Today I woke up to the shocking news of the passing on of one of Kenya’s music maestros, Mwalimu Aziz Abdi Kilambo. He was 67.
For the uninitiated, Aziz Abdi or Mwalimu as he was popularly known, was the leader of Orchestra Benga Africa, one of Kenya’s foremost bands in the 90’s and later with Orchestra Ngoma Afrika.
You may be asking why Kilambo’s death was special to me. In the early 90s while growing up in a remote village in Homa Bay County, I had a personal encounter with Abdi’s music. At the time, he was with Orchestra Benga Africa. It was my dad Mr. Charles Gimode, a great lover of music, who introduced me to Aziz Abdi’s music.
It was the era of the cassettes. My father’s collection was well kept and only unleashed once a year, whenever he came home for his annual leave. As a policeman, he used to work in far flung areas, like Mandera, Garissa and the like, and coming home meant he really had to save enough money for the arduous journey and for spending at home for the month or so when on leave.
In his absence, he left a treasure of a small radio set which always kept us company. It was on KBC radio that we entertained ourselves, as we nursed our sorrows, and dreamt about our future.
Around 1991/992 there was terrible drought and famine that engulfed Kenya. Homa Bay was not spared. In fact, such a time was also a season of ingenuity. We always had ‘experts’ or village wags who would give every famine season an appropriate name to boot. In our particular case, it was kibrit olwar e pi, loosely translated ‘‘the matchbox has dropped into water.’’ This simply meant there was no fire to be lit anywhere, as there was really nothing to cook.
It was during these hard times, that Aziz Abdi’s music often offered consolation to my kindred and I. The particular tune that smothered our souls was Pesa ni sabuni ya roho. In it, Aziz Abdi extols the power of money.
During lunch hours when we would rush home from school to grab a cup of porridge and dash back, Aziz Abdi was entertaining us on the lunchtime music on KBC Idhaa ya Kiswahili (now KBC Radio Taifa). When the nights descended upon our village in Rangwe and we retreated to our then grass-thatched house, we drew comfort from Aziz Kilambo.
In Pesa ni sabuni ya roho Aziz Abdi says money is so powerful that when a young man has it, he is automatically bestowed the title of a mzee. Money was powerful that the rich could go to market, trample on the wares of the market women, and pay them off with no qualms!
Most importantly, in humble circumstances, Aziz Abdi awakened in us the aspiration and the urge to really seek this elusive money. We spent our nights imagining how much difference we would make in our lives if we had it.
In my formative years, listening to radio also planted a seed in me, which would later germinate into opportunities that would make our pathways cross with Aziz Abdi. I aspired to be a journalist or at least a radio broadcaster so I could impact other people’s lives. Every evening, I was by the radio catching up on the latest news, listening to the proceedings in parliament and any other news that enriched and shaped my young mind.
And so I focused on that objective throughout my high school and college that November 2008, two months after clearing college at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication (KIMC) I landed my media job at a radio station in Nairobi as a continuity announcer.
I regularly hosted various personalities on my show and around 2010, I made efforts to trace Aziz Abdi, so I could host him on Pambazuka Breakfast Show, which I used to host. He was by then the bandleader of Orchestra Ngoma Afrika. He also used to have regular stints at Ranalo restaurant along Kimathi Street, Nairobi, every Wednesday.
So I was pretty amazed when I called him on phone, and he came across as an easy going individual. And so, I had the moment of a lifetime to meet the larger-than-life man, whose songs had inspired me in my youthful days and led me in the pursuit of my dreams to be a journalist in my life.
The one thing I really wanted to find out besides his music journey was why he was called Mwalimu. ‘‘People refer to me as Mwalimu because I have nurtured so many talented people in my bands who have gone ahead to establish their own successful music careers,’’ he told me.
I lost touch with Mwalimu thereafter as I also left the media industry to pursue other interests in life, but his music, still occupies a special place in my consciousness.
His other notable tunes include Maneno mengi sipendelei, Nyumbani ni nyumbani, Sina Kazi, Amri Kumi, Msahau Mila, Talanta. You can listen to Maneno mengi sipendelei below:
In Talanta he advises us that everyone has their own unique talents or luck given by God and we should all respect the individual gifts that we have each been blessed with. He says, the fisherman, the jua kali artisan, the newspaper vendor, and the mama mboga are all uniquely abled by God.
He also exhorted people not to forget their culture and where they came from. In Msahau Mila, he warns all of us not to let education blind us from our cultures. ‘‘Kusoma tunasoma lakini tusisahau mila za Kiafrika. Msahau mila yake ni mtumwa.’’ (Even though we are educated, let us not forget our African culture. He is a slave that forgets his culture).
In Nyumbani ni nyumbani he calls on all of us, especially those working in towns and cities, to always remember where we have come from. That it is good and in order for one to regularly visit their rural homes, and care for their people.
Aziz Abdi Kilambo’s songs championed social justice. He illuminated the challenges facing the common folk and contributed greatly to the Kenyan music scene.He inspired a country.He changed generations.
It’s 2020, and true to Aziz Abdi’s philosophy, money is still sabuni ya roho. It is the reason we rise up every morning to toil and moil in our respective occupations. It is still causing disagreements among kindred. People still kill each other because of money. The weak in the society are still crumbling under the injustices of those who have money. But he also called upon us not to abuse this power by undermining others and frustrating the downtrodden in the society. That we can instead use this power well to add value to those around us.
In May last year I lost my dad who introduced me to Aziz Abdi’s music catapulting me to a long journey of discovery. He would have been 66 this year. Now Mwalimu Aziz Abdi has gone to rest as well. It closes a chapter in my life that was so dear.
Mwalimu Aziz Abdi Kilambo was a good man. I will forever cherish the fond memories we shared.
May his soul rest in perfect peace.
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