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  • Writer's pictureStephen Osieyo

EDDAH ACHIENG AYON- the One Luo star

Updated: Jun 21



Eddah Achieng Ayon, long legged petite beauty is exactly why the widescreen tv screen was invented. In the not-so-distant past she is the type of beauty they used to describe as shipwrecked. Why? When boys were asked what three items they would like to carry along in their survival kit in a remote island. They would say Eddah Achieng Ayon, Eddah Achieng Ayon, Eddah Achieng Ayon. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to her yourself. Especially her song for the ONE LUO project.

What is this project? Probably this project is best loosely described as a joint project with a bunch of all the Luo strands coming together in one location to produce and release a song each. I knew about this project before it was launched. And that is being modest. I actually pioneered some aspects of the setting up of such an organization called Luo Heritage Foundation in London about 15 years ago. ONE LUO projects was just one of the activities envisaged. So, when I was told about a brave group that wanted to get along I tagged on. When they released their first songs I was tagged along too. It took me a week to clear my desk and listen to the brilliant singing.



The day I listened to the opening line of one song I was bewitched.  This is a different style of singing from the fashionable trend in this side of the lake. Even in terms of hearty pop sons, it is a great departure from the soulful velvety singing that arose from what Ugandan poet Okot P Bitek called “wounded music”.

And it is rightful that Luo singing should depart from such solemn mournful style. Luos have no history of the trauma of a holocaust like slavery or domination or servitude. Why should we embrace that singing style and discard our own that underscores our history of conquest? But that is not the point. The point is that the singing in ONE LUO project takes you a long way to our cultural ways of singing. It takes you to a time when lyrics meant lyrics with the full purpose of conveying a message.

If “Were” (praise him, God) came from wer (praise) and thum (music) came from dhum (worshipping or chanting in tongues) then African music deserves much more than a few sketchy words thrown around with a spatula. Artists should strive to hand stitch the music.  And when that tapestry is fashioned by a genius like Javan McAjudo then it is easy to see why Eddah singing does not let go of you once you pick the first line.

Who is Eddah Achieng Ayon? I am still struggling to figure her out. Why is this? It is not normal to find a Luo and more so one born in the 1990s speaking all the three shades of Kenyan dholuo. The freshness of her voice, the clarity, the powerful vocals just introduced these three dialects. At first I wondered whether she was from Congo, Uganda, Ethiopia or Sudan.



I was torn between just enjoying the music with McAjudo doing his stuff or deciphering who this is and where does she come from? The use of ya” as in “koyo chamo ya” instead of “koyo chama” is milambo preserve. Then she uses fwadha instead of kwadha which is commonly used  from milambo up to and around Kisumu district.

Just when I thought I had  figured her out, then I remembered she had shifted gears just like McAjudo to use osiepa yo-yo-yo”! The use of pet Yo is more of River Yala upon River Ndhoya was of speaking.

What about her accent? That is more diverse than late Kabasele Ochieng’s. At least Kabasele you could pin to River Yala Upon River Nzoia basins. What do you do with Edda Achieng Ayon’s River Nzoia like accent of “Bii ye dala” as opposed to “bi idala”. You can argue she was putting in a continuous open invitation. But is that really the reason? Is there not a plea injected in the lyrics. Or she is just hell bent on running rings around people with her lyrics.

One thing we have to accept is that here is an artist for the sake of art.  But Who is she?

After much running around I was allowed to speak to her on a timed session that ended exactly on the dot. So, I had to rush my questions and fast. And the faster I asked the quicker the answers came back. And she was not afraid to mix it with me. If I said something she did not agree with, she will say nope and in that limited chance butt in with how she saw things. At times I was left mesmerized.

In the beginning

Culturally she hails from Kanyamwa clan of the greater Onyango Rabala (read Luo of Kenya book by S Osieyo). Geographically I map Luo clans better using the old district of South Nyanza. I believe it was more unitary than this gerrymandering of communities. She was born in a big family of the Seventh Day Adventist domination of the Christians. She quickly took to singing. In fact, I wonder if there is anybody in the SDA church who does not sing. In her family everybody sang. However, with her it was too much singing in the school, through school and out of school. Still, it was not professional singing to make money.

Then College came along and midway she had to defer college as life got in the way of college. She has a year to complete her degree and that will allow her to do many things and almost forever because tutoring is a long-term career. She chose this tutoring carefully as she realized that with her petite body if she lives a healthy life full of balance and respecting that her body is a temple of God, she is likely to outlive many people.

Working her way out of college again, life got in the way. And with these things you cannot stand still for the world to pass you by. That is not what God wanted for us to just stand still. Otherwise God would not have created many days, many seasons and an earth so wild, she says.  

Eddah then started searching her way into popular music when the golden boy Javan McAjudo landed her number after hearing her voice on a song on You tube. Eddah says landing in Javan McAjudo stables is the greatest thing that ever happened to her.

Everything under godsend McAjudo has been worth every minute. I asked her if she would ever easily give up music now. She answered, “I would probably change the emphasis to do for example what McAjudo is doing or what the sponsors of ONE LUO project are doing. Or even direct my university degree towards the music industry but not abandon music.”

