ANATOMY OF DHOLUO LYRICS
Updated: Nov 10
DICTIONARY OF DHOLUO LYRICS
High riding Ohangla artist Odongo Swagg gives some rap about Chwade ginyundo on a building site. As he explains it to reporter. And the uncultured paparazzi dutifully writes it down. The point is should they have asked an uncultured question that generates such an uncultured response. But what was Odongo Swagg talking about? And if so is Odongo Swagg the only one in Ohangla music scene. You know and I know. And everybody knows that the sly lyrics had nothing to do with a building construction site. We all know that the lyrics was a coded message for an explicit sexual line.
Odongo Swagg is trending Ohangla artist now not only for the freshness of music and the message but also in spite of the manner in which he sealed the expletives lines. He has completely obliterated the other artists right now. He hit the scene with a 4 record salvo at the pop scene. In my opinion it appears the cutting edge in Odongo Swagg was the lyrics line of Chwade gi Nyundo. And they are many such lines in his lyrics that you feel his publishers should release anonymous uncredited dictionary to translate the many words that he throws in from a simple line like Yaaye Odongo yaaye to indelible tiriri ri ririi. And the lyrics coding reminds of African American of 1960s, Otis Redding who left this world at a poetic age when the pilot of the plane he was travelling mistook the hard frozen lake for an airstrip. Otis Redding lyrics had so much ethnic mimes that he had to release a translation to reach the new frontiers on white audience. In High school days I had a copy of the Otis Redding Dictionary Of Soul.
But the artists concealing their real intention is not a new thing. Word has it the Indian choreography was built around such explicit lyrics. All those finger works were not just movements but body talk. They were explicit provocative sexual advances.
It is the same with taarab music from the coastals of East Africa which germinated from the harems verbal assault on the master’s wives. Wewe ni mitumba, Koroboi, Watu wa kusema tu. The music is super. The story if fantastic. But it is always the same theme. Fighting over a man.
But is this foreign to Luo music? The fact is that Lakeside music is stratified. There are music genre for each age group and for varied occasions. And the level of sexual explicit lyrics varied according to each group. In some music genre the expletive language was completely absent while in others it was very mild and only referenced in innuendo. And still in some music genre it was free for all raunchy lyrics.
Tung’ was generally a sombre music generated by blowing the horn. Because Tung’ originated from signalling purposes in war and funerals and announcement of pomp and entrance. It has always been clean of explicit music.
But that has always been the same. The moment Tung’ wandered celebrations and leisure than lady sex reared her head. And this can go as far back as the 1960s from own personal experience. A dictionary of Tung’ words will include a variation of vocabulary of innuendos to mild explicit words. And because Tung’ was an outdoor dance music, as soon as the dancers stepped away from the strong gaze older folks, the Tung’ blower will up the tempo into seductive songs.
In the Tung’ dictionary a look at say K section will reveal lines like, kuon omwogo lor gi ochiego of the 1960s. But if say one went to N section of the dictionary of Tung’ lyrics it is possible to find nyamit aleng’a of the 1970’s which is a shade too raunchy to be played at the arena with a mixed audience. The Tung’ blower will most likely unleash such lines near wangach or on the way to the celebrations to create anxiety of the excitement of what the event holds.
Bul is probably the oldest Luo accompaniment. It has been used mainly to worship and ritual announcement. Bul was also used as an arsenal to scare predators and wild animals. The adoption of Bul as an instrument of entertainment is derived from assimilated ethnic groups. I am a great fan of oteng'o drum percussion even if there is limited singing and the emphasis is on one-legge skipping dance. Otherwise even to beat up percussion was a taboo as it was seen as either tempting fate or inviting spirits whose strength you cannot fathom.
Plain singing in Luo contained purely lyrics. Mild accompaniment was mixed. Wer had no sexual connotation unless the occasion demanded.
