JUMA TOTO – Definitive Anthology (Part 1)
Updated: Jul 9, 2020
Faces, Phases, Spaces and Places of Juma Toto (JT)
JT was not a hitmaker, he did not live to just churn out songs. Hit records sought him out but did not define his genius. JT was a real Luo 'jathum' a derivative of 'jadhum' to mean speaker of tongues or one who is spiritually inspired in whatever his mission is in this world. He could go for years sometimes without composing a song. But when he did the music was right and the lyrics were the faces, phases, spaces and places in his life. They were not just songs to make a quick 300 Kenyan Shillings from Melodica studios or Phonogram. The songs mirrored his personal life.
They were songs about faces of first love; songs about empty spaces and the life of how devastating it is for a Luo man to be single. And there were also songs about phases of newfound love just as much as there were songs of places of friendship coming handy. They were songs about earth, wind and fire and there were songs on social commentary. They were songs that could touch 1200 years ago before the Luos started marching southwards. They were songs that could embrace the black slaves in the Roman Empire as much as they were songs about today and tomorrow. They were timeless songs and like verses in a Bible you just had to find your place in a JT Anthology.
1. JABER ROSY
"JumaToto kod joka Hodi/Kochako wendi Rosy nyago Onya~ango"
JT answers his lead guitar in that light velvet nasal voice of his. He even inserts an extra 'a' in Onyango to give it a novelty oomph at about the same time that Michael Jackson was inserting 'pooh' in Jackson 5s greatest hit, 'I will be there'. That Onya~ango not only signalled what is to come from JT but it underscored that this was no ordinary musician.
Sometimes people forget that this was a very young musician picking up from where the earlier one-guitar minstrels accompanied by a box guitar left off. He not only sung alone but dominated the vocals in quality and strength. And given that he was playing his lead the synchronized hurdling between lead guitars and leading vocals was as smooth as a water snake. Normally the lead vocals leads is such a lonely role to set the tune for everybody. But here a very young wide-eyed boy was sticking his neck in Dholuo to a non-Dholuo group.
And playing lead guitar himself he picked a very engaging and busy arrangement for this song. The lead he picked was sampled from an East Congolese band called 'Les Fauvettes' in an even appropriately titled song 'Bibi' to plead his case with his fiancé. Then after, the first verse ups the guitar notes away from the gentle dialogue that he was playing. Now he makes the guitar plead for him, and when you think he is through pleading he goes a note higher to make the guitar weep for him. And then he moves higher punishing the guitar making it bleat his case. It's the sort of crescendo that would melt the heart of a serpent.
Then he returns to resolve the first verse just in case you missed it. He then pleads his innocence in Dholuo and repeats in Swahili so that there is no doubting the victim. Combined with the oomph that made young lovers cry and teenage hearts crave for what they have had no experience of, this song stands alone.
And JT seamlessly dominates the vocals that by the time the rest of the band are noticeable JT was long gone as the listeners are scrambled in Geoffrey Ngao's saxophone. Nobody let alone Jaber Rosy (JR) would remember anybody by that sultry voice of JT. That was how this young man's voice dominated Hodi Boys in the short time he cameoed. Nobody can remember Hodi Boys without Juma Toto voice.
BEHIND THE MUSIC
Love story like the story of Rose in the Titanic steel ship from Liverpool and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet are stories far removed from us. You can only imagine them and shed tears about them. You don't imagine such stories to be normal human trials and triumph. In 200 years probably movies will be made of Juma Toto and the world will be told it's a cheap shot of Romeo and Juliet. Like the story of Romeo and Juliet the real author and the true story will long have been lost.
The common trend in the world today is to celebrate the lives of yesteryear stars in musicals now. If we were to put down a musical celebrating the life of Juma Toto it would not be complete without Jaber Rosy the song and most importantly Jaber Rosy the person. And it will not escape critic parallel contrasting with the poetic story of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Then it will be pulled down as just another spoof. Nobody will be able to testify that truly JT and JR true-life story had so many similarities. That a Shakespearean Romeo and Juliet was playing right in front of our noses and we could not see it. Incredibly their true short story depicts Shakespeare's correspondingly short Romeo and Juliet story in stunning similarities.
