It’s back to the roots for young Kikuyu musicians
For a long time, songs with deeper messages by old artistes from central Kenya such as the late John Kamaru, late Queen Jane, late John De’Mathew, Lady Wanja, Wangari Wa Kabera, CDM Kiratu, Wanganangu, HM Kariuki, Wachira wa Karangatha, late Francis Rugwiti, Wahome wa Maingi and late Salim Junior continued to rule the airwaves, but a young generation is taking over and sweeping the Kikuyu popular music scenes like a tornado.
The young secular musicians from the Kikuyu community, male and female alike, are now becoming overnight sensations due to the popularity of their songs—both original and renditions—some sounding like reincarnation of the past artistes since their lyrics carry with them strong messages and are also entertaining.
While there are dozens of young Kikuyu musicians, it is Davy Kamoko and Lawrence Ngugi alias DJ Fatxo who have become a phenomenon despite being 30 and 25 years old respectively.
They have ventured into mwomboko music, a territory that had been long forgotten and associated with the old generation.
With the accordion being the genres main instrument, it is viewed as music for old geezers, as it is one of the oldest music forms in the Kikuyu community.
The accordion is a free-reed portable musical instrument, consisting of a treble casing with external piano-style keys or buttons and a bass casing (usually with buttons) attached on opposite sides of a hand-operated bellows and was popular among the fuddy-duddy in the past years when musicians such as Wanganangu, HM and Wachira were the sensations.
For Kamoko, who hails from Engineer in Nyandarua county, he did not have an accordion, but he was lucky to get an 88-year-old one that was gifted to him by his fiancée’s grandfather who lives in Germany.
He notes that the instruments are no longer sold locally and there are no more music schools that train people how to operate them.
“The old musicians were not willing to train me or allow me to use their instruments and so, I camped on YouTube to learn from their songs.
But even after I perfected the art of play it, I still could not use the instrument for stage performance because it was too old and kept breaking down,” Kamoko tells Spice, adding that he organised a goat-eating-cum-fundraiser event that raised more than Sh200,000 so that he could import a new accordion.
The duo, through mwomboko, has been attracting endless invitations to entertain guests in many entertainment joints, public and corporate events, and recently signed with Zheng Hong Kenya Ltd as brand ambassadors for Sweet Berry Vodka.
Other popular young Kikuyu music sensations that have injected some new energy into entertainment includes Samuel Muchoki aka Samidoh, Joseph Kanyi (Jose Gatutura), Wangari Gioshe (Kareh B), Laban Kinuthia (Salim Young)—who is a younger brother to the late mugithi maestro Salim Junior, and his sister Sarah Salim (Sarafina Salim). Others are Joyce Mathia (Joyce Wa Mama), JN Gakuhi and Joy Macharia.
Kamoko, who has a bias for mugithi and other Kikuyu oldies, was recruited into the National Talents Academy in 2010. However, he got interested in mwomboko three years ago.
For DJ Fatxo, whose stage name is due to his background in disc jockeying, got interested in the genre a few months ago, and has since been trained how to play the accordion by Kamoko.
“It was in Rongai that I did my first live public performance. The reception was fantastic, and though I felt I still had a long way to learn on operating the instrument, the fans from all walks of life and age were really impressed and they encouraged me to pursue that genre of music. And three years down the line, I have perfected it, and I am in it commercially,” adds Kamoko.
The 30-year-old says after carving out a niche in the genre, he tapped his county mate Fatxo whom he has successfully trained to play the accordion.
They have since recorded a collabo rendition tune dubbed Mwomboko complete with a music video, which has amassed close to two million views on YouTube in just a couple of months.
Although Kamoko is also a member of Ni Sisi Band, he has lately focused his attention on doing mwomboko renditions previously composed/produced by past mwomboko singers, which he has been performing in night clubs and public events.
He, however reveals that he has been making his own music compositions that he plans to release soon.
DJ Fatxo trained as a disc jockey at DJ Mo’s deejaying academy in 2016. But after two years as a DJ, he produced his first studio single dubbed Twainuka Twi Kon’go meaning going home drunk in January 2020.
Two months later, he released his second titled Kiogora. He has since released a number of songs including Ndi Man’ga (his breakout hit), Injini Ikaga, Uthoni and his latest Ikinya Gwa Ikinya, a gospel tune.
As a DJ, he came across Kamoko operating the accordion and his interest was piqued. He then approached him.
“When I held the accordion, I was very excited and Kamoko offered to train me how to play it.
Because I have a bias for oldies, music that I actually had been performing, I was easily persuaded to try mwomboko and the song that we did together became a phenomenal hit,” he says.
Impressed by his performance, he recently sent money to Kamoko to buy him his own instrument when Kamoko visited Germany for a performance.
“I will not quit my preferred genre of music (mugithi) for mwomboko, but you can expect more mwomboko songs and performances from me, as I have penned mwomboko lyrics that will be released soon.
That genre is magical; it’s hard to explain it. People are really impressed. You might be performing and everyone in seated, but the moment you lift the accordion, everyone gets to their feet,” says Fatxo.
Kareh B, who also acted in Tahidi High TV drama series, has wowed the young and old alike due to her prowess in performing renditions of country music, mugithi and other oldies.
For her, although she has had passion from music from her primary school days, it was until she joined college that she realised her potential.
She has since formed a formidable duo with Jose Gatutura, who spotted her as she performed country music at an establishment in Nairobi’s Westlands with Sir Elvis.
“While performing at Gallileo Lounge with Sir Elvis, Gatutura spotted me and invited me for a collaboration for the Tuirio Twega hit.
It’s from that point that people started taking me seriously. Since then, I have been doing live performances and the reception has been amazing because we are able to impress the old and young generation by mixing several genres of music,” says Kareh B.
Revisiting the culture
Michael Muna alias Mwalimu Muna, a tutor and an artiste based in Limuru, is known for songs such as Aciari Mutiuge Ngemi, Matiri Ngemi, Muthirigu, Guku Nikuo Gwitu, Njukia, Muthetha and Nyegerera among others.
He says after years of losing interest in culture, the Kikuyu community, particularly the young generation, is keen on retracing it, and this is giving traction to renditions on oldies and traditional music as well as new music since there is good market for it.
“There was a period when parents were proud of their children not speaking Kikuyu, and this killed the urge for meaningful Kikuyu music.
But today, what we are experiencing is the young generation, even though some are living abroad, are keen to go back to their roots.
Music is one line being exploited because it surely rings a bell on someone’s mind, and that is why young musicians are going for mugithi and mwomboko because it’s now marketable and rewarding even more than before,” he says.
With the trend, it’s easy to say that there’s some sort of resurgence pertaining the Kikuyu music, with young musicians at the helm.
However, whether this will be sustainable is a matter of time, especially with the young artistes picking up more traditional and conservative genres such as mwomboko, which may still sound old-fashioned to the young urban fans.
If so, then it’d take a lot of creative convincing for it to appeal to the young fans, who essentially form the large percentage of music consumers.