By Wanjiru Koinange and Ogova Ondego
Published March 21, 2007
Eric Wainaina launched his second solo album, Twende Twende, with a bang on January 19, 2007 at Alliance Francaise Gardens in Nairobi, with the largest crowd ever for a local concert at the venue. More than seven hundred people started streaming in three hours ahead of the performance that was to begin at 7.30pm.
Backed by a seven-piece band, 33-year-old Wainaina who ventured into professional music business as a gospel artist in 1992, delivered a performance that kept his fans on their feet even after the last number. The performance of his well known and loved song, Daima (Kenya Only), was punctuated with a heavy downpour, at which point Wainaina asked his audience if they should end the performance. But the un-phazed crowd continued dancing and singing in the rain until the end of the show.
“This is the best performance I’ve been to in years. I didn’t even realise it was raining. Eric Wainaina has really outdone himself,” Wairimu Mwaura, a fan of Wainaina’s, commented.
Though cold and drenched with the women’s hair-do ruined in the rain, it was unanimously agreed that the concert was worth the while.
“It was an amazing experience playing for such a great audience and I would like to thank all those who came out for the show for making it such a success,” Wainaina said after his performance.
Wainaina’s band consisted of Henry Saha, Alan Kungu, Emmanuel Mkubwa, Isaac Mugunda, Rocky Bila, Otieno Wakake, Katana Garama, Carol Atemi Oyungu, Rachel Asiko, George Achieng and Alfie Gichuki.
Twende Twende, a 14-track album, is an array of various sounds with tracks written in Kiswahili, Dholuo, Gikuyu, English, Punjabi, ShEng, and Somali to reach the diverse nationalities of Kenya.
Twende Twende, the title track, delivered in Shona, English, Kiswahili and Gikuyu, is a duet with Zimbabwean musician Oliver Mtukudzi. The track is a wake up call to Africa to arise and change the sad state of affairs plaguing her sons and daughters; Africa need not be synonymous with poverty and war.
The songs are written in Wainaina’s characteristic style which tackles issues of social justice.
The song, Nani, Nani?, for instance, was written after Thomas Cholmondeley, a descendant of colonial British settler in Kenya, Lord Delamere, allegedly murdered Samson ole Sisina, a Kenya Wildlife Service game ranger, on the former’s farm. Startled by the proceedings of Chomondeley’s trial and the lack of justice that surrounded it, Wainaina wrote this song as a cry for justice for the victim and his family: Ni nani atakayepaza sauti ya haki? (Who will speak for justice?), Wainaina sings.
Dunia ina Mambo, on the other hand, addresses the issue of a perverted judicial system in Kenya that pardons ‘big’ criminals for embezzling the nation’s wealth but slaps severe jail sentences on poor souls who steal a loaf of bread for survival. Rich thieves not only go scot-free but also feast and dine with judges.
Wainaina’s album is rich in biblical imagery and symbolism. Like Old Testament prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah and New Testament apostles, Wainaina dissects society, as if he were a doctor whose knife’s kind cruelty must remove cancerous cells from the patient.
But this is not to say that Bible knowledge is necessary to understand Wainaina; only that such experience will certainly help the listener to appreciate the message fully.
Twende Twende, the lead track, is a prayer for Africa in which the singer stresses that without love Africa cannot move forward. The chorus of this song has the popular Kiswahili Christian chorus, Upendo wa Mungu ni wa ajabu, to it. Only that Wainaina has creatively re-done the part that goes: waweza kuenda juu, waweza kuenda mbele, upande upande kwa mataifa yote (God’s love is wonderful; it move upwards, downwards, and sideways to all nations) to sound new and more catchy.
Going back to the prophetic voice, Wainaina makes Satan to question St Peter in Dunia ina Mambo (the world is full of contradictions) why God’s righteous kingdom allows glaring contradictions on earth: religions are fanning hatred, thieves feasting with the chief justice while poor innocent souls rot in jail, and rich industrialised nations are enslaving the hapless poor ones.
