|Review by Bobastles Owino Nondi
Published January 10, 2008
Love, traditional family values, gender equity and the beauty and strength of the African woman are some of the themes running through Thim Lich, a 14-song album by Betty Achieng Majuek, better known as Iddi Achieng in music circles. BOBASTLES OWINO NONDI reviews this album that is introduced with a special prayer for the singer’s mother.
Thim Lich (scary wilderness or jungle) is a 14-track album performed predominantly in Dholuo but also has a sprinkling of a few in English, Kiswahili and Luganda by Betty Achieng Majuek, popularly known as Iddi Achieng in creative circles.
The social messages driven across in this album are drawn from folk-tales, contemporary life and lives of prominent personalities.
As influenced by the Islamic culture, Thim Lich begins with a prayer for the musician’s mother before it launches into the dreaded wilderness: “I pray to you, oh God. I humbly call on you, God, to bless my mother. I call on you to protect Dande’s daughter.”
To Achieng, the dreaded jungle she sings about is marriage. To go into marriage, women must leave their home of birth for that of their husbands.
In Thim Lich, Achieng puts herself into the shoes of a woman who instead, instead of marital bliss in her new home, finds that she must live with witches and sorcerers.
“If that is the jungle I must live in in order to be married of men then I decline to remain married,” she sings as she flees back to the familiar land of her mother and grandmother.
This message is pursued further into the second song whose title is a female name, Aloo, and which makes no sense at all in the song, where Achieng details her predicaments during her stint in marriage. Styled in traditional storytelling, Achieng explains how she runs away from her home of birth when her “head was only thinking of her man”, only to find that “these people eat cobras and pythons, and brew traditional liquor using dead human hands”.
“Please open for me, mama. Beasts want to feast on me. I am sorry I ran away from home. But now I am back. I have hidden through jungles full of hyenas. I could not stand what I have seen. I have never seen such level of witchcraft before.”
Achieng appears to give the genesis of her eloping in the third song, Switina (My Sweetheart), which is laden with sweet romantic vibes, where she equates her readiness for the man she loves to the fullness of a river that has broken its banks. “Can’t you see the river is overflowing” The rain has filled the earth. I am passing through mud and scary jungles just to reach you. Leopards are roaring. But I am coming. Come, my sweetheart. Come we go home. The home of Love ‘You are my all.’
Done in rhumba style, with elaborate yet singularly separated guitars, percussions and saxophone, Switina is an easy and danceable song for all times, places and people. And this is the beauty of Thim Lich – the ease with which all the messages are rendered, the relaxed pomp in the vocals and the choise of the words, blending mood and theme, and rich instrumentation which draws from the traditional Orutu, Nyatiti and Oporo.
This notwithstanding, the album apparently hints at borrowed lyrics, tunes and beats in songs such as Jakong’o, Switina, Dodo, Kamfube and Nyar Dande, although this is not acknowledged anywhere.
Achieng appears to be treading the love theme with a modicum enthusiasm, choosing to be brutally reckless on the negative and cautionary path.
In the seventh song, Hera Mudho (Love is blind), she sings:”Love is blind. Allow me to tell you. Everyone has someone. But at the same time love is deceitful. If you are not careful, it can lead you in the wrong direction.”
In what is unclear Hera Mudho is repeated as track 14, in what is intended to be the Kwaito version, yet there is no pronounced Kwaito in it and it is not any different from the first one. This makes the sleeve to have 14 tracks and CD reading to record 16 tracks, while in essence there are only 12 songs in the album.
The fourth song, Jakong’o (The drunkard), written by Nairobi City Ensemble, appears to be borrowed and forcibly placed into the Thim Lich album. Alcoholism is just mentioned in passing, with time and emphasis being placed on Mercy Myra’s Somo, a song that talks about men who, after getting the privilege to study abroad, renounce their backgrounds and settle abroad.
Dodo (dirge) pays homage to all women who have stood out in their respective fields. It is also a clarion call to all women to work smart in whatever field they work in.
In cheer song-like performance used in schools to encourage sportspeople, Achieng praises the strength and timeless beauty of an African woman. This is followed with a closer look at women of her native Sango village, Alego, in Nyanza province of western Kenya.
In Nyar Dande, Achieng narrows down to one important woman in her life, her mother: “How beautiful you are, mama” I am happy I am as beautiful as you are, mama, “my father’s darling.”
In Rieko en ngima (Knowledge is life), the singer urges the people of Nyanza province to embrace the Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) call to test for HIV/Aids in order to curb the spread of the pandemic.
“How come your husband has died of Aids yet you are negative? … That is the kind of knowledge we are talking about. Prevention is better than cure. If you know your status, you are likely to save your partner, save your children and secure their future,” she sings.
With such direct and heavy anti-AIDS messages, it is no wonder that the song was written by Raphael Tuju, the immediate former minister for Foreign Affairs in Kenya (2003-2007), who has been a long time crusader in the fight against HIV/Aids, and whose song, Say Yes for Children, co-written with Maurice Oyando, won an Emmy award in 2001.
Achieng also casts the spotlight on the blight of HIV/Aids in Africa in Wololoi: “Where will you run to, my children? Death has invaded our home, where will you hide? … Homes are empty all over. People have died all over, I cry for children.”
Born to be, as the title of the next song ought to suggest, inspires girls to strive for success in the society.
This is followed by Garang, a song dedicated to the late Dr. John Garang de Mabior, former leader of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Sudanese People’s Liberation Army and Vice-President of Sudan. It is done with John Kuduop Par, a Sudanese musician who plays reggae in what can be seen as an attempt to widen reach of the album and a desirable departure from the themes of love, death, women and children. It is also in this song that Achieng introduces English and Kiswahili into her album, with Southern Sudanese native languages.
Achieng who introduces herself in the album as Nyar gi Obama (Obama’s sister) in reference to the Illinois State (USA) Senator Barack Obama who is running for the White House and whose roots are in Alego as Achieng’s, also features Nairobi-based Uganda singer, Ambassada, in the song, Kamfube.
The second-last song, Wiwa Wil (We are forgetful), calls for the retention of traditional social values, indigenous foods and local languages. It is rather funny that Achieng condemns parents who don’t teach their children their native languages and traditions when her “brother”, Barack Obama, could hardly utter a word in Dholuo, their presumably common traditional language. Or could it be that Achieng was inspired to write this song by the fact that Obama came all the way to kiss his ancestral land in 2006 and struggled miserably to thank the natives who included his grandmother, in Dholuo saying, Erokamano (Thank You), for giving him a thunderous hero’s welcome?