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  • Writer's pictureStephen Osieyo

STEVE JAY OMAR-WHY LUOS DANCE



Iyee Iyee Iyee Iyee Iyee My baby

Mara ni Mara ni Mara ni yomo cwinya

Your love your love your love makes me happy.

Mara ni Mara ni Mara ni yomo cwinya

Your love your love your love makes me happy.

An tin acike bori ba pe mi weki

I promise to you today never to leave you ..!

Abi bedo kodi matwal

I will be with you till death do us apart.

Naka lwang too na

My heartbeat is only you in my heart.

Latona in keni icwinya kany

I will love you till the end of time.

Abi mari matwala ba

O pe bed gi lworo

So don’t you worry baby.

_____________________________

Note the tone of the everlasting love in the lyrics of this song. It is a universal everlasting love. It also exists between a mother and son and more specifically a Luo mother and son.


Steve Jay Omar   aka Stephen Odoch is a son. Luo mothers do not easily part with their sons. In 1987 in Kenya there was a huge court battle to determine the burial place of a Luo male. A rogue intruding tribe member had wandered in to an Ugenya- Ka’Ger  clan in Siaya and cherry picked a top Ger man. When the Ger man died, the widow decided to revise the Luo customs to take and bury the dead husband elsewhere. The Ger  clan went to court to block her on  the basis of African customary laws as opposed to English common (customary) laws which the intruding wife was using. After 7 months, the courts conceded that a Luo man must be buried culturally next to the mothers house where the placenta was buried in conformity with African customary law and not English Common (customary) law. In other words, a re-union with the other part of the body. So Luo mothers cling to their sons even after death in the same way.


The unseen side of the lyrics to this song even though composed decades apart from Steve’s birth inexplicably points to a very poetic bond between Steve and his mothers. In the beginning of his musical journey, Steve was leading a double life, hiding his musical adventures from his parents. His mothers got to know about it but like all mothers in keeping with the sacred bond between mother and son, just kept schtum. Mothers and sons just know what each other wants even without speaking. Even when the sons change, it does not matter. It is telepathic. It is like how the seasons know when to change.


Much later when Steve’s father walked home with extracted confession from Steve, the mothers all  denied any knowledge of such a thing. In fact, they turned around and made Steve’s father feel guilty for knowing all this good news and enjoying the neighbourhood bragging rights alone.


This mother-son bond is well captured in the lyrics to song that appears a romantic a simple song to the naked eye. But when you strip the song, you can see that there is an underside poetic Luo love song  between mother and son. You can see that it is Steve’s mom speaking. Artists are sometimes overtaken by their own spiritual beings when in deep trance of compositing a song. At that point, the wordsmith in lyrics takes a life of its own and the artists just follows. All musicians will confess this experience that at some points they had no idea how they arrived at those words. They can not reason backwards and get to how they arrived at those words. Given Steve’s last name I had a feeling that there is something else hidden between the lines in this pop romantic song. Was it the love between a Luo son and the mothers league? Was it the  unspoken love, sure as sunrise till the end of time and even after end of time?



This was also just an intriguing interview like all the interviewees in ONE LUO project. It started off with a lot of similarities and surprises for me from our motherland.  By the end of it, Steve Jay Odoch helped distill all the vision of Luo Heritage Foundation as we foresaw when it was incorporated on 30th August 2007 before it’s premature death 10th August 2010.  It reaffirmed one thing. Luo Heritage Foundation still has a gap to fill. All hands must be on the deck to revive LHF to support the groundbreaking work being done by ONE LUO project. Thanks to the brilliance and vison of Steve Jay Omar aka Stephen Odoch.

 

In the beginning

Steve Jay Omar was born Stephen Odoch in the present Nwoya district about 1 hours drive or fifty kilometres from Murchison Falls. Previously it was part of Gulu. This is three hundred kilometres to the North of Kampala the capital of Uganda.


Steve comes from a family unit of  nine girls, two boys, two mothers and one father. A family unit of fourteen looks big compared to the family units of Luo Kenya today. But this is because the Luo Kenya family unit is fractured and fictitious that it is biologically possible to have a single parent. Otherwise if single parents are consolidated into a normal Luo communal family unit then the numbers could be much closer than the five members per family fictitiously shown in statistics these days.


At primary school, Steve  did exemplary well in singing competitions. He excelled. But when he got to High school some how he got lazy or adolescence got in the way like it does for all boys. Then after A levels (or pre university years) at Gulu, the feelings came back.


In or about 2014,  he started singing again. This time he took it more seriously while waiting for the next steps for college to come. Then a small  invitation appeared for him to  join a group in Gulu town as a part time layer about. It happened that the invitation was not small. An opportunity presented itself in the manner that Steve was to do a song in his name. Then another and another followed. The songs were very educational and what was acceptable to family audiences as moral and social.


