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  • Writer's pictureStephen Osieyo


RAPASA NYATRAPASA OTIENO- Ngima jathum onywandore

(a musician's life is devastating)

The life of a musician is devastating is the meaning of the above words in the song. Author Mario Puzo asserts that an artist can never make it in the cut and thrust life of real world. And you look around and see the ravaged lives of great artists whether in performing arts or in entertainment and you can’t but help accepting that the lives of creative celebrities were decided by destiny. They cannot help themselves.

One night I attended a nyatiti concert at a church hall in South East London. I had always promised to attend but failed, so it was a pleasure to attend.

The musician knew I was moved by this unreleased song "Okinyo Nyar Oloo, ngima jathum onywandore". I arrived late but as soon as I sat down he played just the very unreleased song I sought in the biting rain to listen to.


John Otieno Oduor is a celebrity nyatiti musician in the Yorkshire district of England. Rapasa Nyatrapasa Otieno as he is known in the industry was born and raised in Siaya County at a place called Asere on the rolling plains to River Ndhoya (Nzoia). He speaks Ugenya dialect with a heavy lower river ndhoya intonation.

A flamboyant and bubbly character, I found Rapasa not coyed by the white audience and if you go near him between the shows you must be prepared to speak dholuo as if you were herding cattle near the river. He is completely at ease with his being an African, a Kenyan and jaluo. But when he switches to English then he is also adept at a Yorkshire accent. And can share the Yorkshire banter in deep Yorkshire accent.

His choice of negritude and Nyatiti is deeper than just music. Rapasa is so strong willed in African tradition that long after rituals had died out he still went out of his way to subscribe to Luo traditional initiation. To Rapasa Nyatiti and African culture is larger than life.

When he gets on stage to perform he captures his listeners not by sheer exuberance of motion but also by the intensity of his oneness with whatever is coming from his body.

Rapasa can also play several instruments from the greater Nyanza basin to old North Nyanza district. When he wants to ease off he mixes his virtuoso with playground songs that are fast disappearing or have been mistaken and misplaced. Rapasa can separate the music genre and the age groups. For example, the role Ohangla played in post puberty and pre-natal meant that at some age you could not indulge. He is deeply knowledgeable about his music.

How did he get into Nyatiti fully without doubling up? He explained to me that music is like any business. You must first start by doubling up with some income earner to pay bills before you go into it fully. Also you must have a fall back. This is where having a family that believes in you can be a great plus.

On the plight of the musicians, Rapasa has a different idea. Rapasa thinks we should look at the whole Industry. Farmers get subsidies, what do musicians get. Athletes get state organised tournaments, what do benga musicians get. Football gets politicians and government administrators, what do Nyatiti musicians get to support them. Cricket and Tennis get publicity and they have almost the same following as traditional music, what does Dodo get?

There are things we must put in place so that the government can even canvas a diaspora to annually host in their homes a tour of visiting mixed cultural troupe as an example.

Rapasa thinks Africa is now the focus and these traditional instruments are here to stay for a long time.

I could not agree with him any more as I listen to Okinyo nyar Oloo.




Okinyo nyar Oloo; ooh oooh

Okinyo nyar Oloo; ooh oooh

Ngima jathum onywandore; ooh oooh

Ngima jathum onywandore; ooh oooh

Karibu donjiiii; Karibu donjii

Okinyo nyaro Oloo; ooh ooh

Karibu Donji; Karibu Donji

Hera ahado ahado ahado; hera ahado

Ngima ahadho ahadho; ngima ahadho

Gentle strokes on the strings and pleas of self-incrimination, a concession of guilty and a readiness to accept any punishment even if it is rejection. Or let me say going to justice with open palms. 'Here I am Okinyo, but you are welcome to this humble domain'.

Akinyi of course is the Luo name of one born at daybreak. The early riser, the sprinter, the first past the post. However, the musician reaches out from river Nzoia accent to river Nyando accent where Okinyo was raised in Kano planes

In my understanding listening to the pleading instrumentation, the artist is pleading "that here I am Okinyo, this is the life of a musician and the life of a musician is very negatively complex".

And true artist life is not arithmetic that you keep on adding 2+2 and get 4. It's not even geometric 2 times 3 will get you 6. And that is why the Luos summarised it in "jathum a thuma to iomo ang'o kuome". (What do you want with unpredictability of a musician).

