Written by Writen by Nandemu Barasa ‘Omutolometi’
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Members of the then Kilumbe Jazz Band with the late Wambusi wa Musungu (holding Litungu). [PHOTO|Courtsey of family library]
If there is an icon of music among the Banyala people, a sub tribe of the larger Luhya speaking people of Western Kenya, then it is the late Mzee Winiston Wambusi Ukhevi Wa Musungu.
The late Wambusi was born in 1938, in Chekata Village, Kakamega Central. He was born in Baengele clan of Banyala.Banyala sub tribe has over 40 clans with a population of approximately 90 thousand. Banyala clans include Abaengele, Abacharia, Abasuu,A bamwaya and so on.
Note that there are two groups of Abanyala people namely Abanyala ba Ndombi and Abanyala ba Magero.Ndombi and Magero were colonial chiefs among Abanyala. Abanyala ba Magero have settled in Busia County mostly in Budalang`I constituency while Banyala ba Ndombi have settled in Kakamega County at Navakholo, Nambacha, Sivili,Sirgoi.
Mzee Wambusi`s parents the late Mzee Musungu Mang`oli and the late Mama Lutunda Aluvakho were farmers growing
Millet, Sorghum, Simsim, groundnuts, peas and also kept dairy cows.
The late Mzee Musungu started school in 1952 at Sivilie primary. He was initiated in 1954 falling in the age set of Babanyange number three. Note that Banyala people name their age sets the same as Bamasaaba. In 1956, he joined Ingotse Intermediate School. Due to lack of school fees, he dropped from school and later went to stay with his brother in Nairobi where he trained as a typist.
He married his first wife, Nipher Nekesa in 1964 and had his first born child, Joan Ukhevi in 1965. When asked how she started dating the late Wambusi,Nipher laughs for some seconds before saying she was an athlete at school and so was the late Wambusi and that they fell for each other as early as at Primary school level little did they know that their affair would lead into a bigger thing - marriage.
Mama Nipher Nekesa (R), Wasike wa Musungu's first wife with her co-wife Conjestina Nekesa in a jovial mood as they narrated their life experiences with their late husband. [PHOTO|Nandemu Barasa|West Fm]
Mama Nipher says his husband was very hard working and could not waste even a single minute doing nothing. He loved being busy doing productive work. He was opposed to soliciting for handouts like other artists do. “Mzee alikuwa masaa (Mzee was on the move),” affirms Nipher.
In 1965, he started working at Sivilie Primary school as a Mathematics and English teacher.
In 1974, he married his second wife, Conjestina Nekesa Ukhevi. With Conjestina her husband was very strict that if his wife or child came home late s/he would go through serious scrutiny and at times send a way to sleep in the neighborhood.
The late is said to have loved traditional foods so much that he would miss to eat from one wife`s house for sometime if she failed to prepare the meals that included Bananas, traditional vegetables, groundnuts, simsim, cassava, or even sweet potatoes among other traditional foods.
He joined Sivilie Friends Church in 1961 where he was a committed Christian. He later took over leadership of the church choir and participated in several competitions. When we visited the church, Christians who were around expressed their gratitude to the man they say made church services very lively. He liked the song Avasinjira mu katoto meaning those who stand for the truth.
In 1966, he was employed at Chebuyusi Secondary in the accounts section. He worked there until 1989 when he resigned and started playing music with his Litungu – a Luhya stringed musical instrument. He was working closely with Mzee Ngakhala but before that he had started by making Litungu instruments using traditional materials and sold them to upcoming artists.
Earlier on at school, Mzee Wambusi took part in school choir and later trained school choirs in schools that he worked in. His son Yuna Ukhevi (pictured left) remembers how his father was so good at singing and giving excellent singing skills to musicians.
“I just cannot tell how my father acquired those skills of music because even personally I could not understand, my dad used to do it so well that I wanted to hear him sing all through,” said the son.
It was in 1994 when Mzee Wambusi officially joined “Kenda Kalaa” group where he led the group in producing several tracks. The group had been formed courtesy of the government of Finland. It was also during that year that the late recorded his first album, “Eng`ondo” which means “a shilling.”
In the track Eng`ondo, Mzee Wambusi explains how money is very important and the need for people to work hard to acquire it so that they can also have bargaining power in all the corners of life. He reveals how money can be used by one to do almost everything and therefore need to work hard for it. He also praises cane cutters for their hard work despite challenges that they face daily. He praises them to be able fend for themselves and their families but out of that work and which also gives them dignity as men and who are the better than those who beg for hand outs .
According to his son, Mzee Wambusi had loved the late Franco’s songs and he used to listen to his records every day on his Sanyo record player. He not only listened to Franco’s songs but he went ahead to purchase a lingala language guide book which he used to go through to learn Lingala language.
At his passing on, he could speak fluent Lingala and sing most of the late Franco’s songs His wife says Mzee loved Franco’s songs most especially after he started learning about his language and therefore understood everything being sang. He argued that Franco`s songs were very entertaining and educative compared to what other artists were doing.
The late Wambusi sang his songs in Kinyala, Kiswahili and Lingala languages. In his 5th Album, for instance, he produced Tinda Ngai track in Lingala language. `Nalingi kokanda Kinshasa` meaning I would like to visit Kinshasa.
