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Ayub Ogada: Kenya’s unsung music star

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By MARK HANKINS
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It is said that a prophet is never respected in his own land. This is certainly the case with renowned Kenyan musician Ayub Ogada, who passed on last Sunday.

Ogada’s audience is global although he only released two albums. His compositions, categorised as World Music, did not get much play in Kenya and he was rarely featured on television music shows. He was neither a big-name international star like Youssou Ndour or Hugh Masekela, nor belonged to celebrity cliques and he did not seek notoriety.

Nevertheless, Ogada was, until his death, the most internationally acclaimed and travelled Kenyan musician. Within an hour of the announcement of his demise at his home in Nyahera village, Kisumu County, tributes were pouring in from all over the world. Musician and friend Peter Gabriel has written a tribute on his website.

Born in the coastal city of Mombasa, he travelled to the US as a youngster, where his father was studying medicine. There, he immersed himself in the 1960s black consciousness ideology that helped form his outlook and his art.

It is said that he shook hands with the legend Muhammed Ali in Chicago. He also returned with cognisance of James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and Fela Kuti and a burning desire to make it as a musician.

Ogada once remarked that all true musicians build their portfolios on life experience.

Though he leaves an impressive musical legacy, his life tells the story of the myriad obstacles confronting talented artistes in Kenya. Ogada’s success provides one compass for those who want to follow their own paths and to build a future with traditional music instruments.

Ogada built his repertoire and reputation on live performance. When he played or held court in conversation, he stood out. In his early days, he established a name as Job Seda playing with a number of influential Nairobi pop bands but made his reputation with Black Savage band — where with Mbarak Achieng he produced the famous song Koth Biro (Rains are coming) — and later co-founded Heritage Band with Alan Donovan of the African Heritage cultural house.

He moved to London, changed his name to Ayub Ogada and transformed himself into a skilled master of his adopted instrument, the eight-stringed nyatiti, used in traditional Luo music.

I met Ogada in the mid-1980s, when he was playing with the Heritage Band and going by the name Job Seda. He was the band leader, and together with Jack Odongo, and encouraged by Donovan, set out to rejuvenate and transform “Kenyan traditional music.”

At the time, the genre was relegated to poorly paid tourist troupes in Mombasa and to sycophantic acts at State House functions. To change the perception of traditional music, Donovan injected fashion and the band added amplification and energy.

Mixing electric instruments with wooden flutes, lizard-skinned congas, thumb pianos, cowbells, and nyatitis, Seda and Odongo transformed African folk music into upbeat jazz for young Nairobi crowds, performing live at the African Heritage Gallery on Kenyatta Avenue while models strutted walkways and bartenders served cocktails.

Heritage Band’s charismatic core members went on to make names for themselves: Wally Amalemba and Gido Kibokosya in the flamboyant rhythm section, Samite Mulondo, the Ugandan singer became a celebrated flute, kalimba, and litungu instrumentalist with Odongo as the to-go to organist and horn player.

Clockwise from front right: Ayub Ogada, Gido

Clockwise from front right: Ayub Ogada, Gido Kibukosya, Goro Kunii, Shabaan Onyango (centre) and Ali Magombeni. PHOTO | COURTESY OF ALAN DONOVAN | AFRICAN HERITAGE

Dozens of young musicians played with the Heritage Band. The African Heritage gallery was the place to be seen on Sunday afternoons. At the centre of this was Seda.

With a full baritone voice, he communicated with the audience, played percussion, strutted and worked his nyatiti as he took the band through traditional Luo ballads. His stage presence and charm cemented each set and grew the band’s reputation over five years.

Though they confirmed that “traditional” could be exciting, after two albums, Niko Saikini and Handas, and an unfortunate trip to a German jazz festival, the Heritage Band broke up and the jam sessions at the African Heritage gallery came to an end.

The band members moved on and Seda, working with Donovan’s African Heritage, went on to do musical productions for the French Cultural Centre, and gigs for the international films scene in Nairobi — he had cameo roles in Out of Africa and The Kitchen Toto but these projects did not serve his agenda, so he left Nairobi for the United Kingdom, eager to build a name as a solo artiste and with his own platform.

The emigrant who emerged in the UK a few years later, embracing a nyatiti, was Ayub Ogada.

The post-punk London scene in the late 1980s attracted many African artistes. Reggae was thriving. Following the success of Paul Simon’s Graceland album and performance in South Africa, demand for “world music” was crystallising around DJ musicologists like Charlie Gillette and John Peel.

A West African diaspora in the UK supported such bands as Osibisa and Taxi Pata Pata. When Ogada arrived in the UK, he joined the latter, a Congolese soukous act, as drummer-percussionist and worked odd jobs to make ends meet.

