• Stephen Osieyo

SIMBA WANYIKA: AFRICA WITHOUT BORDERS

Updated: Oct 12, 2021



Ohh Masikini

Ohh Poor me,


Mimi nina balaa sana

I have so much misfortune


Nitafanya nini oo, ulimwengu huu

What am to do in this life time


Niwe na Maisha, kama wenzangu

To have a life like everybody else


Maisha yana niendea vibaya, mie

Life is on negative spiral for me


Kila ninalo fanya

In all my endeavours


Mauti yangu yangojewa kwa raha

my tragedy is anticipated with brouhaha


Iliyo baki tumuombe manani tuwe salama

I have resigned my fate to just pray for God's mercies just for well being.

-Simba Wanyika, Oh Masikini lyrics (not mine)*


Vestiges of Borderless Africa

In those few words Jamhuri Jazz the forerunner to Simba Wanyika could have been telling the fate of borderless Africa or borderless East African community or the gloom that awaits the Luo Nation because the Luo Nation, widespread in Eastern Africa was the biggest looser to date in the aftermath of the fall of East African Community. It is this borderless Africa that the Luo Nation marauded from Sudan to the shores of Indian ocean past Nam Lowe without passports and Visas. Politically, Economically and socially the Luo Nation were the biggest losers when the East African borders landed on us. And Luo life will probably never be the same ever again in every sphere of a Luo life just like Dr David Livingstone, the geographer had foretold. And most of the suffering can be laid at the doorstep of the ramifications of the new borders.


To illustrate how the porous borders of East African community suited the Luo nation like a glove, a child born on Sunday would bear the name that would reveal which part of East Africa they entered this earth. Take the case of Awino nyar Lifunga born in Kigoma, Lake Tanganyika.


In Uganda she would be Ngesa Awino .

In Central Nyanza she would be Ngesa Awino denoting a strong interborder movement.

In North Nyanza around Winam Gulf area she would metamorphose to Ngeso Awino .

In the South and North Mara region of Tanzania she would have been Odira Awino .

In urban Kenya she would be Juma Awino.

But in mainland TZ going south wards, she was simply Piri Awino.


And it is not an accident either that Robert Ouko and Odero Jowi the two East African community ministers came from the lakeside.


The collapse of the community did not only mean the end of free movement. First the currencies were nationalised and this lead to a lot of handicaps such school fees cheques for many lakeside kids like myself, cuz Tom Omuga, Lifunga mate Patricia Phiri (Piri) Awino now took 6 months to clear to hit the bank account. My cuz Tom even missed a pivotal scholarship to the USA because of the vagaries of the Community break up. Phiri Awino family had to relocate from Kigoma port on Lake Tanganyika to Kisumu port only for MV Victoria that they were assigned to be grounded causing untold suffering to able bodied skilled personnel.


Then with different national policies lakeside sons started scrambling back from Gulu, Kigoma. Mbeya to come and fit into the north of the gulf water area. This shifting of political landscape had profound impact on Luo people. Unbeknown to all and independent of each other a pop group mirrored the lives of the region and provided a theme for what became Luo people for over 30 years. What only became clearer much later is the band Simba Wanyika became a refuge for people to live the East African community dream of what could have been.


Personal reflections

I was just a wide eyed boy on MV Victoria disembarking from Kisumu port at 1300hours on an April 1971 Monday via Musoma at 2300Hrs and arrive at Mwanza port the next day at 0830 Hrs. I was visiting my sister, Rispa Anne the only data key punch operator in TZ working for Nyanza Textile Company and the husband and my brother in law working with East African Railways and Harbours as signal officer even though he fibbed me that he was a BA holder and that I should aspire to be that.


It was my first time on a ship and Luo twins were culturally barred from travelling in a boat but mother allowed me to travel on this ship as Luo taboos are not compliant on white people’s things (clever nyaBoro Nango).


The first thing that brings the nostalgia of this trip was the bass guitar on a record when we were idling at the open air deck. And after the sing and answer chorus withdrew a lilting lead guitar rises above the bass guitar and the airwaves and the engine rumbles that seemed to be so much in concert. I could pay again just to relive that fleeting moment. The song was so popular that the people carrying the small radio sets kept switching between Nairobi and Dar radio stations just to catch it.


I was later to learn that the songs title was Oh Masikini by Jamhuri Jazz band a fore runner to Simba Wanyika.


What relevance to Nam Lowe?

What relevance is this song and Simba Wanyika apart from the fact that we were travelling in a ship called MV Victoria (Lolwe) sailing on Lake Victoria (Nam Lowe) from one Nam Lolwe town, Kisumu.


