The Kenyan music industry is mourning the death of legendary singer Gabriel Omollo.
Mr Omollo, who had been unwell for a long time, died of lung complications at Busia County Referral hospital on Wednesday night.
The musician, who in 1976 got a Golden Disk Award for the sale of 150,000 records of his hit song, 'Lunch Time,' died aged 80.
The song remains a classic, dominating airwaves in Kenya and African capitals including Harare, Lagos, Accra, Dar es Salaam, Kampala and Kinshasha.
“That guy was a real hit maker. I have listened to that iconic song in a bar in Harare and done encores,” said veteran journalist Washington Akumu.
Omollo was eulogised even by top Government officials and ordinary music lovers alike as news of his death spread.
In his condolence message to Omollo’s widow, Alice Adeya, and his family, Sports, Culture and Arts Cabinet Secretary Hassan Wario said: “We at the ministry are proud that Omollo helped bring home the concept of creative economy way back in 1974, when he became the first Kenyan musician to be awarded an international gold disc for his hit single, 'Lunch Time,' which sold over 150,000 copies in eastern and western Africa."
Principal Secretary Joe Okudo said: “Gabby Omollo is a fitting reminder for Kenya of the enviable days when musicians genuinely lived off their sweat and piracy was virtually unheard of. The enduring appeal of mzee Omollo can only mean that he sang from his heart."
In an interview in 2009, Omollo revealed that observations of life around him inspired his music, including 'Lunch Time,' which he wrote after observing panel beaters in Industrial Area.
“I used to observe the mannerisms of workers. We used to eat 'nyoyo' with porridge. I used to go to Jevanjee Gardens and observe people lying in the park during lunch time. However, at the end of the month they would disappear to big hotels,” said the benga legend who played with greats such as Fadhili Williams, Fundi Konde and Daudi Kabaka at the Equator Sound Studio.
While at Equator Sounds, Omollo also played and recorded for Ochieng’ Kabaselleh.
His very first recording was 'Maro Oketho Ugunja' in early 1969. Other songs included 'Argwings Hero National' following the assassination of the first Gem MP and first ever Kenyan lawyer Argwings Kodhek in 1969.
He also sang 'Tom Mboya' after the assassination of the former Planning minister in Jomo Kenyatta’s administration.
Another successful single was 'Kupe,' which depicted the behaviour of workers who left their jackets on their office chairs while attending to their personal businesses only to come back at the end of the work day.
He finally formed his own band, Apollo Komesha, in 1971 after a European friend from the Phonogram recording label asked him to start his own studio. It collapsed when his equipment was stolen.
Prior to his death, Omollo and his band recorded 20 singles for Phonogram, with a total sales of 500,000 copies from 'Lunch Time,' released 40 years ago. A cross-section of fans termed his death a big blow to the industry.
“It is a great blow to the creative industry. His tunes were full of social messages that still ring in our minds to date,” said Ken Wakia, a musicologist and founder director of the Nairobi Chamber Chorus.
Producer Tabu Osusa, who has worked with Benga musicians, termed Omollo an icon and a pillar of Kenyan music.
“He was an all-round musician who could sing and play instruments. But most importantly, he was a social commentator whose music reflected issues of the day,” said the Ketebul director, who rearranged and remixed 'Lunch Time' with the late Poxi Pressure, under the Nairobi City Ensemble banner 10 years ago.
[George Orido, Isiah Gwengi and Carol Nyanga]