OCHIENG KABASELLEH: ANTHOLOGY (someday, somehow, lyrics will be like his)
Updated: Jul 9, 2020
Ochieng Kabaselleh became a standard by which other artists are measured by his second recording.
In a conversation about upcoming talents the following lines are often used , “he is good, he is almost like Kabaselleh”. Or “he started his career with Kabaselleh”. Or “You know he will be a Kabaselleh”. No other lakeside musician is referred to as the ultimate standard bearer like Ochieng Kabaselleh. And if a star is not referred in those lines then they are a non starter.
And after his death he remains the mark of quality not only in lyrics but calm non-monotonous composition. Financially it may not be rewarding but the intensity of the end product outlives all of us and cuts through all generations.
Sometimes our footprints live much longer than our shadows
NYA ALEGO SEJE
Sama Nyar jo Seje olal Ka somo
Sano dhano penjore bu ng'at ni nadi?
Dak olos ga gi nyiri; Ng'at ni nadi?
Dak aneno nyako
Manyalo ketho wiya
Ka Lizzie ongeye
Dak a neno Nyako
Manyalo kawo pacha
Ka Lizzie ongeye
Dak aneno nyako
Maanyalo ga loso godo
Ka Lizzie ongeye
Nyere I kawo chunya nyaLego owada, baaaaba sijiwezi, Liziii oooh mama.
Akwayi maka nya mama,
Maka matek kik nyiri moko okwala
Um wang'a gi hera ya kutosha
Um wang'a mondo
kik ane nyiri mamoko
Akwayi miya hera nya mama
Paro na duto
Aketo kuomi Achienge mama
Adundo nogo kalando ber, ber ma iwuoro Achieng' nyamama!
Kabaselleh was a musician of some sort. We will get back to the music style. Kabaselleh went to Pumwani High School and after school he pursued music.
We grew up knowing that he was from Gem clan of Siaya district until later on when like himself we learnt he is from Asembo. However, he retained River Ndhoya accent throughout. And intimations like nyere, wod mama betrayed his Asembo roots. He always used buddy words like okew ka neya, Wod mama. The sort of lingo you hear the closer you approach River Nzoia catchment. This is not asembo lingo.
After establishing his musical roots and became a power house refusing wilt on the onslaught of Lakeside Benga, Kalle survived to stay relevant. Lakeside Benga reigned with a vengeance.
People don’t just understand. Benga was fresh but benga was also about mass production with high intensity sounds. And to make it worse benga went for the only area of disposal income for music, the Luo community. Tanzania music suffered badly followed by Congolese music.
The previously dominant Tanzania sound wilted. Congolese could not make head way. Kabaselleh persevered and started punching back with hits like Maziwa, Zainabu, Akili Wapi.
Then in mid-1970's Kalle as he was now fashionable known shocked everybody by joining the Army to be posted near Scarlet Military Band. They had the best of facilities. However, a City boy in military uniform and military regime just did not work. In short it went very well. And when he finished his tour of duty, we were all the better with hits such as Osiep Kalle Kalle (Chris Ochuodho ja Kagan).
He had a mild inclination to Pan African politics. After all he was carrying the name of Pan Africanist no 1. His band Lunna Kidi was an acronym for Lengre Uru Ni Nyithind Africa. In brief a negritude call that was being propagated by all from Leopold Senghore, Steve Biko, Malcolm X to Franklin Boukaka.
In the sweep on Moi entry he dabbed into politics for civic seat in an Embakasi Ward but too much violence limited his chances. In any case he was too elitist when campaigning. Imagine talking Fela to an area with a strong influence of Fred Omido type of voters when yellow Maize had just saved people.
Like any musician he palled around with politicians who wanted pandering but nothing serious. Too much closeness to politicians can have dire consequences when those politicians’ loose. We all know the fate of say Dr Nico, Kalle, Johnny Bokello when Patrice Lumumba was killed. It can be devastating.
Then much later on tragedy struck. However, his was strange. I would like to see charge sheet. The story is that in the confusion of 82 coup attempt retreating Airforce guys abandoned their guns. An AK47 seemed to find its way to Kabaselleh possession and he hid it for some time in bush between Kariobangi South where he lived and Umoja 1 estate. I think it went on for about three years. And being a person with no ulterior motive he was eventually found out and jailed for 10 years as MwaKenya.
Here is the truth during the trial of the 82 Air force rebels. 3 school mates of mine got off scot free. The first guy to be freed was my class mate in a Homa Bay. The other two were 2 years ahead of me. They also got off. Reason is they were in the right company that were being released. If you were all Luos you got 20 years. Kabaselleh was just a juvenile musician that kept an AK47 without harming even a fly. What's the 10 year for. How many guns did Charles Njonjo have? Kabaselleh was lover and not fighter. Infact he was a singer of love.
