GEORGE RAMOGI: OF METALLIC JACKETS, LYRICS AND ARGWINGS.
Updated: Jan 25, 2021
In a tribute song to the just slain celebrated lawyer and Foreign Affairs Cabinet Minister, singer George Ramogi wails:
Agwingi ojok chutho en otho gi yawa gi
Nam oloko kite CMG kalo
Ndara opong' duto nyaka ochopo "Malanga".
Three words stick to mind. The exodus, the lake turbulence and Malanga which are supported by a conspicuous screaming steel guitar. It's at Malanga that I am stopping to tell the story of strange happenings very close to me. Jothum gin jodhum, sometimes they speak in tongues and say things that have profound meanings when they, lyric-composers are possessed with those spirits.
The January ill wind.
January has a lot of sad tales in Luo land and indeed in the black man’s history. The CMG tragedy was in a January like this January 2021, but in 1969. It was just a day in January like today but in 1969. And may be at about day time like this time but in 1969. And in a government office just like any government offices today but still in 1969, a government rifle was being issued like any government rifle today but in 1969. Then rifle was readied just like all rifles are readied but this one is in 1969.
Anti finger print taping,.....check;
Then a full metal jacket inserted.
A full metal jacket (FMJ) bullet is a small-arms projectile consisting of a soft core (often lead) encased in a shell of harder metal, such as gilding metal, cupronickel, or, less commonly, a steel alloy. ... It also prevents damage to bores from steel or armour-piercing core materials.
Or if not so then in the same January 1969 Argwings Kodhek was already in intensive care unit under the care of The Nairobi Hospital. But rumour has it, and that rumour may be very true has it that a very fearful friend of his was the puppeteer of drip drab medical "inattention". Those could be Luo rumours and reckless conspiracy theory. The problem with a rumour like all rumours is that once it is started it can only end by being confirmed. Like those days when unwedded pregnancy was a sin or when teacher-pupil affairs were a taboo, once somebody wrote on on conspicuous path side sisal leaf (not fb) that such and such a lady is pregnant then the only way to end it was if the lady really became pregnant.
Any way back to the rifle checking January 1969. The readied rifle then transported itself to what is now Argwings Kodhek road in the plush end of Nairobi suburb past the very Nairobi hospital where he died after struggling in agony for days.
Then as the Argwings vehicle approached, there was the rifle crack and the metal crashed through the window, hit him at mortal organs crashing through the rib caged and left him fighting for his life.
What is fact is that the scene of accident or crime was squeaky cleaned in half an hour after the accident or incident. In Nairobi where dogs and cats carcass takes a week to clean, Argwings Kodhek scene of accident was cleaned in less than an hour. No mobile phones, no emergency services yet there were overnight cleaners. If you say so we accepted the wheel came off and the car had an accident and he later died in the hospital of the wounds sustained in the accident.
Only 30 years later that post-mortem revealed a rifle bullet hole in his rib cage. Apparently it was deflected when it hit the glass and did not cause instant death.
That is the January of 1969 that George Ramogi’s lilting steel wire cries of out for the steel metal jacket.
But there is another fact that bothers me about what really possesses musicians to speak in tongues. In the above eulogy lyrics by George Ramogi he sings of.
Argwings Kodhek has decided to join the exodus of his brethren in death. The Lake has strange turbulence for CMG is to pass (or The lake is abnormally silted, Argwings is exiting). Exodus! What exodus is singer George Ramogi talking about? Who are your brethren that you are joining Mr Kodhek?
Well six months later his close friend and fellow cabinet minister Tom Mboya was left sprawled in the Nairobi streets and pronounced dead at the same emergency unit of the Nairobi Hospital after receiving his share of full metal jacket.
Then another four months later a bigger exodus also joined Argwings Kodhek like George Ramogi had sung. On the 25th of October 1969 full metal jacket riddled bodies lay strewn in Kisumu venue of a presidential function. Is this the exodus George Ramogi was singing about? Jothum gin Jodhum mar adier.
Lake Victoria siltation and turbulence.
In traditional Lakeside Luo folklore, excessive siltation when it has not rained heavily (especially in January) meant that the earth is crying for dust to dust. Fishermen must avoid the lake until ritual sacrifices are carried out to appease the gods.
Then there is un explained turbulence coming from deep in the lake beyond Migingo islands but minus the thunderstorms that used to accompany such turbulence. Not to mention that It is January after all when there is no such onrush of water from the Nam lolwe basin. What was the turbulence that George Ramogi saw when we were already burying Argwings?
The music is a bit special. Usually in Benga music the lead guitar comes alive when the vocals take a break. Not in this song when the metallic lead guitar bleats.
But in "sigweya" which is predominantly used in funerals and they are mostly solo, It can be a duet but simply solo without a chorus or choral singing like in Benga.
In the above song George Ramogi is very clever or spirited or possessed. He creates a duet between vocals and lead guitar. But like a person possessed he makes the metal wire lead guitar draw and lead vocal sigweya. It's the lead guitar that dictates. The metal wire lead guitar that are arranged in a pack of 6 just like a full metal jacket in a pistol or revolver. In a way it is almost a cry like Tom Mboya’s enough cry at that pharmacy door way in Nairobi on that tragic day.
