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  • Writer's pictureStephen Osieyo

VICKY B MATATA-Backstage




I believe in the spirituality of music. I believe that every composition has been there before in some corner of the earth some time in the past.   I believe that the prowess of a musician is never understood by ordinary people even if they are fellow musicians. I also believe that even if you listen to a song 10 times you may never bring yourself to the same level as the composer when he was actually composing the song. While some songs are  glaring in meaning, some musicians hide the meanings of the lyrics in plain sight.


This interview was so mesmerizing, I even forgot to ask him his official name. Vicky Matata is a stage name. He was born Victor Ouma Onyango. If I had known this during the interview, I would have asked him why he did not choose Torri Matata.  Torri for Victor of Victoria.


In 1975, The commodores, an American pop group released a song that is still popular up to today. Most people join radio stays in sing along of Easy without knowing the power of the song. Some have even picked the Easy like a Sunday morning to mean “I am relaxing it is Sunday”. Most people are not aware of Lionel Richie’s groveling noblesse noblige in six words at the opening lines. “I have stolen, borrowed and begged” to make you happy is easily missed and never remembered, yet it is all that the song is. Whether the commodores wanted it that way is never known.


Some times musicians just hide them intentionally. In about the same time Marvin Gaye did a song, that even confused me until 40 years later. In Marvin Gaye’s song I want you, he sings the last part as reprise, as a whimper.  It comes out like an irrelevant sound just to finish a melody. Yet without the two letters the song has a very ordinary meaning. To a listener like me it was not relevant by then. 


Marvin Gaye singing, “I want you/Baby I want you to want me/like I want you”, I always stopped there until forty years later reading from the album sleeve when I discovered  that it actually ends in “to”.


In other words, “I want you/ Baby I want you to want me/ like I want you/ to” is a completely different set of meaning in the lyrics.


It is the same with this song by Vicky B Matata. He opens with “Owad gi Mary/ lando in ema chunya oyieri/ ka nanga”.  First I rested that he had done a rare Bahari Boys of Mombasa style of 1976 in the song  Utanichoka,


Ni Nani Shangazi Maria/

Mombasa asiye Kujua/,

Wasema Kweli/

Utanichoka”. 


Bahari Boys applies  tutoring in “Uhuru za Shairi” to twist the grammar from

Shangazi Maria, Ni nani Mombasa asiye kujua?”.


Very clever, I thought. But this Matata kiddo was not born when these songs were out. The more I listened to it, the more I was not getting satisfied that I had the authors version right. Authors hardly reveal what is the true version. There was something strange here.  Even after we chatted a week a go, I was not satisfied by my understanding of the lyrics. I wondered, what is it that I was missing.  Then yesterday it came to me while travelling in a train  alone in a two hour silence and meditation.  Vicky Matata was singing as if he was talking to himself.


In early 1950s, an eastern Congolese musician Baba Gaston used a similar style like Vicky B Matata to read a letter addressed to himself by his high school love in a song titled Baba Gaston. The song was so popular in East And Central Africa that  Baba Gaston  did 3 versions of the same song before he passed on in TZ in mid 90s. Take note that the first ki Swahili language radio station was in operation in Congo DRC two decades before   “oketo kore” Kenya and East Africa in general.


“ Barua kwangu /

Mpenzi wangu Gaston/

Kwa picha yako ulinitumia/

Iko kichwa cha kitanda changu/

Oooh Baba Gaston/

Usiku nao siwezi kulala/

Nikukumbuka mapenzi yako we/

Naota mpaka mauwabu/

Ohh Baba Gaston”

 

The wicked composer was reading to us a letter from his girlfriend to  himself. Vicky B Matata also had me fooled by fronting himself.  What a wicked mind. I was completely lost in just one opening line.


Why is a musician of 1950 appearing in the subconscious of a musician of 2024? Thum en juogi is all I can say.  In early 1960 Owino Otoyi wuod Omenda of Kagan sung, “Otoyi wuod Omenda wendi yoo/ Otoyo jajuok/ Jajuok ringo tok dala jajuok Otoyo miel”. In 1983   King of Pop Michael Jackson did Thriller song  which is the same theme of the underworld being bemused by good music. In my life they are the only two  living beings, Michael and Owino Otoyi to toy with the underworlds,  even tempting them to a dance. I have never heard of any one paling around with the underworlds. If you can explain that happenchance of  Owino Otoyi and Michael Jackson  decades apart then you can explain Vicky Matata intertwining Mombasa’s Bahari Boys, American Commodores and  Congolese Baba Gaston all in  in one song.  These kids are wicked in a good way  to venture into the artistic world  that are not normally  ventured into.

 

In the Beginning

From the humble beginnings of  automobile mechanics home, Vicky B Matata was born  as Victor Ouma Onyango. And from that moment onwards, intrigue and contradictions began.  He hails from Suba land of Homa Bay county because his father migrated there in pursuit of happiness in abundant free land.


By Clan lines Vicky is from Kano Kolwa clan of Luos. Vicky attended  Oruba Mixed primary school, then Oruba secondary school on his way to earning a Bsc degree in Literature at Rongo University. Up to that point he was having the best years in life because every academic challenge life threw at him, he was able to handle. It is in life after formal education that things became tough.


Just to sober you before telling you any more, Vicky told me an episode where Ramogi TV advertised for a vacant position (to take one person). How many people applied? Seven  thousand people applied. That experience itself sobered him up that there is nothing good out there.


However the expectations from being a man still stared at him. His father was still holding in the self employment at the auto mobile garage.  After graduation in 2017, he joined the tarmacking lot. That is looking for a job.