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He nurtured his nyatiti talent as a self-taught player. Without the guidance of a nyatiti mentor or the advantage of listening to recordings of master players, he spent hours plucking, practising and fashioning a distinctive style, famously busking on London’s Northern Line to get the expansive echo that only an underground space can provide. More than once, he spoke of a growing two-way spiritual affection with his nyatiti.

His busking in the London Underground brought him to the attention of Peter Gabriel and earned an invitation to the 1991 WOMAD festival in Cornwall.

The show was his lucky break. When another artiste went missing, the organisers requested him to extend his 10-minute cameo to a full hour. He capitalised on the opportunity. His performance so electrified Gabriel and the audience that they asked him to attend WOMAD recording sessions at the Real World Wiltshire studios.

The sessions led to a contract with Gabriel’s Real World Records and, eventually the album En Mana Kuoyo (A grain of sand). His 10-song masterpiece, released in 1993, showcased a mature, fully-formed singer with a confident quiet voice and an unconventional nyatiti style.

One album was all Ogada needed. Released at a time when international demand for world music was growing, it was a badly needed gem in the Real World catalogue.

The album sold enough for him to launch his personal brand and stimulated a demand for decades of live performances. He became a sought-after festival artiste, and, for the first time, had a considerable degree of financial success.

Ayub Ogada

Ayub Ogada nurtured his nyatiti talent as a self-taught player. PHOTO | COURTESY OF ALAN DONOVAN | AFRICAN HERITAGE

When he was at his peak in 1999, we met for lunch in London. He was fully booked out, he said, with tours in Europe, Japan and the United States.

Dressed in Nigerian traditional attire, he told me how he travelled with a small entourage — a bassist, percussionist and a guitarist. If he had to, he could play alone. He was doing the music he loved, being paid well. Mostly, he was playing in front of appreciative audiences.

His next break came in 2005 when the directors of The Constant Gardener, the movie of John le Carre thriller set in Kenya were looking for local music to soundscape the film. A local site manager happened to have on hand a cassette of En Mana Kuoyo. Hearing it, the producers immediately got in touch with Ogada’s agent and a sizeable deal was closed.

As celebrated as he was in Europe, Ogada was getting homesick. He had been out of Africa for over 15 years and he wanted to reconnect with audiences back home.

Moreover, he yearned to live in the places he sang about — especially rural Luoland. Even when he lived in Africa, it was only in Nairobi and Mombasa. The frustration of being stuck in Europe comes out poignantly in the moving single Salimie, which he wrote after a particularly trying period in Italy.

The Constant Gardener commission provided him with the resources to make the move back to Kenya in 2008. After a stint in Nairobi, Ogada moved his base to Kisumu where he set up a studio and partnered with bassist and engineer Isaac Gem.

His move to rural Kisumu allowed him to perform and record in the open spaces next to Lake Victoria, where his songs were set and where he thought the music sounded best.

Increasingly, and especially after his return, engagements with Ogada could be unpredictable. Impulsive and spiritual, he made space on stage and in his life for the unexpected. When spontaneity worked out, and it frequently did, the results were beautiful. But things didn’t always work out, especially when his volatile sentiments collided with alcohol overindulgence.

In 2015, he spent two weeks with Isaac Gem and British jazz guitarist Trever Warren recording his last album, Kodhi (seed). The mobile recordings started in the pool room of Donovan’s African Heritage House overlooking the Nairobi National Park and finished at the Fisherman’s Camp on the edge of Lake Naivasha, about 100km west of Nairobi.

Lacking the focused energy of En Manu Kuoyo, the tracks are travelogue sound sketches that nevertheless capture Ogada’s mature gravelly voice at the height of its power. He is having fun with a good band. You hear his spoken sing-song commentaries, his nyatiti, Warren’s guitar, and the energy and ambient sounds of rural Kenya. For Ogada fans, it is a must have album.

But 22 years had passed since his first album. The music industry had completely changed, world music was a competitive jungle and Ogada’s fans had moved on.

Lacking a plan to capitalise on his name, to promote the album with a tour or to use modern social media to reach his global market, the Kodhi project made little impact.

In an ironic twist, the album’s marketers were unable to reach the same appreciative international audiences who came to his shows in their thousands and who built him up two decades before.

Ogada died as an elder, rooted in the place from whence his music came, distant and disconnected from the noise of the city, finally home.

In his journey to get back to his roots and focus on what he was looking for, he turned away from many of the distractions and tools of the modern music industry. Unencumbered with this gear, he was surer of himself than ever and closer to the instrument he loved.

The music he left with us remains mystical, other-worldly, timeless and deeply traditional. It is fitting that, when he died, the social media he ignored was flooded with appreciative votes of confidence from the very artistes whose path he has trailblazed. This is his legacy.

