Friday, August 7, 2009

King of Ohangla speaks

‘King of ohangla’ Tony Nyadundo. Photo/FILE

‘King of ohangla’ Tony Nyadundo. Photo/FILE 

I was born at a place called Kal in Tanzania. We were twins but my sister Apiyo died when we were still young.

My family moved to Kenya in 1978 and settled at Nyahera in Kisumu district. Then, my father went to work at Kongoni in Nzoia.

I went to Kongoni primary school, but my childhood was riddled with poverty. I proceeded to Bugembe secondary school in 1985, although I dropped out the following year because we could no longer afford the fee.

I joined my brother, Jack Nyadundo, who was then a tailor in Nzoia. I was to mend clothes, which did not fetch much, until 1992. I did not like it very much so I quit.

All my life I had loved music and took an active part in it in school. I tried my hands at disc-jokeying with disco outfits in Nzoia and Kisumu.

At the time I didn’t think much of ohangla, the music genre that has catapulted me into the limelight. I just used to watch people dance it. Then, it was the preserve of chang’aa drinkers and played as part of dirges at funerals.

One day when we went to play music in Amagooro, the host invited also a group of ohangla players. We were almost made irrelevant. There was overwhelming response for the ohangla songs and the people enjoyed the dancing.

Back in Nzoia, I told Jack about our experience and how the music that had been relegated to funerals and drinking dens was getting people on their feet.

Jack was still a tailor then. On one of his visits to Kisumu, he found a group which was playing the music genre. Jack was gifted in singing and instantly they struck a relationship that started the journey of ohangla to the dance hall.

My brother knew that I was a good dancer and asked me to recruit and train the female dancers for them. Other than the dance trainer, I was still not so keen on joining him.

One day late in 1996, I was invited to play music in Nakuru. When I came back, I found my house broken into and most of my dee-jaying equipment stolen.

I joined Jack and his group as a bouncer and was in charge of gate collections. But as patrons danced the night away, I started nursing the passion of singing. I knew it was possible.

Gradually, I stated trying out the microphones after Jack finished performing. It was on the sidelines that I started composing my own songs, the most most popular being Nyakindu (the girl from Kindu).

People urged me to sing more songs and do less gate collection.

To do that, I needed to move out of my brother’s band. I left for Tanzania to go and stay with my sister Cyprose Atieno. But I started off making drums because that is what I could lay my hands on to make a living.

But it was proving more difficult than I thought. I needed money to move and I realised my job was not about to get me anough money for my musical ambitions.

I went back home to my father Ayieta, who had returned to Nyahera, and told him what I had in mind. He gave me a bull which I sold for Sh8,000. I gave my father and mother Sh1,000 each. I spent Sh3,000 to make an improvised amplifier.

I carried it with me back to Tanzania to launch a music career. There was no electricity at the joint where I performed. I used car battery to power the amplifier and a pressure lamp to light the dance hall at night.

I brought together a group of two women and four men, including myself. Our first show raised an equivalent of Sh1,200. This was peanuts, but I knew my dreams were in the process of being fulfilled.

We needed to legalise our status, so I approached the Tanzanian authorities for a permit and was granted one under the cultural services to perform in Mwanza for one year.

We used to perform at a nursery school at night. Because I did not have enough staff, I was the lead singer and the gate man. We located the stage at a strategic place where I would watch patrons come in, let the band sing the choruses as I collected the charges.

The Tanzanians were very disciplined. If it were in Kenya, they would have forced their way in. But still I knew I could not sustain the market by just singing in Luo. I was either to change or look for a new market.

1n 1998, I moved to Migori district and played on the major beaches of Sori in Karungu. The reception was much better than we had received in Tanzania.

The Kenyans used to pay more money every time they wanted to dance closer with the girls. It was usually Sh20.
I did not envisage that the abundance of cash from the fishing community would break my band.

The dancers eloped with the fishermen and other band members realised that there was more money pulling the nets than drumming.

It had to put up a new outfit and the first outing was on Aneko island. This time the entire band, including my self was swept into the fish business.

Towards the end of that year, the singer in me was awakened again. Other band members were already approaching me for a regroup.

I obliged. Then during one of our tours of Magunga in Suba district, I met Onyi Papa Jey, the mane who sang the ODM campaign song, I am Unbwogable.

Papa Jey then played the orutu then. I brought him on board because he was good and willing to learn. Our music was becoming popular.

At the end of 1999, I shifted base to Nairobi’s Dandora. It was at this point when I started investing in instruments. It was also the time I started playing the keyboard in a traditional setting.

The bar owners used to pay me per bottle of beer sold during the show, and each bottle of beer used to cost from Sh3 to Sh5. But I realised that some bar owners used to short change me.

Before the show we would count all the crates brought in and at the end of the show count the empty ones. But some clients used to refill the beer bottles with water and stock them under those which had not been sold.

That way, they paid up far much less than what had actually been sold.

It was hard a life. I packed my things and went back to Kisumu. My brother Jack was already ruling the town. And it was hard to penetrate this enclosure.

I was playing at Whitehouse Bar, while he played at Sunset Hotel. Some patrons loved my music more than his. On one occasion, a promoter organised a talent show, where my brother and I were to share a stage for the first time since I broke away to form my own band.

I carried the day. I later met Mr Owino Opondo, then the Nation Media Group’s Kisumu bureau chief. He encouraged me to put my music on CD. That was the birth of my debut album, Ayaki, in 2002.

It instantly put me on heights I had never thought of. Invitations started pouring in and, with it, came the money. I was no longer being paid per bottle of beer, but by agreed rates.

The second album, Kidi Oba e Toke, (stoned on the back), was born out of a corporate event turned tragic. The Nation Media Group had invited me to entertain during a golf tournament when, in the dead of the night, thugs struck.

Several people were injured. A man sneaked into the kitchen and kept his mobile phone and cash into a sufuria containing cooked cabbage.

In that confusion, some people ran towards the lake (Victoria). One of my drummers tried to escape and his reward on his back was a huge stone by the thugs, hence kidi obaye e toke. It was a sad night, but it a memorable occasion.

That album has songs such Isanda gi hera, Sammy Wakiaga, Chon Gilala and Ndoa ya Machozi.

In 2006, I released the Obama album, which earned me an imaginary trip to the United States. I had never met the guy, but out of creativity, I imagined what our meeting would have been like.

In 2007, I earned my first trip out of the country, courtesy of Kenyans living in Germany. We toured Frankfurt and Berlin and got a standing ovation.

In 2009, the Government sponsored me to visit the US to perform during the inauguration of President Obama. What shocked me is that in this country planes are a symbol status. In the US planes are the means of transport.

I sat for long hours as we hopped from state to state. The time I spent on the plane on any particular day was more than what I do on the roads in Kenya.

Currently, I am working on my third album titled Migingo, which seeks to defuse the tension between Kenya and Uganda by retracing the roots of the Luo community from Sudan through Uganda, and calling for brotherhood between the two countries.

I am single now. My wife and I parted ways in 1994 after people fed her with a lot of rumours about musicians’ promiscuity.

From that marriage I had two children who are in my custody. It will take me time to marry again because I have realised that most women follow me for the fame and the cash and not for the interest of settling down in a marriage.

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