As a result of that the late Wambusi also vowed to sing educative apart from just being entertaining. Indeed the old man worked hard towards that dream because according to Joseph
Khaemba, aka Nyokha of Nyokha production when he first met Mzee Wambusi he listened to his songs which he had recorded using a home cassette and found out that all his songs were educative with deeper message to the audience.
Nyokha says he gave the late Mzee Wambusi more tips on how to polish the songs before he could produce the songs. He also volunteered to record him after he had polished the songs fully.
Mzee Nyokha remembers how good and trust worth the late Wambusi was.
“Of all the artists that I have worked with, Mzee Wambusi was the best, he could not lie and also was not like these upcoming artists who don`t listen to any advice, that is why his work was very educative and most liked,” said Nyokha.
Nyokha helped the late Wambusi to produce eight albums with the first one being named Eng`ondo and the last called “Abakhwe” meaning “in laws”. However the late Wambusi later produced the ninth Album “Enguo” meaning “dress” and tenth one “Omuengele”, a clan in Banyala Community, with Zamalek production in Kakamega town.
The late Wambusi wa Musungu (R) at a fund raiser function where he presided over as the guest of honour. [PHOTO|Nandemu Barasa|West Fm]
The late met and shared his music life with the late Nyongesa Wa Muganda whose music shall also remain at the top in Western, North Rift and Kenya at large. He also worked closely with his brother Patrick Musungu who is still alive at Chekata village, Justus Mukopi who passed on in 1998, sons Martin, Yuna, Reuben and daughter Stella who is married and stays in Kakamega town.
Other re-known musicians who featured so much during the late Wambusi`s generation include Wasike Wa Musungu, Sukuma Bin Ongaro, Jacob Luseno, Isaac Kisache, Peter Kombo, Rufftone Simiyu and Sifuna Kochi.
In 1995, Mzee Wambusi formed his own group, “Kilumbe Jazz Band”. The name Kilumbe came from a Banyala traditional dance that was performed by children in the evenings after having
dinner. It was in 1994 when the late Wambusi started ailing and after being checked, he was found to have developed high blood pressure. He was treated in Kakamega hospital and put on further medication.
After the medication he returned to normal and stable life and continued with his usual work.
However on Sunday August 13, 2006, Mzee Wambusi fell from a bicycle that he was riding from his first wife’s home in Chekata village heading to the second wife’s home in Musaga village. He fell near the church that he used to worship, African Church of God, Mulembe which is just by the roadside. It is a coincidence that Mzee fell near a tree under which he was baptized by the Africa Church of God.
The late Wambusi wa Musungu's grave infront of his main house. He died on Sunday August 13, 2006 after he fell from his bicycle ending his musical career. [PHOTO|Nandemu Barasa|West Fm]
Mama Nipher recalls vividly how her husband died in her own hands after she was called by the neighbors who saw him fall from the bicycle. She says she rushed to the scene but found her husband already dead and bleeding so much with blood passing through the mouth and nose.
Mzee Wambusi had 20 children with each wife having ten children. As at now two children from the first wife have since died. Of the remaining children many of them dropped out of school due to financial problems especially when they had reached secondary level.
However two children from the late’s second wife have made it up to University with Elijah Wambusi taking Education studies at the University of Nairobi. He finished although he has not found a job absorbed yet. His younger brother Jared is still pursuing his studies at the same university taking Pharmacy.
Wambusi’s widows reveal that life has been very difficult since the passing on of their husband as they have purely been depending on the farm produce which include sweet potatoes, millet, groundnuts for survival. A good number of their sons and daughters are married although many of them are either farmers or casual employees.
Yuna, one of the late musicians sons who reached form two at Sigalame Secondary remembers how his father tried so hard to educate them but due to financial constrains and also the fact that their family was so big he could not manage.
He says his father loved education so much that if a child missed school that day would be the worst for him. The late also instilled high standards of discipline and those who were found in any indiscipline cases would be punished heavily.
Before the old man passed on he used to perform in post burial ceremonies, kumbukumbu, but in July 2000, he performed during the Kenyatta University Cultural week after which he was honoured with a certificate. Most of his performance during the cultural week featured in his first album, Eng`ondo.
As of now, the late Wambusi’s band is weak as a result of his absence although one of his sons, Yuna says he has the urge of taking over from his father but due to lack of support especially financially, he cannot do anything. The family also doesn’t understand well issues to do with music rights and therefore have never benefited anything from the old man’s music.
However so far with our assistance we, have managed to connect them to a music copyright official Wanyonyi Koroti who has promised to give them the best channels to demand for their late father`s rights.
Memories of the late Mzee Wambusi shall indeed continue to linger in his family’s minds, the clan and his fans at large especially every August during his anniversay.
The family has always invited leaders from the Luhya Community, the church; the late’s fans during the anniversary every August although they reveal that political leaders have never honoured the invitation.
However, the family recognizes the late Minister for Labour and Lurambi Member of Parliament Dr Newton Kulundu as the sole political leader who honoured the late Wambusi by assisting him on several occasions. In fact he was the only political leader from the region who attended the Wambusi’s burial ceremony.
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