Great music in praise of benevolent strongman

President Moi strikes a tune to the delight of Sengera Girls Secondary School choir which entertained him when a delegation from Majoge-Bassi constituency called on him at his Kabarak home. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Retired President Daniel Moi inspired many fascinating songs during his reign.
  • Even though most of them reeked of copious sycophancy, some were excellent musical compositions that continue to light up the dance floor.

The apparent lure of adoration of those so-called patriotic songs is one of things that Moi, who ruled for 24 years, until he retired in 2002, will be remembered for in this and future generations.

Soon after the death of founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta in 1978, several musicians came forward to mark and ease the transition to new leadership with alluring with songs.

They, indeed, glorified a man who had served as the Vice-President for many years, fighting a group that was determined to ensure Moi did not succeed his larger than life boss, Mzee Kenyatta.

Soon, what naively started as a sign of appreciation became a tool for propaganda.

The rich crop of Moi praise songs was churned out by top choirs, bands and even individual musicians.

One of the first most notable songs to have been released soon after Moi took over leadership was the song ”Mtukufu Rais Moi” by the Nairobi-based Orchestra Les Mangelepa. Though a predominantly made up of Congolese musicians, the band produced a song that was full of patriotic vibe — and which earned good airplay.

Veteran band leader Kabila Kabanze, recalls how the song was loved by many across the country. What many did not know, however, was that the lyrics were written by talented broadcaster, lawyer and media personality George Opiyo — who would rise to become director of Information and Public Communication.

“We had just celebrated to years since the formation of the band and didn’t want to be left behind in honouring the new Kenyan President,” Kabanze said.

President Moi speaks with Vice-President Mwai Kibaki and other leaders as he holds a guitar.

The song had some captivating words such as, “Tunakuamini na tunakupenda Baba Moi, wewe ni mtu mtulivu, miaka 12 kama Makamu wa Rais” (We trust and adore you President Moi. We recognised your patience and tolerance having been a Vice-President for 12 years).

Another popular praise song on Moi was “Everybody Fuata Nyayo” by the legendary Kamba musician Kakai Kilonzo and his counterpart, Francis Danger.
The singer, who died in 1987, was revered for his speciality, an acoustic guitar. He was revered for catchy lyrics backed by the Kilimambogo Brothers Band.

The “Everybody Fuata Nyayo” song released in 1979 was appealing to many, having picked up President Moi’s slogan of “Nyayo” (footsteps).

Others patriotic songs by Kakai and Les Kilimambogo were “Kenya Nchi Yangu” and “Beba Kitambulisho”, which according to Danger, were easier to get airtime of KBC radio due to their patriotic messages.

Another group, which also released a song dedicated to Moi was Kenya Blue Stars, who released the song “Baba Moi”.

The Kenya Blue Stars Band, which was popular from the late 1970s to early 1980s, featured Sheila Tett, Daniel Hamisi, Margaret Wamboi, and Cuthbert Bocha. The group was known for some of their hit songs such as “Sina Kisomo”, “Niwaone Wanangu” and “Talaka”.

International praise for the Kenyan leader came from Congolese crooner Tabu Ley and his group, Afrisa International, who released the song, “Nakei Nairobi”.

The perennial household anthem’s lyrics were done in Lingala and Kiswahili versions.

Tabu Ley, who was a regular visitor to Kenya for both his private and musical business, praised Kenya, mentioning various Kenyan towns alongside President Moi.

Speaking to the Daily Nation by telephone from the USA, the last Afrisa International Band manager under Tabu Ley, Mekanisi Modero recalled the enthusiasm during the composition featuring songbird Mbilia Bel.

“Our close links with Nairobi as our second musical home after Kinshasa compelled us to release the song in recognition of our cordial relationship,“ Modero said.

Whereas Tabu Ley wrote the Lingala lyrics, the Swahili version was written done by the Swahili-speaking solo guitarist Mpanga Brazzos. Notably, Brazzos also wrote the lyrics of the original ‘Shauri Yako’ song released by Nguashi N’timbo.

As Modero recalled, both versions were partly done in Kinshasa and later produced in Paris. The guitarists were Dino Vangu, Mpanga Brazzos, Dave Makondele and Shaba Kahamba.

President Moi with a section of the Muungano Choir that entertained him at State House Nairobi. The President said only good aspects of African culture should be retained.

The song was released almost two years after Tabu Ley and the band had toured Kenya with Mbilia Bel, who was making her debut performance, featuring on the song “Kamunga” and later “Eswi yo Wapi?

Veteran Kikuyu musician Joseph Kamaru was also not left behind in releasing a patriotic song dedicated to President Moi. Kamaru, who died in October 2018, had accompanied President Moi to an official tour of Japan in 1980 and on his return he released the song, “Safari ya Japan”, which extolled the benefits of that trip.

This was one of Kamaru’s first major songs in Kiswahili.

On the choral music scene, Mwalimu Thomas Wasonga gained national fame and popularity for composing the “Tawala Kenya Tawala”. He became one of the artistes who produced some of the best songs during the Nyayo era, as President Moi’s reign was referred to.

Boniface Mganga, the director of Muungano National Choir, who died in 2011 released a series of patriotic songs such as “Enzi ya Nyayo”.

Mganga worked closely with Moi who rewarded him through state appointments for his musical skills, and so was Dr Arthur Kemoli, of the Kariokor Friends Choir, in Nairobi, who composed the song “Fimbo ya Nyayo “. He was also a university lecturer.

Throughout his reign, Moi had very nice tunes to sooth his brain.