JATHUM-A-THUMA (mere musician)

This Dholuo phrase describes the both the unpredictability and the short shelf life of a musician or an artist in general. That a musician is a dreamer just like in his songs. The ideal life of a musician shifts by ever new target every day. So the adage/warning jathum a thuma to iomo ang’o kuome is a warning that this guy is incapable of holding down a relationship. Any fascination with jathum was therefore a waste of time.

The modern day jathum must be pre occupied with art or the fascination of it. Commitment to ideal family life becomes secondary. And this is universal for any business. A strong family with understanding is therefore necessary.

A very good friend of mine who was an addicted guitar player besides training to be a doctor, decided to preoccupy himself with music as a past time on retirement, the way I am moving on with writing. His wife was in agreement but not his friends and social circle. He had to give it up. After several seminars. He had to give up.


In more advanced music industry these have been handled differently only because the scale of economies have subjected competition amongst those ancillary services like promoters agents, producers. A good agent is therefore the one who makes his stable of musicians happy keeps them and has long time plans. In that way they attract more musicians and are also in a position to poach upcoming talent. Self-insurance against a rainy day, and certain services like wealth management, and even actuarists have moved in to help with insuring against risks. The musicians’ life in Kenya is still the traditional “onywandore”.

Cognisant that the musicians will also have to step in staying on top and being competitive to earn the investment for any long term investor, the first move must come from the investors. A simple move like life insurance cover for musician in one promoters stable will earn loyalty. If this includes wealth management support for the musicians, then in a short time the industry will notice and substandard auxiliary services will just wither.

Until such investors can step forward and take their place, muscians will keep on leading tragic life because ngima jathum onywandore



I had taken a cab to get to the venue of concert but when I left I decided to take the train which was just as good as it gave me quality time to reflect and come back to earth after listening to songs that took me from Kipkelion my birth place, to Ugenya my ancestral home. I also reminced my preteenagers years Kadem, Soth Nyanza to Homa Bay school and finally to my last stop among the Luo Heritage Foundation members in London.

For a start the venue at Rotherhithe borders the River Thames wharfs on it's on the fringes of the yester year industrial parts of London that were served by waterways and canals leading to "wath”. And when mode of transport moved on to big planes and cotton industry moved to more synthetic products the region got left behind the way Nyanza and Lake Victoria basin was left behind and the seat of power moved to Nairobi and not where the Uganda Railway sought. High-rise flats resembling the red corrugated iron roofs of Indian houses in Nyanza from Ndere to Macalder, From Migori to Siranga and Nzoia is all that was left. All the "wath" and go downs were empty with idle capacity. Idle labour turned to delinquency and hopelessness.

In Nyanza case idle labour turned the only available industries like Jua Kali, fishing and artisan for subsistence or altogether migrated to urban squalors in Nairobi for a way of life lower than in Nyanza; and in the process cutting off the supply of circulation of cash from disposable income to Nyanza proper.

According to the Anti-Slavery International Lake Victoria fishing on Lake Victoria is so unrewarding to Nyanza fishermen that it has been classified as modern day slavery. If fishing industry has been lumped with supply chains Uber, child labour, human trafficking as modern day slavery, how then can music in Kenya (with its meagre income) fail to be just subsistence industry. How can it be a surprise when Kenyan musicians die young for treatable illnesses like pneumonia? How much is the basic earning of a musician in Kenya even before you factor the piracy and middlemen. And don’t forget to spread this income over a lifetime because it soon stops.

All In all the musicians condition is not insurmountable like in the above cases is basic regeneration structures are put into place by the various county governments. We just must have to find a balance between throwing empty words vilifying a community and taking practical steps. Lobbying county governments to afford localised recording studios and experts in controlling musicians products, support in global tours does not require a genius. And these services are not very expensive. One wealth manager can easily cover the whole of Nyanza musician with modern e- government.

There is no short cut to ngima jathum onywandore and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel as other parts of the world have gone round the problem


1. Okinyo Nyar Oloo

2. Tipona

3. Nyangile

4. Koko

5. Nyaloka

6. Ng’ama Ikwero

7. Wan Kale

8. Yie Biro

9. Mama Aoko

10.Thum Nyatiti


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