#2 Lele Ngoma Performance: The Songs

There’s a rattling of beats, a little sound check, the strumming of guitars and drum beats.

In the very words of a seasoned writer and a member of the band, Charles Bodo, the meanings and tales behind the songs are deep, beautiful and rousing. Nishafika is the tale of a person in thought waiting the return of a husband or wife. Chunya ool is a Luo phrase which means my heart tires. The actual story is a deeply desperate and sad cry: Our boat is sinking since you have stopped putting effort. Atimnade speaks the typical cry of a mortal to his Maker when he is at the end of the road: What do I do?Wakati wa jua (literally, time of/for the sun); as the water flows, flowers grow, life is a journey. Duara (literally, a circle) speaks of the world with its wiles, weight, beauty and people. Ni sawa translates to It’s Okay; saying, on whole, that a smile is enough to take us through everyday struggles. Another song says Mama don’t cry, your child is coming back. Nimwe tells us of a relationship on the rocks in need of, probable, salvation. Kimbia talks of escapism.

I particularly like Amini Jamani because it speaks of hope: it will be okay; you will achieve the dreams that started small. It is as if the song writer is pleading with someone to believe. Oimoree is a song describing the beauty of a sunset in the countryside. Oimoree means: Good evening. Tinde depicts a change in people or friends from playmates to snobbish personalities. Tinde ji olokore means that nowadays people have changed in the manner that women gossip.

Haye is a fictional story based on the 2007/2008 Post Election Violence in Kenya, but applies to any tragedy really. The crescendo and furious drumming are a direct hint of the fact. The narration captures the before when the prophets are killed, the during where there are clouds of smoke billowing and the free flow of blood, and the after which rides into the horizon – this is where the song starts. Mayo tells of the young persona’s desire to be free to pursure dreams that differ from the parents’ own. Mayo is a sort of cry or exclamation in Dholuo.

Wanipenda is a Swahili word which means you love me. On the whole, the song says: You have seen me at my worst yet you still love me. This last one is an old favourite and one of the first songs I heard performed by Lele Ngoma at a Poetry Spot event at the All Saints Cathedral. All week this week, Wanipenda has rung in my head. Just one line plays over and over: Wanipenda bila sababu. You love me without reason to.

Lele Ngoma does not just make music. Lele Ngoma tells stories about real people, what the feel, fear, struggle with and desire. This sort of art cannot be crowded into the simple description of creating a beautiful melody with a deep message attached, because even this would be the understatement of the century.


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