Name one politician Kabaselleh praised. He never even praised rich people. He praised you for your acumen like technocrat jalang'o mak Okumu (mano ng’at ma osomo), Post Office/ Cables and Wireless/Extelecoms supremo H Z E Ramogo (wuod gi nyiri) – NOT to be confused with Stan Oburru Ramogo aka Otyema-Alimadi
It was a typical banana republic prosecution the way Ali was being persecuted for being the champion of the world.
In my Luo custom when you come out of prison you must be cleansed because prison is a very devastating place. Indeed, Kabaselle was not the same. The music paced a notch, he shed of some of the elite fans he had and even went on the road and clubs to reach the benga converts. The lyrics remained rich and carefully thought. Kabaselleh never sung raunchy songs or about a feast of alcohol and Ugali. But he was not the same. His guitar was a little stiffer. A Congolese drummer complained to me about his readiness to put the guitar down and go for a brawl off stage. Prison does not leaver you the same. And even if it does like Mandela said, it takes away your family from you. That is the victory prison is designed to score.
Benga love songs were songs about women but Ochieng' Kabaselle hardly sung a song other than romantic ones.
• Benga was upbeat and called on you to dance, Kabasele was a slow crooner leading you to dance slow to your partner
•Benga musical instruments are attacked savagely while Kabasele probably living to the image of Grand Kabasele preferred the Dr Nico picking style.
•Collela for example praised the girl while Kabasele mostly described his indomitable love for the girl.
• Collela like Franco locked the mass in his back pocket and Kabesele in similar replication of African Jazz appealed to the intellectual and Nairobi Luo Diaspora.
•Generally Collela had a thing about 'dichol' black as coal and burns like fire women while Kabasele subjects were bubbling brown sugar.
•Colella was nomadic while Kabsele was zero grazer. Don't get ideas. Collela spread the objects around the lake while Kabasele would zero graze in one are then migrate. I.e. Gem then Alego then Ugenya at a time.
•Collela women were petite while Kabasele were not so petite.
It is no wonder that the song Kabasele dedicated to his child hood sweetheart was the gently rendition of Grace Kabasele. As I close off I can’t help hearing the echoes of Ndenga school Netball team sing in the sunset
"jahera piny otama wang'a ka iongeye
aaah GK onego duogie adundo nyaKano
aaa yawa bende ung'eyo
aaak GK no to oloyou adundo nyaKano"
That was the pattern of his lyrics like Atieno, Sukari, Maziwa-Na, Marrie Souzie, countless others
When he came out of prison he was different. True he met some Congolese musicians who gave his balance but in totality he left his true fans standing in the cold.
His personality did not change. Kalle was the usual self, bubbling brown sugar. He had what you would call a laughing front dental structure.
I remember after his incarceration I met at the Ambassador bus stop on Moi Avenue one evening. Then he started explaining to me, "You know my momma was a real hot chick. She was no ordinary lady. She conceived me in Asembo and when she went to Gem, these Gem people thought my father was not worth his salt. So held her hostage and married her. Anyway I am now ja Asembo”
Then feeling embarrassed may be sorry, I tried to run off the topic with, you know that the way of the world. Then still laughing with no self-pity he told me “But I love her very much and she sanctified Christian. So when I go to see her, I confess, nar kaneya, magi ye pesa man tie to gin ma oa I thum!"
“And she never refuses. No woman can refuse a child of hers” Then she laughs.
That is the Kalle for you. That time in Nyeri prison changed him a bit like any jail term does. His music became a tard impatient. He like a bit of macho. But he would never beg for freebies or sing about lavish wealth. I wonder what he thinks of these raunchy dances.
GK was his high school sweetheart that he later married. I was very young when the record came out. I think I was in standard 3. I always loved choir unfortunately for me I had chronic eczema. And it was worse in the second term which was set aside for music festivals. No matter how much I would sing I knew I was out because they claimed the school choir could lose marks due to the wounds in my body or the boils on my eyelids. Don't feel sorry for me the way I have been asked not to feel sorry for paraplegic Olympiads.
Any way just the sight of school queens singing this song when the teacher was late or during jam session made me happy. You know when you are sitting at the table but you are not a diner.
I can still see Aloo Nyar Office, Ahago, okiya Athieno singing this easy song in unision
Aaay yawa bende ung'eyo a GK no to oloyou adundo nyaKano.
(Aaah you also know that GK is prettier than you).
That was the signature with Kabaselleh song. They were mostly a surrender. An affirmation of the supremacy of the lady in question.
For all the girls that sung this song it became etched in memory. The gentle Kabaselleh guitar calling the tune. Then choral effectively re chanted by Ndenga Primary School netball team.
I vote this song top of the pile. It even lightens up the burden of my eczema.
2. BABA YOO NYASAYE
Maybe it's because it's a rare song that is why I will always remember it fondly. It was a typical Protestant sanctified preaching song.
The way the great Stevie Wonder borrowed on Hare Krishna to record Past time Paradise (Gangster Paradise) is the same way Ochieng Kabaselleh borrowed on Quakers percussion and change of rhythm. The only difference is that Kabaselleh did it 16 years before Stevie Wonder.
