The years that precede being a teen are probably the most exhilarating and enjoyable in many respects.

Responsibility has not set in and all and sundry seem to be genuinely appreciating your very existence. The biological senses are fully alert and you are highly attuned to your surrounding environment, imbibing all its potentialities and expectations. You seem eager to try this and that as you begin your journey to make sense of why it is that you were destined to sojourn on this planet and why it is that you appear so special to those dear to you.

It is a wonderful period of self-discovery, social development and well-being.

I arrived at this phase in the mid 60s. I was fortunate to meet a unique vibrant group of youngsters some of whom have become my life-long friends and confidantes. Early among these was Peter Tsalwa, ‘Baron’ Wagema, Kamuro, Bramwell, Humphrey Munyendo, among many others. We bonded and spent quality time exploring the surroundings of our domiciles. We were energetic and very adventurous and doing the unthinkable, for instance going swimming in the then unpolluted River Sosiani. Before swimming we explored the innards fleshy wild cacti leaves. Someone told me that the guardian angel protects kids.

I firmly believe that.

James (now Jamal) Mwangi was older than most of us and could be quite a bully. He taught us how to invade the maize fields to chew on the fleshy stems of planted maize. We explored relationships and exchanged letters with girls that caught our fancy. Some fellow called Kiratu was jealous of my new bicycle that had attracted attention of the love of a fair lady known as Njeri. Since I did not heed his warning he waylaid me and punched me in the face! Simon is brother to the late Tito and Bramwell. We nicknamed him `Sikh Monde’ for it was said `alimonda njiwa’  (he slew pigeons). Where and when this heinous act was supposed to have been performed, I have no clue, but his nickname stuck.

In all we did we exercised took caution and cared for one another. As much as possible we avoided straying beyond the limits of the town. To the far west of our world was the Lutheran Church. Beyond this limit were sisal fields. You did not want to go beyond that limit. Stories were told how some unfortunate kids had been kidnapped to be slave workers in far off places such as Ziwa or even Tanganyika! My brother and I were once scared to the core when we were accosted by a pack of recently circumcised Kalenjin youth who had chalk painted all over. I furiously cycled back urging my brother to run for his dear life. I suspect part of my fear was the spanking that I would have earned from my mum if any ill had befallen my kid brother.

My family had moved from Fort Hall (now Murang’a) to Eldoret in then Uasin Gishu District after my dad took a gigantic leap of faith from the comfort of that the civil service offers to join the then Sirikwa County Council.

The K’Odero siblings included me as eldest son and young Ken, my 5-year younger follower. He had so much faith in me and would follow me everywhere. Together we embarked on a remarkable journey of unparalleled adventure and discovery. Those days we made all our toys ourselves. We loved puppies and I shall not forget when Baron presented me with some two puppies in exchange for my dad’s voluminous medical book that had horrible pictures of various genital malformations due to disease. Of course dad did not play ball with me and I had to return those gorgeous puppies and retrieve his horrible book!

Our residential house was near Kihuga Square in Eldoret West. The Square was a fascinating shopping that we loved being sent to and often bought mandazi and the brown `sukari nguru’. Our house was opposite the St. Patrick’s Primary School, at the end of a stretch of road that had African Primary Union School at the other end. It is there that my friend Tsalwa resided. His mother was close friend and confidante to my mum and most evenings they reciprocated visits. After cups of tea, they would slowly stroll up down the road escorting each other. As they reached one end, they would turn back, roles changed as the other now escorted the other. In the meantime they talked and talked endlessly. Peter and I marveled at that level of commitment to each other but often wondered what they talked about. We were convinced that they talked about our fathers, who were their husbands and who liked to drink beer into the wee hours of the morning (Tsalwa’s dad owned a shop in which he sold beer as an off-license. My dad owned Blue Bar). We did not mind since it provided us with opportunity to play with each other late into the night when their shunting of escorting each other ended.