I then asked her if the temptation to quit ever entered her mind through the tough life of a pop musician. With sadness and her head facing down, she answered, “Yes, I even had very deep soul-searching inquest when people direct criticisms at my two children. Why children? Do people know how many insults of their parents are not addressed at them because they are not at fault? But surely why pre-teenagers?”



Incredibly she said, the vilest violation came from women. She said somehow men would most likely do it while you are on stage or when they are drunk. But men never develop a feud if there is no common conflict of interest mixed with personal interest. That was the only time I noticed a twinkle of sadness in her voice even though she fought hard to hide it the way she looked down to hide her face.

Future

Eddah believes that music, like in all parts of the world, suffers because the investors are not artists. She says sports have former athletes or failed athletes taking into investment and management. Music is different. The people who are interested in music are the people interested in one-night gains. They cannot even wait for a week. Those who are not interested in money are interested in fame. I then asked her why she is saying so yet her favoured Benga musician made a career of singing about nothing but men who helped him with cash- harambee Benga. I don’t remember getting an answer. I think the trains were too loud or the internet was unstable.

However, she added that the diaspora can take a lead in many things such as what ONE LUO project is doing. Just working in the background. And listening to what the budding musicians are saying. One observation we made is that in the west whenever a musician is travelling, they travel with budding upstarts or bands. This goes as far back as 1970s. When Congolese mega star went on presidential missions, he always carried a young band like Zaiko Langa Langa, Mbilia bel, Papa Wemba, etc. In later years, it is these younglings who filled the Congolese music space. In effect it is why up to now Afrisa style has influenced Congolese and African style forever. The Long-drawn-out vocals being done even in Ohangla are from such African Fiesta influence. So, Diaspora invitations for overseas tours could include upcoming local artists. There is little difference between 15 musicians and 1 additional upstart musician.  A helping hand is all we are asking for.

One mistake that local artists should not make is put up joint investments managed by the community. Why? The countryside is littered with failed government projects like stadiums, bridges etc. People who should go to jail for poor performance are roaming the world free. “What chance does a diasporan project has in the midst of this wild mismanagement?”

I was stunned by the clarity of the way she saw things. I asked her about the dissenting view that erecting mausoleums for departed musicians is sinking much needed funds and that money should be put towards upcoming artists. Eddah said, Musicians have been violated, abused, despised and then cast aside for so long, let such monuments be erected to go along with the joy they provided when alive. Some people owe the likes of Ochieng Kabasele for family lives they have now. Let their memory of Owino Misiani, Collela Mazee, Peter Owino Rachar not be clouded by the memory of some untendered grass mound of a grave. These stars after all were a gift from God, let us erect more monuments. If anything, much bigger monuments than politicians’ monuments because Musicians never cause anybody any pain.”

 

I asked her if Women receive a pass or a bias for sexual availability or permissiveness in the industry. Eddah said, “You lived in the US and Europe probably they do over there. Here it is tough. Yes, sometimes it comes with the territory that there is a risk. Yes, we are aware  that there are predators and perverts who get a kick out of such bad habits in the music industry more than in politics. It comes with the territory.  But if a woman overcomes being abused on the way to the top, there is no escaping more danger that awaits her at the top.”

Eddah explained that naturally a woman is disadvantaged because they are women. The demands of her anatomy puts her at a weaker point. “And I am not complaining. And you will not find me crying until you call my children the children of prostitutes. Then I will cry. But that is it.  No frills. If I have issues. Nitapeleka mbele ya mungu siku za baadaye

“I accept that I must buy 40 underwear where a man buys one and sings unashamedly, “handa ma oti ma ilonyo gi long’ chutho”. Tough! I am not complaining, and you won’t find me crying in the toilet for that bias from God.

“But what I am complaining about is that a male artist does not use deodorant, does not brush his teeth, has zero stage wardrobe and is accepted yet even a female schoolteacher’s wardrobe is counted by students on the back of the notebook of the subject she teaches.

“This same thing follows women up to the grave. Your dressler, beautician, bartender all have a register of your wardrobe. It is this in-your-face bias that as women we live with every day. It is all over in an artist’s life.”

 

I asked her how people who want to help can assist in the face of such bias and bigotry, She shrugged her shoulders and pointed out that discrimination has been fought before with positive discrimination, affirmative action and quarters for such disadvantaged  minorities, “when say supporting artists there should be  a ringfenced quarter for women. And people from the diaspora who have faced hostile discrimination should be in the forefront of promoting good practices at home. Even their own daughters in the diaspora would be proud of them. It would be at least some evidence ni nyocha idak gi odiero apala.

I realized that this was not an ordinary interview. As I had only a minute from my allocated time, I asked her to choose one project to uplift women artist from these five choices:

1.      Sponsor an artist for 5 years Or Buy her band instruments?

“Band instruments”, she answered.

2.      Build a studio for a community or train a producer/marketer/promoter?

“Train a producer/marketer. Promoter”, she said.

Ooops. Time up

3.

4.

5.

_____________________________________________________

Eddah Achieng Ayon Anthology

1.      Otugo Juoka

2.      Wuon Baby

3.      Musuri Sana

4.      Bii Bii (ft Apesi)





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