Ramogi punishes the lead guitar, making it wail, mourn, shriek, and eventually sigh. And dutifully the vocal sigweya obliges in every step until he sighs in resignation to release Argwings.
Why did George Ramogi violently change the style? Was this the full metal violence that will dominate Lakeside in 1969? Was George Ramogi preparing us after the wise men had "read" warning signs of the lake for him?
Fast forward to Kisumu full metal Jacket in October 1969. Argwings home and resting place is on Kisumu Busia road around Malanga. After Kisumu massacre of 1969, legend has it that a senior administrator at Ukwala District headquarters left the function to go back to his base in Ukwala.
Ukwala was the District headquarters. Siaya only had hyenas and night runners who could make a gun misfire. The OCPD was a Kebago, a Mr Ondieki and OCS was a Mr Matete from Kano. Matete was the officer who punished those who harassed chang’aa distillers. His logic was that chang’aa drinkers don't get drunk then chase school girls and people’s wives. A chang'aa drinker, gets drunk and falls down. Where is the problem if these retirees release money to circulate in Luoland! Basic economics of community regeneration.
I mention these guys because as public servants they were completely in tune with general public good. Village theft, sexual assault was punished ruthlessly. But chang'aa! Ehhhhh. I can go as far as to say that if anybody engineered nursed, hand-held chang'aa distillery in Ugenya, then it's these 3. They were friends of the public. They understood the issues of school fees and waywardness. Wherever they are we Ugenya people owe them massively.
Anyway back to the scene of massacre in Kisumu, the Ukwala senior District official got in the car and made their way to Ukwala. As the elderly Kikuyu driver and the district official reached Malanga area some youths probably out of delinquency than political malice threw a pebble on the road that hit the white VW on the boot with no harm to the windscreen. As you know VW engine is in the rear and the boot at the front.
So the driver slowed down and stopped, checked the windscreen then they decided to drive back to Kisumu because they were not sure of the road ahead on the way to Ukwala. Of course the young boys scampered away in full flight at the sound of the pebble hitting the boot. They did not wait even to see the VW beetle stop. They were just boys of lower primary school level.
6 Revolver bullets
Back in Kisumu police station, the senior Ukwala civic man reported the incident and was asked if he needed escort back to Ukwala. But he declined. Why not ? Maybe deep inside he knew he was carrying this too far or he was just possessed by the ill wind around Malanga in Gem Nyanza. Or maybe he was fearful of another reckless shootout with trigger happy policemen.
Anyway he was issued with revolver. He took the revolver checked that the 6 bullets were in place, the way any guitarist like Ramogi would check that the 6 steel strings are in place. Then rolled the revolver in that sound rrrrrrr the way musicians would do with the metal strings. He then counted one, two, three, four, five six. Just the way a soloist would do a sound check "one....two....three, Halooo. Halooooo one... two.... three". Then returned to the VW.
On the way back at about the same area near Malanga that those delinquents were up to mischief, a little boy who had been sent on an errand by the mother was walking home playfully. Just minding his own business with those tiny single aluminium nyange (wheelies). Or aluminium metal wire small toy cars. Those stuff made from discarded round wheels of bicycle or anything circular. He was a just an innocent kid. Not yet violated and shown how to abuse and misuse metallic bullet. Maybe even an only child of a sickle cell family of Lake side sickle cell rampant community. Minding his own business delivering an errand like any child in any part of the world. Like all millions of children all over the world sharing in community social and economic responsibility. A completely unrelated parallel life to the lives in VW beettle on the Kisumu Busia road rolling on 4 wheels (not one like this boy's).
For some reason the senior district official who had assured the Kisumu station that they needed no escort because these were just playful kids was overcome by some sinister evil still marauding Malanga area. Something very unlike the humanist behaviour who we respected and loved in Ukwala. For a split second evil just consumed the whole VW. The DC pulled the revolver. He released the safety catch. And aimed at an oblivious small 8-year-old by the road side.
Death from a metal jacket was still stalking Gem Malanga people and was now metres away and drawing even closer as the noisy VW vrooming like a helicopter drew nearer to level the young boy who was oblivious to the far cry world of high life vehicles on the road. And it was right in fallen Argwings Kodhek’s precinct.
Just before the VW got level, the okuyu driver caught sight of what was about to happen in a peripheral vision and in that split second lifted his foot of the accelerator of the VW. In that old Kisumu- Busia marram road the effect was massive. The rough untarmacked Kisumu-Busia road plus force of inertia created by the shifting of mechanics between the gears and accelerator shook the senior district official who lost his aim. And in that turbulent movement of disturbing the Ukwala admin's aim the Okuyu driver bleated out a crying plea.
"Afwande, muonee huruma,
Muonee huruma, tafadhali
Ni mtoto tu. Huyu ni mtoto mchanga
Tafadhali Nakuomba muonee huruma!'
The swearing senior administrator kissed his teeth and returned the revolver to its holster. They drove in silence to Ukwala station without any further incident.
It's interesting that it's this Kikuyus name that I never crammed in this oral gaga. It's nothing tribal. We humans, we forget our heroes, saviours and good Samaritans so easily. Isn't life a shame sometimes.