlegged all over central and west Africa in briefcases by Benga “messiahs”. He got nothing in cash terms but he left his footprints all over the world. So all you can count is what does Omore kich kombe remind you of; what does Dichol kadh imosa remind you off. Until the end. That is the depth of Collela anthology that few will ever fathom.
How did Collela manage to shrug competitors and even his offshoots to greatness? Student of Benga music will one day tell us why. Collela shut off Leonard Omedo and starlets from North of the Lake. Then he outsprinted the early pace setters like Ochieng Nelly and George Ramogi. Only Owino Misiani was left to deliver political sermons to a corner of a slightly different Benga sound. As for the mass following Collela songs was an essential to any music listener or gathering.
Some have argued that having an upbringing from the North of the lake gave him an advantage. That he brought the steamy and elaborate lyrics of the North with him then upped the tempo a notch higher to appeal to the South of the Lake. Some even argue that he chose his subjects well, sprinkling between the majority clans alternatively from North and south of the lake. And even if this is true it did not matter to a non-Luo or a Zimbabwean listening to the songs. Collela was still good. Some say his appeal was the conspicuous style he adopted on stage always hiding between the speakers. Maybe but I think that is a typical Congolese style of hiding the tricks on the strings of changing the positions of the strings and moving where the capo registers to produce a unique order of sound as you strum the strings. This trick was popularised by soloist Bwami Walumona of Mangelepa (Sakina and Kizungu zungu) but originated from the OK Jazz guitar attack duo of Luambo Makiadi and Mose Fan. Or maybe it is because Collela kept off popular subjects that would divide his followers e.g. popular politicians. It is also noted that he sung praises Gor Mahia FC very late while Owino Misiani doing an earlier rendition for Luo Union FC opened the song with a lame excuse to justify his reason. Collela it appears kept away from such hot potato subjects therefore maintaining some neutrality. Whatever his niche was we have to accept that he was first and foremost a great composer and lyricist.
The other thing that will stick forever and will be a story of anthology is the philanthropists who conceptualised a museum for Collela. One way of telling the story of a great man is to forever be the story teller. The most permanent way of telling such a story is to establish a lifeless narrative about greatness like immortalise the story of Collela Mazee. Very few people in modern day world are eulogised and immortalised this way. They are very few in history of Kenya. I am also sure that very many things will come out of this mausoleum. And even if nothing more comes out of it, how many such monuments in this part of the world do you know of. That makes it special.
I am trying to get to to the names behind the noble idea and to find out who is who in the team and what drove them to build a pharohisque “pyramid” for this musician? The information I have is very sketchy. In fact, I don’t even know the full works. But I am just satisfied that there exists those who thought that Collela Mazee should be honoured that way on account of the lives he touched and still touches not only on the Lake basin but all over the world.
So far the committee names I have in alphabetical order are Aghan Odero Agan, Ben Ojode, Betty Collela, David Opiyo, Freddie Collela, George Ouma (Jojo), Henry Ochieng, John Ogega Rabuor, Joseph Atonga, Kennedy Ochieng', Mark Agutu, Mildred, Renjius Mbeche, Richard Opiyo, Sam Nyabwana, Thomas Ochieng, Wilson Were. Beyond this committee I am made to understand that there are 120 or so well wishers and contributors spread all over the globe.
The above paragraph will be expanded as more information as to the conceptualisation, the convenor and general organisation develop. And I will update this blog with their profiles and photos. They deserve more than a mention. We owe these philanthropists even if we ourselves are yet to contribute materially.
Collela memories are countless. His songs come in lines and tunes that are long forgotten and to be honest I cannot even remember the titles to songs. You wake up one morning and a tune like, paro ga ndalo machon cha alego kaluo…or nyaminu somo Sega…. or Omore ka Luca kich kombe, or ikweda ka gima achalo onyuogo….. or kata min nyako biro gi chung’ achung’a gionge wich kuot… or odakkamagambo polisi…..or nyakuar Oluoch omin Sarah, Doctor…or lando in kanye okew gi Ayugi, nyar jo Alego aluongi nyamin Konya Agutu mama…. or maneno niliyo kuwa nayo ni sha kuambia, hayo fahamu.
And all of them lyrics were supported by such great melody that you forgot the titles but kept the melody. Like me always you can not remember the title to the song and honestly I would pay to have somebody jog my memory as to the titles of the songs when they hit you early in the morning and hung around in your brain until you go to sleep. And some like the above lines have stayed with me for over 30 years with the same freshness and nostalgia but I cannot just remember the title to the songs.
Patriotism and Pride.
In many ways Collela Mazee represented community self-pride. It was something of our own that nobody gave us. We never had to beg. There was no money but we stuck to it with self sacrifice. We were abused, We were had, We were exploited and dumped. Still we stuck to it. It was truly our music sung in not only dholuo language but with a phraseology that we all understood. So they were not ready to be bought of like piece of meat. They still danced to it no matter what it represented. It was pure music devoid of sexist sales gimmicks. And what is more. For more than 30 years Benga was our refuge that we retreated to in that siege mentality. Like the mantra of a certain London Football club, it was like, “Nobody loves us and we don’t care”.
Like Aghan Odero Agan, we of past generations are just thankful that Richard Owino Osalla aka Collela delivered and still delivers happiness in memory to make us smile furtively in silence whether driving or in solitude. Like an American philosopher once said, “there is no greater joy than remembering happy times”. Collela Mazee still gives that greater joy right now as we speak.
I am old fashioned and will go with the first 10 years of his career. Out of thousands of songs, here is a starter.
1. The undisputed ISABELLA MULA,
baabbaa tinde ilal na kanye/
dala kabiro ionge, Isa/
jaber mama bi aneni ye/
osiep Atieno super ka-muse, darling/
Isabella ooyo da, jaber/
honey tinde ilal na kanye, asiko arangoi/
Mula yuor Apiyo resa abi aneniee/
tinde akuyo ka aparo/
mama akuyo kaparo/
omiyo tinde kaparo jahera chiemo taama, ga/
ka yand abiro dwari dala mama ok ayudi/
nyisa nyaduse Isa ongeye/
hera ma nene imiya ochwoyo chunya/
omiyo ti kaparo jahera chiemo tama/
iparo ga yuor Collela
3. Jack Jack 2
4. Hellena Nyaduse
7. Ben Okoyo Makambo
8. Apidi Nyar John
9. Piny en Mano
10. Solea Akinyi
11. Caro Bens Anyango
12. Benta bi Iyika
13. VP Pod Wamol
15. Nyar Kanan
16. Odawo Sargent Major
17. Arus bende kethore ga
18. V. B Kalo
19. Bi- Kajos
21. Yuca Totie
22. Charles Ogola
23. Nang’o Waromo Kapolo oromo
24. Akinyi the Black Beauty