Mark Hankins is a writer and engineer who, as a singer-songwriter, is also known as Markus Kamau.

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Sordid tale of the bank ‘that would bribe God’

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Bank of Credit and Commerce International. August 1991. [File, Standard]

“This bank would bribe God.” These words of a former employee of the disgraced Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) sum up one of the most rotten global financial institutions.
BCCI pitched itself as a top bank for the Third World, but its spectacular collapse would reveal a web of transnational corruption and a playground for dictators, drug lords and terrorists.
It was one of the largest banks cutting across 69 countries and its aftermath would cause despair to innocent depositors, including Kenyans.
BCCI, which had $20 billion (Sh2.1 trillion in today’s exchange rate) assets globally, was revealed to have lost more than its entire capital.
The bank was founded in 1972 by the crafty Pakistani banker Agha Hasan Abedi.
He was loved in his homeland for his charitable acts but would go on to break every rule known to God and man.
In 1991, the Bank of England (BoE) froze its assets, citing large-scale fraud running for several years. This would see the bank cease operations in multiple countries. The Luxembourg-based BCCI was 77 per cent owned by the Gulf Emirate of Abu Dhabi.  
BoE investigations had unearthed laundering of drugs money, terrorism financing and the bank boasted of having high-profile customers such as Panama’s former strongman Manual Noriega as customers.
The Standard, quoting “highly placed” sources reported that Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Zayed Sultan would act as guarantor to protect the savings of Kenyan depositors.
The bank had five branches countrywide and panic had gripped depositors on the state of their money.
Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) would then move to appoint a manager to oversee the operations of the BCCI operations in Kenya.
It sent statements assuring depositors that their money was safe.
The Standard reported that the Sheikh would be approaching the Kenyan and other regional subsidiaries of the bank to urge them to maintain operations and assure them of his personal support.
It was said that contact between CBK and Abu Dhabi was “likely.”
This came as the British Ambassador to the UAE Graham Burton implored the gulf state to help compensate Britons, and the Indian government also took similar steps.
The collapse of BCCI was, however, not expect to badly hit the Kenyan banking system. This was during the sleazy 1990s when Kenya’s banking system was badly tested. It was the era of high graft and “political banks,” where the institutions fraudulently lent to firms belonging or connected to politicians, who were sometimes also shareholders.
And even though the impact was expected to be minimal, it was projected that a significant number of depositors would transfer funds from Asian and Arab banks to other local institutions.
“Confidence in Arab banking has taken a serious knock,” the “highly placed” source told The Standard.
BCCI didn’t go down without a fight. It accused the British government of a conspiracy to bring down the Pakistani-run bank.  The Sheikh was said to be furious and would later engage in a protracted legal battle with the British.
“It looks to us like a Western plot to eliminate a successful Muslim-run Third World Bank. We know that it often acted unethically. But that is no excuse for putting it out of business, especially as the Sultan of Abu Dhabi had agreed to a restructuring plan,” said a spokesperson for British Asians.
A CBK statement signed by then-Deputy Governor Wanjohi Murithi said it was keenly monitoring affairs of the mother bank and would go to lengths to protect Kenyan depositors.
“In this respect, the CBK has sought and obtained the assurance of the branch’s management that the interests of depositors are not put at risk by the difficulties facing the parent company and that the bank will meet any withdrawal instructions by depositors in the normal course of business,” said Mr Murithi.
CBK added that it had maintained surveillance of the local branch and was satisfied with its solvency and liquidity.
This was meant to stop Kenyans from making panic withdrawals.
For instance, armed policemen would be deployed at the bank’s Nairobi branch on Koinange Street after the bank had announced it would shut its Kenyan operations.
In Britain, thousands of businesses owned by British Asians were on the verge of financial ruin following the closure of BCCI.
Their firms held almost half of the 120,000 bank accounts registered with BCCI in Britain. 
The African Development Bank was also not spared from this mess, with the bulk of its funds deposited and BCCI and stood to lose every coin.
Criminal culture
In Britain, local authorities from Scotland to the Channel Islands are said to have lost over £100 million (Sh15.2 billion in today’s exchange rate).
The biggest puzzle remained how BCCI was allowed by BoE and other monetary regulation authorities globally to reach such levels of fraudulence.
This was despite the bank being under tight watch owing to the conviction of some of its executives on narcotics laundering charges in the US.
Coast politician, the late Shariff Nassir, would claim that five primary schools in Mombasa lost nearly Sh1 million and appealed to then Education Minister George Saitoti to help recover the savings. Then BoE Governor Robin Leigh-Pemberton condemned it as so deeply immersed in fraud that rescue or recovery – at least in Britain – was out of the question.
“The culture of the bank is criminal,” he said. The bank was revealed to have targeted the Third World and had created several “institutional devices” to promote its operations in developing countries.
These included the Third World Foundation for Social and Economic Studies, a British-registered charity.
“It allowed it to cultivate high-level contacts among international statesmen,” reported The Observer, a British newspaper.
BCCI also arranged an annual Third World lecture and a Third World prize endowment fund of about $10 million (Sh1 billion in today’s exchange rate).
Winners of the annual prize had included Nelson Mandela (1985), sir Bob Geldof (1986) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1989).
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Monitor water pumps remotely via your phone