This was 1971 the dark period when the lakeside had confronted the government and a series of tragic assassinations at the hands of government operatives had been punctuated with the Kisumu massacre. A cold wind of death still had its grip on Nam Lowe basin. Across the border in Uganda, Dr Apollo Milton Obote had been overthrown in that January 1971 and another cold breeze was sweeping with Luos escaping the skirmishes from Uganda into Kenya. Only TZ was thought as friendly nation. And true it proved later to be a receiving point for Raila, Miguna, Ochuka, PLO Lumumba and who else you care to mention.


So the song Oh Maskini was perfect theme for what was going on around that time in Luo land. It was more than a Kumbaya, or a Beetles Let It Be if you listened to it closely.


To a conscience person or any Luo by then, that was the first time they were meeting a full enemy since the Exodus down the Nile in 1200AD. I believe at that point is when the community adopted the siege mentality that has refused to be exorcized out or coaxed away by every regime.


I have not read Simba Wanyika book by Abbu Omar my face book friend but Jamhuri Jazz the composers of Oh Masikini above is the forerunner to Simba Wanyika. Apparently they metamorphosed to Arusha Jazz band before settling to Simba Wanyika that gave out several Wanyika-lets.


Music aside what endeared me most to Simba Wanyika can best be described that everybody loves a lover. You naturally embrace those who love you. About five weeks ago I was made aware a most incredible story of a technocrat at a global UN body who was being warned by Kenyan pencil pusher to keep off a particular Luo colleague because, ….. wait for this. “Luos eat fish. You cannot depend on people who eat fish”


What this backstabbing Kenyan did not know is that the African American is not only used to prejudice and discrimination but was raised in Hawaii an island surrounded by a mass of water full of fish. Further to that that the mission of this global organisation was the protection of fish harvesting coasts of Africa. The naked bigotry of non-fish eating Kenyans against Nam Lolwe is incredible. And it chokes them so much that this Kenyan in 2008 could forget why he was in this global capital so much as to slander a Luo for eating fish. And this slander did not start in 2008. There are those who never ate fish out of despise to a community but readily welcomed it with enlightenment. Now you can imagine what it was like in the closed Kenya of 1970 in the heat of bigotry against lake side people.


And this is exactly when Jamhuri Jazz hit record of Kipande Cha Papa was scorching the charts. They not only saw nothing wrong with eating fish but they glorified how much of a lifesaver it was to this hard up Tanzanian. Naturally we found Kipande cha papa singers as one of us.




And it did not stop there. A little later in 1977 when the last O level certificates branded 'East African Certificate of Education' were being issued the band now called Simba Wanyika, released another record Nakupenda Kijana (Pretty Young Thing, I Love you). And in the song they have unabashed lyrics in praise of a Luo lady. A slyly bit salacious if you ask me but nicely veiled. It was a sort of in your face type of thing, 'Here she comes as a Luo, eat your heart out!'



lead singer: Mama yule anatoka Kisumu,

(Here comes the lady from Kisumu)

answer back : Mwambie si mambo oooh

("You ain’t seen nothing yet")- mid 70's lingo from "Mambo-bado" days


lead singer: Tena aonekana amechoka sana sana sana mama

(And she is way too cool)- late 70's lingo from fashionable "utanichoka" days

answer back : Mwambie si mambo oooh

(You ain’t seen nothing yet)


lead singer: Na amebeba kikapu ime jaaa samaki

(And she is carrying a basket of fish) - 'double speak for "the voluptuous body is fish diet",(?)

answer back : Mwambie si mambo oooh

(You ain’t seen nothing yet)


lead singer: kikapu imejaa ngege pamoja na kamongo.

(And basket is full of Tilapia and lung fish)- again double speak for bubbling brown body and silky dark and lovely chocolate skin

answer back : Mwambie si mambo oooh

(You ain’t seen nothing yet)


lead singer: Oooooo Mwambie si mambo oooooooh!

(Oooh surely You ain’t seen nothing yet)


-Simba Wanyika*



For us it was a full endorsement of siege mentality, here we are, we know you don’t like us but we don’t care. There are things you cant take away from us. Keep your light skinned Miss Kenya pageant, Keep your Buru Buru housing allocations, keep your factories, keep your air hostess jobs, keep your corporate jobs. We don't care. Keep your your jobs in the Kenya Airforce to cheaply train pilots for you. Keep your scholarships. Keep your bloated loans. We don't care. And it is the siege mentality that has continued to date. You tell a Luo to stop spending on funerals, now they do it with gusto. You warn them against sexual permissiveness during the AIDs scourge they retort, “dhiang’ tho gi lum I dhoge.” You warn them of Corona virus now they go even exchanging the masks (mia mask ni adhi go wuoth). And woe unto you if one of them becomes a Hollywood star or a president of the USA or wife of President Kabila of Zaire. They will rub it in your face and choke you with it. I am not excusing the siege mentality neither am I sheltering the "We are on our own" silent code. And I did not start "adak makata ionge". I am just stating how Simba Wanyika accidentally (?) ran a theme for the Luo siege mentality in their recorded literature.