Eldoret (64 as it was earlier known) was a wonderful place to be. The billboard welcoming one to the town declared that Eldoret had the best climate in the world. True to its settler ancestry, the town tended to be crowded to the brim during the working days as farmers came in to bring produce and purchase a variety of supplies for their farms. The nights were less crowded since the farmers receded back to their maize and wheat farms. Few nightclubs existed then for the employed populace. Among the most memorable is `Trocadero’ (that one of my friend’s mum’s friend referred to as `place of sin and loose women!) that marked the end of the eastern part of town, ‘Paradise’ and the notorious `Top Life’.

The town had no traffic to speak off since the major industries had not arrived. Rivatex, Raymond, Fine Spinners, etc. came much later. Eldoret (or Eldi as we fondly refer to it) was a melting pot of all manner of ethnic Kenyans; the Luhyia from Western Province, the Kikuyu from Mt. Kenya, and the sub-tribes of the Kalenjin from Marakwet, Kericho, Nandi, and the Luo of Nyanza you name it. We even boasted of a WaGisu who annually mounted spectacular circumcision parades. 

The town had a sizable Asian and European community who took advantage of the excellent private schools available such as Hill School (my alma mater), Kaptagat Preparatory (where Prince Mutebi, later Kabaka of the Kingdom of Buganda was educated). The nearby town of Kitale in Tranzoia offered Manor House and Kitale Primary where the rugby maestro duo brothers Walter and Jack Omaido went to school. The crème de la crème of the society often met at Eldoret Club or at the Uasin Gishu Arts Theatre. The town boasted of a weekly newsletter known as the `Uasin Gishu Weekly Advertiser’ published every Thursday and delivered free of charge to business premises. Eldoret West is also the home the setting of `Mungu Nasi (God with Us) Reformed Church of East Africa that President DeKlerk visited not long before he passed on the reigns to Madiba. We were fascinated by this Church not so much for its spiritual mandate, but due for other reasons. Up there, in the recesses of the bell tower was the nesting place of a ghoulish owl.

Being soon after independence, the town was `demarcated’ based on racial affiliations. The whites and those that were affluent lived in Elgon View; the Asians herded together in West Indies and the black population tended to live in the sprawling Eldoret West where estates such Kidiwa, Kilimani, Kapsuswa (formerly horse stables and a den of illicit Chang’aa) and Macharia (where a man kept a monkey for months on a long leash) were established. Kamkunji is where we buried our dead but it offered cheap accommodation for many. The other such place was Shauri Yako where even the brave dared not go. In those days, we would frequent social halls to watch TV (popular to residents of West were Steven Kikumu and Norbert Okare who made news-reading an art).  The adjacent fields were available for the common folk to enjoy open-air cinemas brought once a month by Factual Films of Kenya. These open-air theatres were places of encounters of various kinds: violence, romance – You name it!    

As time progressed, and the African middle class grew, they isolated themselves and began enjoying weekends, having nyama choma feasts and playing snooker at Wagon Wheel Hotel, Soy Club, Kaptagat Hotel, Lincoln Hotel, to name but a few.  Eldoret was as cosmopolitan as can be and elected its first mayor, a Luo named Alex Oloo who has since been honoured by having a road named after him. Eldi was the home of an international boxer named Alex Oundo who was later murdered in suspicious circumstances outside Union School adjacent to Kilimani Estate. We were most traumatized since we had never ever heard of a murder in Eldoret and did not attend class the whole day as we awaited his remains to be removed from under the tree where he lay covered by a black blanket. Crime had arrived in our town.

As we grew older we were soon to discover another pastime. The wonder of fiction as exemplarily presented by a Drum publication under the title of `African Film’. It is through this magazine that we met one Lance Spearman, who smoked cigars known as El Cheroot. He wore a bow tie and was a personification of the African James Bond. He could unleash deadly sidekicks to his foes often accompanied by the words `Take that you rat!’ He had a beautiful genial concubine known as Sonia. Spearman was the good guy and fought a horrible creature of a man known as Rabon Zollo who had been declared Public Enemy Number One. And why not? The fellow would come up with terrible plans of poisoning the city’s water supply. The publication was soon followed by `Boom’ which starred a burly character known as Fearless Fang and who rode a wild elephant. He personified the African Tarzan.