Back at Migori county level, matters became trickier job wise. In Miogori county there are these community based organization run by some intrigues.  These are  nothing but  false or disguised unemployment. He  approached the proprietors of a CBO. Then the  vagaries of the Community Based organization started to play out right in front of his eyes.


As Matata explains CBO as they are called are merely volunteer organizations with the most rugged  subsisting in Luo land. The pay is no more than Shs 4000 per month.  To make it worse the pay is irregular coming in drips and drabs. It means that when it comes  in the haphazard instalment of 400/- , 200/- etc the disposable spend is greatly reduced. One then  can only afford the most basic of Mitumba shoes for example.


At the same time these self personalized CBO were also owned by inadequate people with a general suspicion of anyone who  wants to better themselves. This is typical of a servitude relationships  just like history has taught us. Slaves are not supposed to know any better.  The pressure of being a man and moonlighting for shows as far away as Machakos were severely punished by immediate suspension. It did not matter even if he came out in the open and explained why he would be away  for a weekend and what he was going to do. The routine was that on  coming back suspension awaited him. On the fourth of such suspensions he decided that this was not even a stop gap career. He resolved that this will be the last time he is sacked by this ramshackle of an employer.

 

Music

Vicky hit the hard road to travel. It was hard but had a visible predictability that he  could tell that after a performance there will be a payout or here will not be. Period. No buts. This was something that was a wishful dream at the CBO. The other difference  is that there was something to show for it not only in cash terms but in terms of impact on the memory of the entertained.  Before long came the TV show Omboga Na.


The problems were now different because he was a tv star, the community appreciated him moreso in his area. Without realizing, he had just raised the expectations of being opulent. They were proud that not only our son is on tv, but the son of the soil has a relatable story. In other words he has carried us with to wherever he was going. This story did not only fill the air of Suba but reached Migori, the work station of his dads business. Naturally with expectations. Now he could not go back to a life seen as below this. Vicky realized he had just created a monster of Vicky Matata that he could not control. This new Vicky was just Matata like his stage name.


Vicky explains that the demands of a musician are self defeating. On the road you are to present a life of success or less you lose your fan base. That in the pop music world it is not a world you want to go to.  A star can spend all the money raised on image sprucing and go home with nothing  just to eat wiu. If tragedy knocks at the door, the general message is that the Luo artist was just floundering and skirt chasing that is why he died without a house and left his wife in a dilapidated house. Or that Luo artists have their brains between the legs. Or Luo artist are nothing but gigolo. Why ? Because pop music forces them to live on the stage even when off the  stage.


Vicky asserts that fans and the general population  assumes that they artists are opulent because people with money hang around. However after the show “when the lights are off” the real life begins. It is backstage life that comes alive when a Luo pop star is being buried.  The real hard life they lived comes out screaming. With it comes the slur reserved for the community. Diaspora promoters should not be surprised that these stars cannot even produce a bank statement of any kind to support visa applications.


Back stage

Is there any hope? Yes there is but the intervention is in the wrong way according to Vicky. Capital intervention is not the issue. Diasporans can build a studio for every home but that is not where it is at. Artists could be supplied with instruments  from the time they start to crawl but that is not it. In fact many instruments have turned out to be the grave yard of a music business.


According to Vicky Matata, the industry needs managers to manage, not money managers. Any body can manage the cash takins per night. All you need is a bar man to keep the cash. It is the managing of the music that is lacking. To their defense Matata says, that it is not because of bad faith from the  managers. No. It is because they don’t know any better.

Vicky observes that closer to this is the issue of marketing the products. Like in business, they say that stock is the grave yard of a business. It is the same with a entertainment industry. If there is no market to sell the products to, then it is useless. Before long the studio will be sold, the instruments will be sold and the artist will turn into some thing else and the managers of cash will look else where for other cash to manage if music no longer has cash to manage.


The next bridge to be crossed is of sanitized music or not. Sometimes vulgarity sells especially in the dark music. But when the lights come on the, listeners all run away like cockroaches. It means that the artist must have accepted and chosen that they are living for today. So a musician has the tough task of making that choice of drinking with the devil or not.


Golden Parachutes

According to Vicky Matata  the biggest enemy of the artist is the lack of the reality by artist that there will come a day when they have to step off the scene by force. It is an eventually. There is no cure for it. An artist can be a star for a day. Or an artist  can never be a star but the eventually awaits all of them. It is important that the artist nest feathers where to land or  be ready with golden parachutes to make sure of a gentle landing. Here in comes  the people to handhold artists and help them prepare for that eventualities.


In other industries like sports and entertainment in other parts of the world, artists do these in many ways.  Like quickly switching to other more permanent investments or retooling/retraining to undertake some skills. This is in readiness. Vicky Matata feels Luo musicians should also look around on how to prepare for this final phase of their lives after  the thrill is gone.


Maybe after the thrill is gone, a steady life of farming is what they should have on the side so that transition to the eventuality is easy. But the younger Luo artists have been warned.

It is a reality and an eventuality that developed world have managed differently for music star, sports stars and the rest. The notice has been served. The artists  must feather the nest for life after the lights of the stage go out unless they have learned the schemes of preparing for golden parachutes by investing. Otherwise our artist must nest feather  their down ward fall. “Coming down is an eventuality like the law of gravity” says Vicky.


“The higher you rise the bigger the acceleration downwards at 10 meters per second per second. It how you prepare for the landing that matters. Golden parachute or nest feathering”.





 

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