The album ends with Wainaina’s popular single, Ukweli. This song was released in 2002 as a memorial to a Roman Catholic priest, Father Anthony Kaiser, who was believed to have been murdered on the Naivasha highway allegedly for trying to expose wrongdoing by powerful forces in Kenya.
I have prayed but you have refused to believe
I have sang but you have refused to listen
I have knocked but you have refused to open
Truth is eternal; you can’t deny it no matter what you do or say
In short, the message–like that of the prophet Jeremiah–is that your blood is upon your own head as you did not heed the warning of the watchman appointed by your creator!
Like the effective communicator that I think he is, Wainaina appears to understand that a message is best delivered in one’s vernacular or first language. Consequently, he has done songs in Dholuo, Punjabi, Gikuyu, ShEng, Kiswahili, and Somali to reach the people in the nook and cranny of Kenya. And the world.
But the Eric Wainaina of Twende Twende in 2007 appears to be more mature from the Wainaina whose Kenya Only endeared him to Kenyan authorities as he did the general populace in the face of the 1998 terrorist attack that snuffed life out of 200 people. A while later Wainaina riled the political elite with Nchi ya kitu kidogo (Kenya land of corruption) for condemning corruption that had taken root in the country. At a public function presided over by the education minister, a microphone was snatched from him before the public address was put off when he dared to perform the song.
But how things change. Barely four years later, in December 2006, President Mwai Kibaki honoured Wainaina with the Head of State Commendation for his commitment to social justice.
Now, at 33 and father to a daughter, Wainaina appears more experienced, wiser and a junior African elder who understands that he that fights and retreats lives to fight another day. Could this explain why he resorts to ‘made up language’ and ‘made up cry’ in a ’made up place and time’, to a ‘made up people’ in the lovely and memorable song, Dek! Dek! Dek!?
Wainaina says this song was inspired by the students’ uprising against Chinese communism in 1989. The demonstrations culminated in the now infamous Tiananmen Square massacre. But Wainaina could well be describing situations in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Zambia or even Kenya where autocratic regimes have in the past mauled their people down when they demanded freedom of association, assembly and choice.
Wainaina may have a prophetic and patriotic voice, but he also appears to be a human being with blood flowing through his veins. So he sings about filial and romantic love, colonialism, politics, and neo-colonialism.
Fungeni Macho, for example, is a tale of how Africa was blinded into giving colonialists the power they used to swindle her out of her resources and her potential. With political independence the people thought that they had been saved but neo-colonialism continue to enslave them through Harambee and Fuata Nyayo slogans.
Mabawa (wings in Kiswahili) is a song about lost love. This song was written in collaboration with Kanjii Mbugua.
Adhiambo, written entirely in Dholuo, tells the story of a man in love who wishes to marry his girl friend but is held back by the fact that he is from a different tribe. The song features John Were.
Jana ni jana (yesterday is in the past) urges people not to let their past mistakes stop them from realising their potential.
Ni kii kiega is a celebration of motherhood. The song pays tribute to one’s mother.
Subhaa, the 12th song on the album, praises the Asian woman.
Twende Twende, arguably one of the best albums in Kenya in a while, is by all means a masterpiece that could be used as a yardstick for raising standards of music in Kenya. But that is not to say the album is perfect. What it lacks in poetry-writing it makes up for musically.
“Twende Twende is worth the long wait. And what a way to launch it! Bravo Eric,” Chao Tolle, a presenter with Nairobi’s Capital FM, exclaimed after the album launch performance in January 2007.
Wainaina says Twende Twende is available at most music vendors in Kenya, ranging from the street vendor to major establishments like Nu-Metro Media Store, Press PLay, Sarit Centre, 20th Century, Uchumi supermarkets and also online on youtube.com.
With the recording and release of Twende Twende, Wainaina also appears to have come full circle. He is back to where he started with Five Alive: doing music with strong Christian messages.
And before I forget, another highlight of the evening on which the management of Alliance Francaise said Wainaina’s show “had pulled the largest crowd they had ever hosted for a local performance act”, was the stunning performance by up-and-coming musician Sarah Mitaru, backed by 2005 Kora Award winner Neema Ntalel and Wambu Mitaru, who graced the stage and moved the crowd to bits!