It was during these times that we began appreciating music, beginning with much earlier music of George Mukabi, Equator Sounds, and John Mwale etc. White haired Daudi Kabaka frequently came to do shows at the Social Hall and we loved his composition of a song about some ageing beauty that had subbed him and refused to be married, probably due to his lowly education. I later learnt that the song was a real life experience and was about a famous long-serving respected Principal of a girl’s high school in western province!

Music is a curious experience since it has a way of locking you down to a particular period of your life. 

What do I mean? 

Well, those who were passionate about Skeeter Davis or James Travis Reeves or even Dolly Parton find it very difficult to distance themselves from that music in the years to come. It is so with the followers of Franco. You may change or update your dressing, the vehicle that you drive, the accent that you adopt etc. but the songs you sing as you shower in the morning betray your place in the chronological time of music. You are caught up in a time warp.

In our youthful years we found ourselves swept by with the music of Jim Reeves, especially his memorable song `This World is Not My Home’. The song floored us especially after we got to know that it was considered prophetic since Jim Reeves died soon after releasing that song. His plane smashed a side of a mountain. Our generation and that of our parents wept openly. Never had I seen so much pain in the eyes of those around me. It was almost a replay of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. That one song has lived in our hearts forever.

Bit by bit, we began listening to music. We developed a habit of capturing the words of the music we loved in written form in exercise books. These books were regularly exchanged among our friends, especially girlfriends.

Then he arrived.

He took Eldi by storm, electrifying the town and quickly became the town’s celebrity due to his original composition. That one song took us higher and higher to echelons we had never soared. It was a catchy gospel named `Ring Number Nine’. The lyrics of the chorus went something like this:

We’ll sing Halleluiah on the streets of God
Never and never to suffer any more 
But make sure you’ll be with us on that day
Just go there and ring number nine…

The composer was a very handsome man, who sported parting of hair on the left of his head that we referred to as `Lori’. He was passionate about music and carried a box guitar wherever he went. The man also had an eye for the very beautiful of the species. 

That is how we came to meet Mwalimu Kenneth Owuor. 

You see, Kenneth (now Rev.) is the son of Rev. Isaya Owuor of Kima, Bunyore. He moved to Eldoret in 1965 and worked as a music teacher at the then Highlands Girls School (now Moi Girls) and at the Reformed Church. Dr. Joyce Nyairo has done an excellent piece that captures the achievements of this musical genius:…

Nyairo has this to say of Ring Number Nine: It `is our first example of a crossover gospel tune that left the hallowed walls of worship on Sunday mornings and entered our living rooms on week days via radio and television becoming a pop anthem. Children in the mtaa playfields sang along unperturbed by its message of life after death. Owuor edged out local pop sensations like The Scorpions with Henry Braganza and The Vikings with their Karibuni. That was in 1968. He was tireless in his work with local choirs and youth conventions. When the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) advertised for a person with knowledge of music to start their music department, Owuor left Eldoret to take up the job in Nairobi’. 

Indeed, Owuor left an indelible mark in our lives as genuine musical star that was so close to us. Joyce informs me that Owuor made a reissue of `Ring Number Nine’ song in a 2013 album. I need to listen to it to see if it still retains the magic. I recently phoned Rev. Owuor (courtesy of a number provided to me by Joyce) to ask for his e-mail address. The man shocked me for he said he remembered me, and that he knew my dad (the pharmacist) and my mum (my father’s Kamba wife)! He has invited me to Kima to visit with him. I have asked my long-time friend, Rev. Enoch Opuka to accompany me.

The second song that captured my fancy is none other than `Harusi’ by produced in the 1970s, by Patrick Balisidya and the Afro 70 Band. Legendary Voice of Kenya (VOK) now Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) presenter Leonard Mambo Mbotela would wake us every so often with the song. 