The rising fame reached the earshot of his mothers who were immensely proud and encouraged him. It is not clear what took his late father that long to catch this song by his son who was deviant now into new career. Then one day, just one day he was cornered and pinned on the wall by his father. Steve could not lie because the man had hard evidence of the act. It is what they call a smoking gun. He was surprised to hear his father retreat and advised him to follow it as a fall back but the main thing must be his vison on career.


The most interesting thing was what happened  when his father after extracting even the guilty confession from Steve went to confront the mothers. Note the plural. In this part of the world, the Luos have not welcomed the English custom of aunties, step mothers, uncles. Let us just say Steve Jay Omar   aka Stephen Odoch as a son is very loved by his family and overprotected by his mothers.


Music career

Steve has a very clear  view of the music scene in Uganda. It comes from all angles. Part of it is environmental. The Uganda civil war was concentrated in the North. It brought with it some prejudices that an Acholi artist must live with. The prejudices  limit the market because the pariah status of the Acholi creeps in even if it is tame and only in music.


Then the language challenges, even though Congolese music in a foreign language  receives no such barriers just like in Kenya. The barriers come alive when the song is in local dialect. This is very Kenyan-like that listeners accept Congolese music  which they do not understand. Given these challenges, Acholi artists out of necessity seek the market in neighbouring republics of Central Africa and South Sudan  which is inhabited by Acholi ancestral brethren.


Steve explained that the Acholi or the Uganda Luo community are not blameless. Some of their bad manners are like their Kenyan counterparts. For example they do not accept or enjoy reggae music in whatever language. They do not even fake it. It is a total NO!. So as much as reggae is playable in the south, they will not embrace it. The reasons are simple. Luo music serve spiritual as well as physiological needs.


Maybe unknown  to Steve Odoch or even to the young generation of Luos, Africans and Luos did not just dance by happenchance like Europeans. This can be seen in the dances categories that go by occasion, age groups and sexes among other categories. The fast rhythm dances give the body what a sprinters body cells needs . They are cells  that demands a lot of oxygen for high octane fuel consumption. A slow dance will deny the body cells the oxygen because of its low consumption like a distance runner. This body evolution cannot be reversed by choice.


Then there is the waist dancing that goes on in high speed like a sprinter’s burst of activity. If you noticed the pelvic muscle strengthening is more with the women. Yes you guessed it right. The Luo dancing whether in Acholi dance orutu or “modern” Ohangla in Kenya is a pre- and post natal care. The incidences of Caesarean  section (CS) operations were non existent in the not-so-distant past because of the pre- and post-natal exercises. The incidences arose partly due to the abandoning of cultural dances.


There is another matter if you are an Odoch (dhoch) or a twin like me, then you know you owe your life to Luo dances other wise you would have been a still birth if the birthing mum lacked the pelvic strength to push or sustain a breach presentation (dhoch). Sorry I did not tell you. An Odoch (dhoch in Luo Kenya ) is a child born with the feet coming out first. Ouma/Auma is the one where the child is presenting with the face down. Owino/Awino is the birth where the foetus presents with the umbilical cord entangled around the neck are different. They are various birthing presentations than we both could count. Me and my namesake Steve Jay concluded that we both owe our  lives to these dances by our Luo mothers in their youth before they started having children. So Reggae ong’won nwa mondi (excuse us reggae).


As Odoch explains Luo Uganda  would rather do Benga from Luo Kenya which is most of the time mistaken as coming from the western Luo Alur of Uganda and Congo. Why? The intonation of the Alur and Luo Kenya is so similar that it takes a keen ear to separate them.

So with the penetration of Central Uganda blocked for Luo Language, the Uganda LUO artists  turn to Central Africa and South Sudan republics. And here in lies the break through of ONE LUO project in widening the audience for Luo music.


Music Style

What style of music is Steve leaning towards. As a career he is half way to set up his studio from self generated funds. Being in the north it will be a breakthrough for that part of the region.


He concedes to have experimented with several genre just to find a home ranging from the much-despised reggae but now into Afro-fused music. However he keeps in mind that Luos are a rhythm heritage and that draws them to music  that is fast paced. The Luos abhors music that makes them drag their bodies into motion. In a way that is true. It is not usual to find a Luo in Nairobi in a club that plays American country music. Even the Luo gospel is tempered with pace.


All these are nicely dovetailed to the vision of a unifying project like ONE LUO project. Instead of a broken market scattered everywhere, we are now talking a global market from Tanzania to Central Africa. And because of the global nature of things even the  Luo Diaspora from Down Under Australia to the Tundra is covered in this project.


This is a massive thing not only in geography but in other spheres of life it can be replicated in  like sports, formal careers, business partnerships, joint ventures to extract natural resources. The opportunity is there.


ONE LUO project interviews are very resourceful.

 

STEVE JAY OMAR ESSENTIALS:

1.    Akelle

2.    Adaama

3.    Anyadwe

4.    Wek Ange

5.    Can Wiye Rac.





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