Unmasking Luos

Around 1980s there were radio adverts that were giving the wrong image of the community. I must stress that it was not only Kenya. In the North America the image of African Americans was still on tv as hard-headed-nigger, happy-go-lucky, sambo etc. Well it is still rife in Hollywood scripts that at the end of any movie, it is a white man who helps a black person. In Kenya a successful multinational was heavily sponsoring Vitimbi tv programme while in their home country similar tv shows (Good times of JJ Walker fame) that propagated prejudice were being banned. Here in Kenya the company did not see it wrong that the image of Ojwang Hatari as a dimmed witted Luo was an attempt to further insult the image.


What did Simba Wanyika say about this. They released a song that to me was a community pride. In recounting cities, they not only include Kisumu but went as far as deep as Alego (Alego Mbali sana) in 1984. That constant recorded literature of defiance endeared me to Simba Wanyika.




Demystifying Simba Wanyika?

I will not go into the personnel and the band members and how they traded places but I will talk about one. Pretty faced Abbu Omar is a pioneer musician in Africa. I think he is the first musician to put down a recorded literature of the band. There will be guesswork here if I tried. And that is why I don’t want to go there. All I can say is that we are all grateful that Abbu Omar delivered a book in Swahili now translated into English.




I only attended their live performance once. It was in the mid-1970s and I don’t consider it a meeting because without being arrogant, I was a star in my own right. On this night, even in your best days you could not out shine me. So it was the wrong night to meet a band that I admired so much.


Our paths later came very close but I never attended their show and I am glad that I did not attend or meet them in person. If I did the myth would have been demystified. And where would that have left the hit after hit that they churned out. What would I have done with a broken myth of Rosa Kipenzi, Mary Mama, Chelewa chelewa Malaika, Watu husema, Ohh Masikini. No some things are best left virgin, untouched. I am glad Simba Wanyika is virgin in my memory.


The music of simple short lyrics appropriate for a poor Swahili speaker like me. Simba Wanyika was capable of creating a hit out of two lines. The words are never wasted. Even though they are known as Simba (Lion) they chose their lines like a leopard. The guitar was neatly plucked like a leopard’s stealth walk before a strike. And honestly the mannerism of a yester Luo was very much a Simba Wanyika outlook. I found myself very comfortable with everything about their persistence with their style. Other east African bands wavered when faced with challenges but not Simba Wanyika.


The proverbs and stories of their songs are everyday days’ stories with simple pacification as a solution. A very Nam Lolwe folklore of strong vowel led emphasis. Whenever faced with a paradox in life, I find a Simba Wanyika sermon not only soothing but a panacea to all the cures.


And Simba Wanyika rarely lifted other artists work but found their own way of delivering the sermons. Take for example the 1975 coaxing saxophone in Dunia Haina Wema lifting a person who has suffered a betrayal or spurned love or ingratitude. The tearful mourning wind instrument embraces the listener like a person singing a lullaby to a sleepy whimpering baby still hurting. The words are couched gently but surely until the listener is pointed to tomorrow that there are better days tomorrow. There are bright days ahead. Do not loose faith in humanity continue doing good because these wounds will heal. And as soon as the right theme is reached the guitarist take over shimmering from the whimpering into the bright new day. Even the tempo of the saxophone that was lugubrious is now a notch upped tempo full of a fast gaiety. Simba Wanyika delivered us during the dark days post East African community. And Simba Wanyika still delivers.




Duniaaaa

haina wema yarabi**,

kila utendalo mema ni mabaya,

mauti kukufikia.


Wahengaaa

wa Kale waliyasema

tenda wema uende zako,

na mola atakulipia.


Usife moyo, usife moyo

Hujui lini bahati yako,

Iko siku utafanikiwa baaba

ukianza na tabu,

utamaliza na raha.

Iko siku moja taabu yako itakwisha

Unapo tenda mema na haki

Mwenyezi mungu anakuona

Iko siku utafanikiwa baaba


vumilia ooh vumilia baaba

vumilia ooh vumilia baaba

vumilia ooh vumilia baaba

vumilia ooh vumilia baaba

-Simba Wanyika composer Wilson Peter

** Dunia Haina wema mungu wangu

Lyrics supplied by Abbu Omar, extracts from biography

Amen


 

*STANDARD AUTHENTIC TEXT LYRICS FOR MOST SONGS AVAILABLE ON BIOGRAPHY BY ABBU OMAR.


ANTHOLOGY AND SONG LYRICS

See Abbu Omar autobiography: My life with the Simba Wanyika bands


See Abbu Omar autobiography: My life with the Simba Wanyika bands





READ ASLO:

BEN MKAPA

LUO EXODUS

GAME OF LUO THRONES- children's story



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