At the sebene Kabaselleh throws in a very unique riffs in the lead guitar. Three years later Sosoliso (Trio Madjesi) used the very same guitar work in their monster hit Photo Madjesi.
The lyrics in the gospel singing and chanting is the signature style of Ochieng Kabaselleh.
Baba yoooh, Nyasaye
Nyasaye moloyo pep.
3. ATIENO ANNA NYOREMO
The earlier youthful works of Ochieng Kabaselleh. Even though it's an adult song the exuberance in this song is very boyish.
You know how pre adolescents talk, they always don't talk football. It's the age where they even have a crush on their teachers the age of their moms. It's a normal growing up stage that must be processed by every normal boy. It does not matter whether altar boy or not.
And the talk was that she is pretty in every way. To the boy having a crush, the angels in heaven were modelled in the image of their crush. Everything she wears is perfect.
When Kabaselleh sings this song he almost takes you to pre-adolescent years.
Aaa nyoremo yoo
Atieno onego yie wiye
Atieno onego rinda
Kata bellbottom koriako to onego
Aaaa jaber oloyo uu.
(Basically Atieno dresses to kill,
You all know Atieno is indomitable)
And that is how pre-adolescent boy thinks. When Osama bin Laden loathes Bobbi Brown it's because they believe Bobbi is violating an indomitable Whitney Houston.
This song by Kabaselleh takes me to those boyful years.
And Kabaselleh there is none like you.
No matter how mighty a man is when faced with intolerable suffering they cry to the mother. When Dr Robert Ouko was in tribulation he turned to his maker in that bible Sunday sermon to curse the day he was born. It's like people always cry to mother when faced with such pain. Prison always destroys your manliness. So it's normal for a person to bid bye to love.
This song was composed in prison. And he opens it with a song about a lady but while singing about the mystery of love. Then without talking about his mother he still manages to make her dominate the song. How? In the whole he adopts the dialect, lingo and intonation of his child hood areas while growing up as a kid.
The pain of incarceration can be felt in closing chants where for the first time he sings politically and in extreme anger but in his River Nzoia child hood lingo.
Mbuta chieng' moro nwa rom gi omoro
Mbuta chieng' nwa bed gi hawi
Mbuta chieng' nwa bed gi mor
(Inshallah we will one day be unyoked
We will one day we will know goodness
We will one day know happiness).
More than the powerful lyrics in solitude, I like the upbeat style of the song and the forceful delivery to exercise him of the penitentiary
5. MAZIWA NA
This was supposed to be a sequel to Sukari Na of late 1960. But it became bigger than Sukari na for three main reasons. First it was about a real lady. A supermodel who was the reason for Juma Toto being accidentally set on by hit men sent by a very fearful Gem tycoon and later politician.
Secondly when Kabaselleh takes a dig at the tycoon’s deficit financing the young men were won over.
Finally, Kabaselleh delivered the b side in Lingala Anna Akili wapi.
I was also won over.
I can't say anything here, but the kidology in the lingo makes up for all that you may miss
I disqualify myself from commenting. However, the tempo and use of horn section is a first and well delivered as they share leading roles with lead guitar,
8. CHRIS OCHUODHO JAKAGAN (osiep Kalle Kalle).
One of the few songs Kabaselleh sung in praise of men.
Chris was a music promoter. Gentle and easy song the way I would love my praise song to be done. I think this was the beginning of sung non chorus songs.
9. NYA JO SEJE
Someday somehow lyrics will be done like this.
Someday somehow lyrics will be done like this.
11. NYA KANYAMUOT
I will forgive that he lifted 1972 Gabriel Omolon song that was crowded by Benga. It was called Sweetie Monica.
This song was great in wordplay and successful use of Hawaiian guitar. He did better than the earlier commercial flops of Lek no 3
12. NYA-JO SAYE (Linky Owada)
High School wonder of the late 70s. It was a song that was so simple in its chant. It stuck in the air like a sweet smell. The song made young girls fall in love easily.
13. HONEY OKWER OK NANENE KENDO
This song was a breadth of fresh air in a stifling Benga parade. We embraced it fully.
14. DIBUORO CHUNYA GOMBO NENI
It marked the end of a generation and introduced another. It slipped in between cavacha of Lipua Lipua and the return of big bands of OK Jazz and Afrisa. On its own it was like a bridge between the Kinshasa young Turks and the old guards.
15. NYASEMBO MWAKA NI TO MARI
When Kalle re introduced himself to dance-hall western Kenya. New face, new phase and new space.
The kidology suspense is that the story in lyrics never committed the next year to Nyasembo. I guess Kisumu town ladies were okay with such now and here arrangements. I guess so.
5. COLLECTORS ITEMS
(songs that did not sell but were a creativity marker)
1. Bendu pek (miming song)
2. Birthday Ya Yesu (trials with his faith)
3. Masanga (wandering in the streets of a career)
4. Zainabu wa Kakamega (a solo song to the end. It arrived when I needed such solitude)
5. Kristina Toto nya Butere. (Nice collaboration to lift a youth band)