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Remmy Ongala was a symbol of musical, social change activism

Remmy Ongala was a symbol of musical, social change activism
  • It was a win for Remmy Ongala ‘Sura Mbaya,’ whose song ‘Narudi Nyumbani’ is the object of fascination today.
  • Ongala reminds his audience of the things the sages say about home – home never rejected anyone.
  • I have read allegations that Narudi Nyumbani was Ongala’s implicit appeal to African in diaspora to return home.

Something unexpected happened in 2016. The then 75-year-old rock music legend, Bob Dylan, won the Nobel Prize for Literature. This was a happening that, in street parlance, left tongues wagging.

Two literary factions emerged. One of the factions saluted the wisdom that informed the decision of the Swedish Academy to, thanks to the award, remind all and sundry that music is as poetic as poetry is musical.

The others condemned the decision and argued that unlike other literary genres, literary theorists cannot use the literary tools at their disposal to analyse a piece of music.

Any good debater (read writer) will tell you that there comes a time when not everyone can have a chance to have their say on an issue. Such was the case then. A few literature enthusiasts had a chance to write in these pages to share their thoughts on this unprecedented occurrence.

Granted a chance, I would have lauded the decision. In fact, I would have explained to the dissenting voices that the literary win was not strictly Dylan’s.

SYMBILISM

It was, by extension, a win for all the folk poets. It was a win for benga maestro D.O. Misiani, whose mastery of symbolism remains unparalleled in the history of Luo music to date.

It was a win for Remmy Ongala ‘Sura Mbaya,’ whose song ‘Narudi Nyumbani’ is the object of fascination today. In this composition, Ongala declares that he has given up on life in Dar es Salaam. He says that life in Dar es Salaam is no child’s play. He goes on to announce his resolve to return to his rural home.

Ongala reminds his audience of the things the sages say about home – home never rejected anyone. He says that he has decided to return to his hometown, Songea, to reconnect with his elders and parents. He also talks of the delicious traditional cuisines that await him. His tone has traces of both pride and melancholy.

When I listen to the song, my feelings shuttle between joy and sadness. I empathise with him but also find the lace of pride in his tone contagious.

I have searched for the hidden meaning of this song. Apart from groping around for an interpretation, I have sought to demystify Remmy Ongala.

DIASPORA

I have read allegations that Narudi Nyumbani was Ongala’s implicit appeal to African in diaspora to return home. Others opine that the song was his attempt to help contain the obsession of the masses with rural-urban migration in post-independence Tanzania. Whether these analyses are right or wrong is inconsequential.

What appeals to me in Narudi Nyumbani is the extent to which it resonates with our present situation. The ever ballooning urban population, the housing crisis, the urbanite youth disillusionment and the alarming rise in crime in our cities and major towns can hypothetically be cited as some of the consequences of unchecked rural-urban migration.

Any keen observer would marvel at how attached Kenyans have become to urban life. Few are willing to return to the villages. Many lack Ongala’s audacity and boldness to concede that the cost of living has skyrocketed so much that it was time they returned to the villages. This is a reminder of the unexploited economic opportunities awaiting discovery.

Not even devolution has motivated urbanites to consider retreating to the rural parts of Kenya.

DEVOLUTION

What our nation needs are convincing reasons that will lure the youth back to the rural areas. This is the reason devolution must work. We must have tarmacked roads, electricity, good healthcare, reliable communication networks, first rate schools, world class recreational facilities across the country. Above all, we need employment opportunities.

Make rural Kenya as attractive to the youth as the towns and cities presently are.

No youth should ever turn their backs on their beautiful culture, people and cuisines. And when the moment comes, our musicians must compose appealing lyrics with which they will enlighten the youth on the need to return to the villages and lead a socio-economic renaissance.