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For Juma Toto, music is life’s rhythm that must go on

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By AMOS NGAIRA
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Older music lovers in the country remember him best for a song he released in 1970 in praise of Kenya’s most popular football club, Gor Mahia.

The song, “FC Gor Mahia”, became a big hit across the East African region and helped announce the arrival of Juma Toto as a musician to reckon with.

Another notable song by Juma Toto is “Rose Jaber”, which he composed to eulogise his wife.

Several decades and many hit songs later, Juma Toto has seen it all, but he is not about to hang up his guitar and microphone. As he strolls down the streets of Nairobi today, the veteran musician, 70, goes largely unnoticed.

He is one of the few legends who made their name in the 1960s still alive, with a regular entertainment gig that pays his rent and meets his other financial needs.

He is in the league of other living legends like David Amunga, Shem Tube, John Nzenze, Fanuel Amimo and Peter Akhwabi.

Toto, together with Amunga, has been involved in fighting for musicians’ rights by pushing for payments of their royalties.

The song “FC Gor Mahia” had a danceable enchanting beat and alluring lyrics in praise of the star Gor Mahia players of the time. It was popular on radio and on the club circuit.

This week, the former Hodi Boys Band member paid a courtesy call on the Saturday Nation. For him, the music still goes on.

It has not been an easy journey, as he has had to cope with new challenges in the music scene. “But I am happy that things are going well now,” he said.

Today, he is the resident pianist at Nairobi’s Panari Hotel on Mombasa Road, where he entertains patrons in the evenings from Wednesday to Friday.

In most of his career, Toto has spent his time as a resident performer at one top hotel in Nairobi and Mombasa or another. He however sorely misses his favourite instrument, the guitar, which he began strumming from the late 1960s.

Coming from Nairobi’s Eastlands, it has been easy to maintain his fan base as many of the country’s top sports people — footballers, martial artists and artists — grew up in the area.

Juma Toto first arrived in Nairobi in 1966 from Gem, in Siaya County. At first, life in the city was not easy, but he quickly adapted to it.

He made his debut as a musician with Maishani Boys Band that was then based at Rwathia Bar in downtown Nairobi.

“Being my first band, I had to get used to singing in a blend of Kiswahili and English, having been used to only Dholuo, and to cope with my new colleagues,” he said.

Later, Toto joined Stereo Band that was then based at Small World Club, near Ambassadeur Hotel. The group also featured Pierre Zombie, Omondi Jerry and Kamanu.

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His breakthrough came in 1968 when singer and composer Gabriel Omollo, of the 1970s “Lunchtime” hit song fame, invited him to join his Blue Shades Band.

“Gabriel Omollo inspired me more during practice and live performances. He gave me exposure,” he said.

In June 1968, he joined then-star-studded Hodi Boys Band. The group featured saxophone player Geoffrey Ngao, Edward Nginyo, Henry Mbogo and Nicholas Ndungu.

Fadhili William recorded his world famous “Malaika” hit song with the group.

Inspired to record his own songs, Toto composed “Dorie Mama” and “Athieno Nyar Seme”, which were produced by seasoned engineer and producer Isaya Mwinamo at Philips Studio in Nairobi.

But his biggest moment came in 1970 when he released the song “FC Gor Mahia”. It not only received massive radio airplay, but became more of an anthem for the hordes of football fans across the country.

“To date, I still get my fans requesting me to play the song,” he said.

Following a rift in Hodi Boys, Toto left the group to team up with crooner and composer Ochieng Kabaselleh in 1972. They would later form Toddy Nationale Band.

Their cooperation was however short-lived, with Ochieng leaving some months later to form his Lunna Kidi Band.

The 1972-1975 period was the season of band splits and formations among musicians.

In 1974, another great, Steele Beauttah, invited Toto to join his session group and they performed in many places, including the Panafric Hotel.

This was the beginning of Toto’s association with upmarket hotels in Nairobi. He would team up with other musicians including John Nzenze and Peter Mzungu for oldies shows.

It was also around this time that he groomed a family friend and talented guitarist Okello Jose, who is today based in Australia.

Okello later joined Orch Les Kinois of Samba Mapangala before moving to Orchestre Super Mazembe of Longwa Didos and later on to the Ivory Band.

On the hotel front, Toto was the resident keyboard pianist at Sarova Stanley Hotel in Nairobi from 1980 to 1987.

In 1989, he was invited to become the resident pianist at the newly-opened Safari Park Hotel.

“Performing at hotels has given me international exposure,” he says.

In 1990, he was among the Kenyan artistes invited to London to take part in a music copyright training session.

From Safari Park Hotel, Toto moved to the Norfolk Hotel in 1993 as the resident pianist.

Due to requests from live music fans, Toto revived his Toddy International Band, which took part in a series of shows, initially in Nairobi, before they moved to Mombasa from 1995 to 1998. For Toto, music is the rhythm of life that must continue.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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