NYANDOLO is lullaby for the children. Nyandolo was generally solo but being joined by others is not a taboo. No need to explain further
Agoro is my favourite of the Luo occasional and ritual singing. It’s the equivalent of the wedding songs. The singing by young women(bridesmaid) was after the bride spends the night at the matrimonial home. It was mostly choral but call and answer back was favoured because it gave room for singing stars to showcase their talents. In Africa it is the closest to the fame South African Reeds dance. The Luo version was strictly singing and banter and not dancing. It had completely zero vulgar. A little reference to breaking of the hymen to recognise and gloat about the prized virginity of the bride.
Sal was my second favourite. It died a natural death as school going took a centre stage. It was mostly call and answer by post adolescents girls a month after burial of a senior person. The songs were very melodious and have been stolen in many forums. The spectacle and choreography is very much like the Reeds dance except in Sal the girls dance making a circle. The dressing is also the same but with owalo and showing of tigo (waist beads). Completely zero tolerance of lewd words because it was performed in the afternoon after the sun crosses the midday and a general exhibition to all including the barred twin s of the deceased. I have to list some of the songs I can remember simply out of nostalgia of days long gone and will never be back. They just live in my memory. Like OMO WER, this category had a set of songs that was a taboo to be sung or performed for any other occasion. Say like western wedding songs or Christmas carols. However, it has become acceptable for pop singers borrow them and mix them anyhow. Here are the tunes I can still sing very well. How long I can continue to hold them in my heart and head only God knows. Maybe I should record two lines each and attach to this post.
Orengo turo bada
Ne ka owalore kuoma, ka owalo
Suna kaa ng’eya, suna gi maugo (covered by super star Suzzane Owiyo)
Wer ridore ka wang’ chieng’ podho
WEND SEPE was the singing that accompanied spiritual exorcism. The structure was call and answer back Naturally not sexual references as in church music. Luos are religious too.
WER GENERAL: Like any community there was the general docket singing not for dance that accompanied chores like fetching firewood, fetching water, grinding on the grinding stone, story-telling at siwindhe, othordox wuowo. These had no sexual references. The structure was mixed by choral was preferred.
In my understanding, Dengo is the exported US Blues. Dengo could be solo or a duet. It was wounded singing to be sung in praise of a departed person or love gone bad. There was no Dengo for fun. Dengo could be to reminisce days long gone. Dengo was not dance. Dengo had Zero tolerance for sexual words. And mostly Dengo was neither accompanied with call and answer or musical instruments. Dengo was mostly heart wrenching soulful singing
Dodo was choral as in the US black gospel call and answer back but with more melody. It was reserved for the middle-aged women folk. Completely without any explicit lyrics. Dodo these days have only the ajaw like instruments interspersed with sigalagala and routine dances. It could have veiled seductive lines but zero explicit. I recall lines like thuol mol gi iye, opuk onge nungo, jandagla oyud katero dhok modho, ka simba to iomee ang’o dog malo, orie tiendee ni mond atera.
These were very mild staff and some quite customary primitives or no nos. Dodo was also very slow in tempo because it was in territory of middle aged women past 50 year olds.
A solo chant with an almost jogging choreography. Sigweya like Dengo was not accompanied by instruments. Sigweya was mostly a duet. It also in order to have Sigweya with call and answer. Un accompanied but with elements of expletive lyrics. In saying that there were ritualised Sigweya as the dance for the twins’ reception to accompany malongo. Malongo was dance with a lot of hips physical motion. The main aim of Malongo is physiotherapy. This explains the need for erotic lyrics to accompany the Sigweya. Without eroticism, it was not malongo and it was not miend rude. If you worship western European culture then compare this ritual with stag/hen night where I occasionally see in London, young post puberty women hoisting life size male genitalia in Soho square, central London. Enough said.
Nyatiti in dance audience and ceremony was the more straitlaced Luo genre. Nyatiti dances are very laboured and dull. Nyatiti is an indoor dance music. It is also a rap type of music and is played by a stationery musician. Nyatiti power is in the rap that follows easy recital lines. The rap is punctuated by dance and sigalagala .
Automatically this will lead to the mild explicit lyrics. But this did not stop lady sex to appear behind the curtains. However, it was so concealed that I only deciphered some of the lyrics when star musicians like Akumu Ogara of Siranga in Ugenya became a little provocative in 1960s. However, the latter group of musicians like Amolo Kongo of the 1990s became braver.