Jaber Rosy, a daughter of high Society Kenyan colonial and post-independence administrator is smitten by commoner JT in a tragic love story. Only in this remake, Romeo lives to name children and compose songs in memory of Juliet (not statues and not statues built in their memory).
This Juliet is truly a class act. An A lever from the Ivy Alliance Girls High School. She has everything going for her. Juliet is from the neighbouring Ugenya clan. She is also a valued daughter from a family of achievers. The only difference is JR is a little older than Juliet who was about 13 years and no older than 15.
This Romeo is a dashing rising young singing star with princely looks from the neighbouring Gem clans. JT is a pin-up boy and his face alone on calendars would have sold well in today's PR world without any spinning job.
The Friar was so easily accessible to JR because he was from Ugenya, Ukwala and by clan lines a grandfather of JR just for being ja kaGer. We can fix the question of congenial and amiable Phillips harem by making him an African pastor (they are allowed harems) in this remake. If they already not in the business.
Just like in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, this set come from two neighbouring poetic clans of tragedy Ugenya and Gem who have a very long history of tragedy just like in Shakespeare's play.
JR is from the laid back civil and introvert Ugenya clan of the Luo while JT is from the boisterous and combative Gem subtribe. Ugenya people are generally introverts while Gem people are extroverts just like Shakespeare's casting would want it up to geographical topology. Gem clan fights and quarrels were resolved in violent machete fights while Ugenya feuds were resolved nonviolently in the underworld.
And just like in Shakespeare's original story the two clans are actual twins. In Luo genealogy Orem (Gem) and Ragenya (Ugenya) the twin sons of Ochielo incredibly were born around 1530 AD when the true story was developing in Italy. The play was much later in 1594.
JR if from Lufunga near Ukwala while JT is from Lihanda a stone’s throw from Luanda market. Now here is where the scene locator would have an easy time. Lufunga is like the suburb of the by then Shaya District headquarters to which Gem is answerable to. Infect the topology of Lufunga villages is affluence in every way. East wards one wakes to the sun rays striking Lufunga dam and radiating happiness and warmth in the surrounding villages. To the south is the full spectacle of Alego hills disappearing in hazy green to cover the ghastly palace where the royalties past time was to feed his subjects to hyenas at Seje hills. In the sunset to the west you can see the glow of the sun as it sets on everything about JR's Lufunga. To the north is UG in its dark empty view that used to open its bowels to slave raiders that left scars of such evil names as Kashiundu, Ukwala, Lifunga, Ligega that form the backdrop of this tragedy.
If scene locator was hired for such a musical, it would the easiest money ever earned. Lihanda being in proximity with Ugenya is also not spared this tragic backdrop to a tragic story. Northwards is the scene of Msanda martyrdom of antislavery prelate Alfayo Odongo Mango and his fiery assistant Lawi Obonyo. You have to visit South London office of Anti-Slavery International to relive Musanda inferno phase of tragedy. And of course all the turbulence that faced Ugenya sent strife ripples to Gem. The greatest name in Game, Odera Akang'o disappeared and to date, nobody can tell you how his life ended. Lihanda is a stone’s throw from the nearest market Luanda. Luanda market is a typical Shakespearean market with all that is unpalatable about a market place in full view. The roaring of buses revving the engines just to show off; the trailing groaning; the small hooting for no apparent reason is scary.
Then you have the market traders mingling with all sorts of bananas and even products that are not in season like ng'wen. It's the sort of busy market image that comes to mind when you visualise the market in the play where Romeo bought the elixir. I could swear you can buy elixir in Luanda market because hard substance was easily available even by then. Luanda is the perfect opposite of Lifunga and its Ukwala environ. Shakespeare would have smiled at the location of the scenes and perfect the fit the play.
From the shores of Lake Victoria, Jaber Rosy the song is about a love story that has its origins in this tragic locality of Luo land makes its way to Nairobi and ends on adjacent Victoria Street at Hodi Boys Halians Club (Gem Dr Ang'awa's departure lounge). Opposite on the next block is the scene of Tom Mboya’s tragic assassination at just about the same time. And symbolically the name Ukwala, the then Siaya headquarters and hub of the tragedy, refuses to go away as Victoria street (Tom Mboya) nestles next to Ukwala street in Nairobi.
Without going into the details of the true JT/JR stories, let's just say that in this reload Romeo lived to build the statues (songs and naming) in honour of Juliet