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poster titled songs of sikhebo with image of boys in traditional regalia and fuscha tone

Tunes of life: Sikhebo songs before and after COVID-19

Mirror, mirror, on the wall. Who is the fairest of them all? The language of music is the fairest and the most unifying of all. As with sikhebo songs, which even as they morph with the times, continue to relate social gossip, news and political commentary whose net effect is to bring us together in commemoration and celebration.

Most of the music that’s part of the cacophony of sounds of Bungoma emanates from our rich ritual culture. Songs on khukhwikula bukhwana, sikhebo or lukembe, sitiso, chinyinja or siliko, khukhala kimikoye, and euyo may be receding into the dim past drowned by gengetone, rhumba and reggae tunes; but they refuse to die. Their elements resurfacing as worship or celebratory tunes.

The drumbeat. The flute. The dance style. The traditional harp, litungu, even when computer generated are there – not surviving, but thriving. People may distance themselves from a culture that is thought to be moribund but when they open their mouths to sing or sway the shoulders at parties, the unmistakable imprint of Bukusu Culture reigns.

This year will go down as a year without the latest sikhebo songs (This article was written before the emergence of the sikhebo song “one meter” inspired by the times where social distancing was encouraged to stem the spread of coronavirus.) Year in and out anonymous composers belt out songs of jest. Since the composing is done in darkness –shunned by popular media — the compositions take on a whole new life almost immediately.

Songs of sikhebo a short anthology

Such that the new song gets oft repeated in subsequent ceremonies but each time with a new flair and verve. Take, for instance, “Amba Mutalia” or “Amba Mutalya“, a song of victory sang by Second World War returnees. It took on a renewed lyrical frame after the electoral violence of 1992 when boys from Chesikaki, Namwela and Kimabole performed it in prolonged chants that told of the troubled lives of their compatriot up on the slopes of Mount Masaba.

In 1994, Mulongo emerged from the blues. And before a hen swallowed a millet grain it was being performed at Christian weddings without the sanction of the synod! Forcible inculturation? “Wumbolela sss” was the chartbuster that recounted the rich heritage of a people who had refused to kowtow to the political axis of evil that terrorized child and adult alike.

One would have wished that circumcision comes fast, on the foothills of Mt. Elgon for enduring art to prosper. In the meantime we shall make do with the conscious lyrics of Wanyonyi Kakai. This music is not necessarily suited for mammoth crowd dance; it bodes well on the sides of the beer pot where, thoughtful indabas/ekokwa are conducted.

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