A Glossary of Akumu and Amolo Kongo will include sly phrases like:
Dhako onyuolo nyare luongo ya map ne
Kata dende mayom no mano ye meka- Akumu
To word plays like Dakta Nyawanda chuo kata maro by Amolo Kongo came later in 1980s to 1990s
BENGA DANCE MUSIC Benga pop music is the most disadvantaged music genre. This is so because Benga was mostly studio recorded and the musician had no control over where it is going to be played or the audience so as to edit the expletive or offensive words. In addition to that Benga was a dance music and was susceptible to go rogue at night dance sessions.
So the modern Benga became the less expletive Luo genre music. Very tame like Dodo. In fact, once speaking at London SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) to a group of Benga researchers about to travel to Lake basin, I traced Benga to Dodo in structure. And I still believe now as I believed then that Benga did not drop from the sky. And no single artist went around Luo Nyanza tutoring Benga. But that is another subject.
Even when Benga strayed to innuendos, the musicians were careful not to kill their own airplay at functions where recorded discs were being played to a mixed audience. But this did not stop the 1970s Benga to be pervaded by either chants or praise names. The No 1 Benga star, Collela Mazee had his self-styled praise name. In the O section of Collelas Mazee’s dictionary of Benga you will definitely find the nick name shortened to Oula but is actually Oula malor ka ochimo malo explained. Then in G section you would find Gweno rayier en ma ibule ne wendo. All these well concealed. Even when Kabaselleh inserted in his lyrics dictionary Nya karadolo makaodoli to idolori mwaka, it was still very tame as mere word play.
Its only when Okatch Biggy using the HIV/AIDS sponsorship to encourage safe sex after the Worlds AIDS conference in Paris in 1991 that Benga broke the frontiers. Now Benga Dictionary will contain more explicit lines like Sianda madongo, pamo sianda mon, Adhaimbo sianda. This new frontier of Benga explicit words does not really require a dictionary to explain them. Do they? Since when did bikini require guesswork! I will leave that to your imagination
Orutu is explicit in words and dance. It was generally reserved for the youth in night dances. It was also age restricted as married women would not even attend orutu as a spectacle. The less said about the Orutu vocabulary the better.
Orthodox Ohangla was played on mobile drum hung over the shoulder and made from monitor lizard skin. My friend insist Ohangla strayed into Luoland from Eastern Congo empire worship music. In any case Ohangla is less than 100 years old in Luo land and exploded into the scene from the melting pot of Ugenya and Alego. This Ohangla genre is an outdoor music and very close to Orutu. Ohangla is purely a dance music with raunchy dances. In fact, the mantra is Ohangla ok budh go maro.
The lyrics of Ohangla and dance phrases are lewd sex basically. It was broken by sessions of praise sessions with fund or direct vulgarity that even if containing innuendos were never concealed. Lines like
-Semeji ng’a ma olieli no kose yier oturo wembe
-Agulu piere ochayo mach; med ye osik moro
The words are nakedly innocent but they have a double meaning.
The Unorthodox Ohangla or modern Ohangla is substantially a hybrid music genre in the mould US African American Rhythm and Blues (R and B). It borrowed from other music Genre. For example, Unorthodox Ohangla has adopted Dengo(Blues). Dengo was never an Ohangla way of singing. Ohangla has also borrowed on drums and dropped the shoulder sling horizontal drums.
Also Unorthodox Ohangla has vacated outdoors and moved indoors. This inherently means that the dance has to slow down and be more stationery than the Orthodox Ohangla due to lack of space. In so doing avails itself to sexy body contact.
By comparison in lyrics Unorthodox Ohangla has adopted mild sex expletives also meeting Benga half way. This may explain Odongo Swagg’s deception in resorting to double speak.
If Odongo Swagg were to publish a dictionary such a translation, I believe such words would have been could covered
1. Goye gi nyundo
2. Ayaaye Odongo Ayaaye
3. Machu om chuom
4. Nyocha oyanya Kisumu
In summary Odongo Dictionary has taken away direct expletives in order to continue with the overarching Unorthodox Ohangla.