By: MAINA WA MUTONYA
The recent death of Murimi wa Kahalf (Sammy Murimi Nderi) who shot to fame with his bestselling song, ‘Ino ni Momo’ was as unexpected as it was untimely.
As if to mock him, his death coincided with an upsurge of violence against men, especially in Nyeri.
Murimi’s Momo is a man’s lament over an overbearing woman. The male protagonist in the song complains of ‘enslavement’ to his gigantic spouse.
In recent times, this theme of love, or lack of it, has been presented in popular Gikyu music.
Wa Kahalf died almost exactly five years after the demise of female artist Queen Jane, a strong defender of women in her songs.
The myth of origin and history of the Kikuyu is replete with tensions in gender relations. At some point, the community was under a matriarchal system, but due to alleged harsh rule by women, men revolted and replaced it with a patriarchal system.
But, according to scholars, there was a compromise and the clan titles now retain female names.
Many of the recent Kikuyu popular songs point to the intricate power play in relationships.
In their ‘wise’ counsel, elders would carefully harp on the different stereotypes of women from Muranga, Kiambu or Nyeri; praising the subservient Murang’a woman while ridiculing her abrasive counterpart from Nyeri.
In the literary scene, gun-wielding Jacinta Wariinga’s heroics in splintering the kneecaps of Kihaahu and Gitutu in Ngugi wa Thiongo’s Caaitani Mutharabaini well captures the dynamics of the representation of the female figure among the Gikuyu people.
In the years before the repeal of Section 2A, most musicians embraced the romance theme to avoid the hawkish eye of the government censor.
In the early 1990s, and years before that, love songs like ‘Mariru’, and ‘Gacheri Muiritu wa Kabete’, ruled the airwaves.
Even when the indefatigable Queen Jane sang about ‘Arume Majini’ (men are ghosts), and ‘Arume ni Nyamu’ (men are beasts), most of the songs, if not glorifying love, would comment on marital problems.
In the late 1990s into the 2000s, the delicate power relations are encapsulated in songs like’ Mama Kiwinya’, (Sam Muraya) ‘Nyina wa Turera’ (Joseph Kariuki) or ‘Nyina wa Njoro’ (Maina wa Nyaguthii), that scathingly attack older women who find comfort in young men.
With the re-invention of the Kamweretho tradition, the Kikuyu woman in the 2000s is carving her niche, when her opposite number, the man, is drowning in illicit brews.
Interestingly, the late Murimi also dabbled in the illicit brew theme that is occasioning this domestic violence due to the fact that the bottle-hitting man has abandoned all his duties and responsibilities in the house.
His song, ‘Nduta Roko’ (a famous idiom in Central Kenya), talks of drunkards who overcome hangovers by imbibing more alcohol in the morning-after, thus maintaining the drunken stupor and cycle.
Songs like ‘Momo’, ‘Mwendwa OCS’ and ‘Bibi Number 2’ best capture the image of an empowered woman.
Franco wa Subukia’s ‘Mwendwa OCS’ is a candid portrayal of the domestic violence experienced these days. His girlfriend is an police OCS who easily cocks her gun ready to shoot him whenever he threatens to leave. The second wife gives the protagonist some solace. Is he asking for honest polygamy instead of disappearing into a mpango ya kando?
From the foregoing, and with the grim statistics of domestic violence, Muriithi John Walker would be forced to revise his song, ‘Uhiki wi Murio’ (marriage is sweet).
This is the debate that a single hit like Momo has elicited. Murimi’s interesting take on relationships is one that will be remembered for a long time, as is evident from the appropriation of his metaphor momo in everyday parlance.