We enjoy living in the moment, seizing each new day as if it were the second chance we were hoping for. We love going with the trends, regardless of the fact that we depreciate our authenticity by doing so. We are quick to appreciate what is foreign and delight in being associated with what we are not necessarily familiar with. This is the only possible answer I can offer for just how easy it is for someone to be forgotten, unknown or considered unimportant.
We have just witnessed the passing of a local music icon who had a great impact not only on the local music scene but also internationally. His name is Ayub Ogada. Yet most of us seem to have heard of him only after he seized to exist. How easy it is to live your entire life in darkness when you have no knowledge of the light. However sad and humiliating it is for us not to recognise our own, homegrown talents, it seems that this is a “trend” that is not about to end.
Why do we often undervalue local talent?
It is difficult to understand why this is the case, especially in the arts. Is it that, as Africans, we are still operating with the brainwashed mentality that we are not good enough? Could it be that we are not equipped with the required insight and appreciation to celebrate talented local individuals? Or could it be that we have that “pick and drop” gutter mentality that is quick to dismiss the chipped diamond, regardless of the worth it has, in favour of the brand-new one?
Job Seda, better known as Ayub Ogada, was authentic in his music style and true to his roots. He had a passion for music and his delivery was accompanied by his eloquent mastery of the nyatiti, a music instrument common to the Luo people of Kenya. He was known to the world and inspired a number of musicians both at home in Kenya and overseas as well.
Our history as Africans positions music as a very important part of our culture. Regardless of tribe or community, music was commonplace at worship, praise, work and as a pastime. We know that even during the slave trade music was the slaves’ escape from what they were going through. How, then, can something engraved on our very backbone become something that we are not quick to celebrate?
The singing of stories
When one listens to Ogada’s music, one thing stands out: They are sung stories; remarkable stories that are common to my father’s generation. Stories that define a culture, stories that are quickly being changed by modernity, stories that will soon become alien to the next generation. Or do you disagree? If we compare Ogada’s music to the emerging talents in music, there is one significant difference: the delivery and the message.
Ogada was known for his simplicity. For example, his album En mana kwuoyo was not recorded in a studio. He called a guitarist and a percussionist and then performed an outdoor concert. Three days later the album was complete. These days, most musicians do nearly everything in the studio. There is nothing wrong with that; technology has made it possible and easier.
I may appear to be making an argument about the generational impact of music, but that is not my main point. I am trying to understand why, after reaching remarkable heights in the arts industry, so many are quickly forgotten, especially by their own people. There are a number of people to blame, right? The government, the public, the private sector, the fans, the non-fans, the economy, the environment … Right?
In my opinion, a combination of factors contributes to this trend – and some factors more than others. Firstly, however disappointing this truth is, art and talent is not valued as much at home as it is overseas. Ogada is but one example of a man whose talent was appreciated more internationally. Even though he inspired a number of local artists, his impact was felt further afield.
Even though Ogada inspired a number of local artists, his impact was felt further afield.
Secondly, we should consider the role government plays – or, rather, does not play – in this. Often this is our go-to reason when we realise that there is something wrong: “Government did this, government did not do that.” Music is a multi-million-dollar industry and it is only recently that a national music policy was introduced. How could we expect the arts to be taken seriously when the country’s parent – government – had not even catered for it in its house rules and regulations?
Could it perhaps be the change in times, what with all the new and different media and generational drift, that made Ogada’s name and then equally hushed it at home? He was a well-known name to my father, a familiar voice, yet he will probably be unknown to my children. The music my father listened to is familiar to me and has had an impact on what I now listen to myself; however, it is not the same music. Similarly, I can rest assured that my children will know my music but will not prefer the exact same type of music moving forward. Every generation has its stars and it is these stars who influence the next generation’s stars, and so on.
Ogada has left a legacy, there is no doubt about that. For most, it is only after his death that they have come to know him. But that will not dull his shine. Whether he was known or unknown, here is one person who lived his life and lived it by following his heart, which is not something everyone can say. His candle has not burnt out; it has only dimmed and will live on for years to come. Rest in peace, Ayub Ogada.