Tracking and monitoring motor vehicles is not new to Kenyans. Competition to install affordable tracking devices is fierce but essential for fleet managers who receive reports online and track vehicles from the comfort of their desk.

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Agricultural Development Corporation Chief Accountant Gerald Karuga on the Spot Over Fraud –

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Gerald Karuga, the acting chief accountant at the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC), is on the spot over fraud in land dealings.

ADC was established in 1965 through an Act of Parliament Cap 346 to facilitate the land transfer programme from European settlers to locals after Kenya gained independence.

Karuga is under fire for allegedly aiding a former powerful permanent secretary in the KANU era Benjamin Kipkulei to deprive ADC beneficiaries of their land in Naivasha.

Kahawa Tungu understands that the aggrieved parties continue to protest the injustice and are now asking the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission (EACC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to probe Karuga.

A source who spoke to Weekly Citizen publication revealed that Managing Director Mohammed Dulle is also involved in the mess at ADC.

Read: Ministry of Agriculture Apologizes After Sending Out Tweets Portraying the President in bad light

Dulle is accused of sidelining a section of staffers in the parastatal.

The sources at ADC intimated that Karuga has been placed strategically at ADC to safeguard interests of many people who acquired the corporations’ land as “donations” from former President Daniel Arap Moi.

Despite working at ADC for many years Karuga has never been transferred, a trend that has raised eyebrows.

“Karuga has worked here for more than 30 years and unlike other senior officers in other parastatals who are transferred after promotion or moved to different ministries, for him, he has stuck here for all these years and we highly suspect that he is aiding people who were dished out with big chunks of land belonging to the corporation in different parts of the country,” said the source.

In the case of Karuga safeguarding Kipkulei’s interests, workers at the parastatals and the victims who claim to have lost their land in Naivasha revealed that during the Moi regime some senior officials used dubious means to register people as beneficiaries of land without their knowledge and later on colluded with rogue land officials at the Ministry of Lands to acquire title deeds in their names instead of those of the benefactors.

Read Also: Galana Kulalu Irrigation Scheme To Undergo Viability Test Before Being Privatised

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“We have information that Karuga has benefitted much from Kipkulei through helping him and this can be proved by the fact that since the matter of the Naivasha land began, he has been seen changing and buying high-end vehicles that many people of his rank in government can’t afford to buy or maintain,” the source added.

“He is even building a big apartment for rent in Ruiru town.”

The wealthy officer is valued at over Sh1.5 billion in prime properties and real estate.

Last month, more than 100 squatters caused scenes in Naivasha after raiding a private firm owned by Kipkulei.

The squatters, who claimed to have lived on the land for more than 40 years, were protesting take over of the land by a private developer who had allegedly bought the land from the former PS.

They pulled down a three-kilometre fence that the private developed had erected.

The squatters claimed that the former PS had not informed them that he had sold the land and that the developer was spraying harmful chemicals on the grass affecting their livestock and homes built on a section of the land.

Read Also: DP Ruto Wants NCPB And Other Agricultural Bodies Merged For Efficiency

Naivasha Deputy County Commissioner Kisilu Mutua later issued a statement warning the squatters against encroaching on Kipkuleir’s land.

“They are illegally invading private land. We shall not allow the rule of the jungle to take root,” warned Mutua.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee recently demanded to know identities of 10 faceless people who grabbed 30,350 acres of land belonging to the parastatal, exposing the rot at the corporation.

ADC Chairman Nick Salat, who doubles up as the KANU party Secretary-General, denied knowledge of the individuals and has asked DCI to probe the matter.

Email your news TIPS to [email protected] or WhatsApp +254708677607. You can also find us on Telegram through www.t.me/kahawatungu

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William Ruto eyes Raila Odinga Nyanza backyard

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Deputy President William Ruto will next month take his ‘hustler nation’ campaigns to his main rival, ODM leader Raila Odinga’s Nyanza backyard, in an escalation of the 2022 General Election competition.

Acrimonious fall-out

Development agenda

Won’t bear fruit

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