BBC has captured Balisidya’s life-long contribution and report of his demise and internment aptly in:

Harusi – meaning wedding – is one of Balisidya’s most popular songs. The lyrics tell new partners in marriage to be humble and generous in their new home, to respect their parents and to teach their children manners. Nowadays there is almost no wedding reception in Tanzania that does not play the song. I loved the song so much that I vowed to have it played at my wedding. The words go so:

Kuoana ni jambo la sifa

Na tena ni jambo la fahari kubwa

Katika historia ya binadamu

Ni shangwe isiyo kifani

Kwa watu wawili waliopendana

Kuoana kabla ndoa kamili

Hivi leo Janao na Saida

Mnaoana mkumbuke ni wazi

Mmetimiza hadi yenu kwa Mungu

Harusi mliyofanya

Ni kiapo kitakacho wahukumu 

Mara mtakapo jaribu kutengana

Tahadhari yoyote

Kaeni kwa amani nawausia

Mpaka kifo kije kiwatenganishe

Mwenyezi Mungu awajalie

Janao na Saida

Wakaishi vizuri nyumbani mwao

Ahsante Mungu

Tahadhari yoyote

Kaeni kwa amani nawausia

Mpaka kifo kije kiwatenganishe 

Jaribuni kuwaepuka marafiki wabaya

Kwani huenda wakaipotosha ndoa yenu



Wakumbukeni wazazi wenu wa pande zote

Watapopatwa na shida yoyote ile


Mtapata baraka

Kueni wakarimu wakubwa nyumbani mwenu

Tena muwe wacheshi kwa kila mtu

Ni sifa kubwa


Kueni na moyo wa mapenzi kwa kila mtu

Mzaapo watoto wenu muwatunze vyema

Wawe na adabu

Na heshima nyingi

Hivo hivo ishi

Wazazi wetu

Kueni wakarimu wakubwa nyumbani mwenu

Tena muwe wacheshi kwa kila mtu


Kueni na Moyo wa mapenzi kwa kila mtu

Mzaapo watoto wenu muwatunze vyema

Wawe na adabu

Na heshima nyingi

Hivo hivo ishi

What profound wisdom in those words!

Much later a Lecturer from the University of Nairobi unleashed ‘Marry Me’ in April 1983. Catherine Ndonye reports that: `Very few artists in history have been able to record a song that resonates through several generations and retains the appeal that it had when first released. In Kenya, Waigwa Wachira’s song ‘Marry Me’ is undoubtedly a classic that continues to touch the hearts of music fans of different ages, more than 3 decades since it was released (…). 

Ndonye says `Waigwa Wachira became a household name in Kenya in April 1983 when his single ‘Marry Me’ became the No.1 song in the country. As Waigwa liked to say: “I am the one who knocked `Sexual Healing’ by Marvin Gaye off the top of the local charts.” Sample the video version here:

VOK radio played the song virtually all day long, on the most popular music shows, from `Breakfast Club’ to `Housewives Choice’, `Sundowner’ to `Late Date’ and even the request programme `Yours for the Asking’. It just seemed like listeners could not get enough of ‘Marry Me’. The Lyrics go as follows:

If I live a hundred years, 

there will be no tears

Coz I will be having waking hours

With a bunch of flowers

In your waking hours

I will be there to keep you away from pain

In the sun and rain

And I will close my eyes

And say a prayer for you

And each day bring you 

Ecstasy endlessly

Ecstasy endlessly

And each day bring you

Ecstasy endlessly

So Darling won’t you marry me

And carry me

Across the seat of the starry skies

And to paradise

Won’t you marry me

And carry me

Across the seat of the starry skies

And to paradise

Do you take him

To be your lawful wedded husband

To love, to cherish and to hold

(I do)

And do you take her

To be your lawful wedded wife

To love, to cherish and to hold

(I do)

So let us close our eyes and say


His voice and melody did the rest!

I have said it. The songs that captured your fancy and imagination during those formative years largely determine your chronological place in the history of music. It does not matter how you metamorphose and upgrade later in life. The songs that you loved and danced to define you and you are damned to continue singing or whistling to them every day, especially when your mood is up. You are fixed by that music to a definite place in the chronology for the rest of your life. 

I know I am caught up in a musical time warp. I am not afraid to admit so.
You now know of mine.
What about you? Where do you get caught up?

(I acknowledge Steenie Njoroge ( for background research and illustrations).

Leave a Comment on A tale of 3 songs

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *