Musaimo: From stone mason to hitmaker
Simon Kihara aka Musaimo Wa Njeri

Unlike many local artistes, Simon Kihara, popularly known as Musaimo Wa Njeri has remained consistent for the last three decades.

For the better part of the 1980s Musaimo’s super vocals were a signature tune in most music stores and in the only broadcasting station VOK (now KBC). He recorded nearly 200 songs and etched his status as a Kikuyu music legend who touched many East Africans’ hearts with his high definition classic hits such as My Dear Kwaheri.

Although the younger generation may not be familiar with him, those who grew up in the 80s will recall that he was a force to reckon with as far as Kikuyu classic music goes.

In fact it was impossible to mention the local music scene without mentioning his name. No wonder most of his popular hits, including My Dear Kwaheri, Chai wa 14 and Kanyenya–Ini, among others, were synonymous with local charts on KBC radio and television shows.

But despite his immense success Musaimo has kept a low profile leading some to suggest he may have quit music for another career.

The musician agrees not have everything smooth sailing in the recent past. He says unlike in the past when music production was easy considering the wide use of cassettes, today, things have become complex with advanced technology and one has to spend more money to come up with the right product.

But that is not the reason for his ‘silence’. “Those who have been keenly following my career will have not been entirely out of the business.”

The singer whose dream was to be an architect, has released new songs including Chugio ni Maisha which boasts a country music flavour and the monster hit Mwigerekanio done using a heavy rhythmic bass guitar lead similar to those of the 90s. The songs have been well received by his fans.

“Music is a journey. One that requires patience, perseverance, hard work and determination in order to succeed,” says Musaimo, adding there are more surprises in store for his fans.

Indeed the musician who bares ambition as his middle name is determined to succeed where his predecessors failed.

“There’s no giving up in doing what you love and enjoy the most. The fact that I am able to keep my fans entertained, educated and informed through my music is good enough.”

As a boy growing up in Kangema, Muranga County, Musaimo was inspired by music legends like Mbaraka Mwinshehe of Tanzania, Dr Nico of Congo and fellow Kikuyu musician DK Kamau. “I yearned to sing like them,” he recalls.

As a youth in 1979, Musaimo campaigned for the late minister John Michuki who in turn gave him Sh5000, which he used to pay his school fees.

Upon completing high school, Musaimo worked as a casual labourer and stonemason like his father. During the time he saved every cent earned.

During his free time, he composed songs assisted by a friend, Mwalimu wa Gatanga.

In 1981 the two recorded their first song Njungi ya Kiruka based on ugly looks – the song however, did not do well.

Musaimo never gave up on his dreams and continued composing songs, like My Dear kwaheri which he sang casually at his house in Dandora. Friends who heard him sing convinced a popular music producer Waweru wa Maingi to assist Musaimo with recording.

And as fate would had it, it became an instant hit. The song’s success gave Musaimo access to Kikuyu musical giants like Joseph Kamaru from whom he learned the art of band organisation.

Musaimo owes the song’s fame to musical experience he studied at St Theresa School in Eastleigh under the tutelage of Father Arnold Grol during which he learned the art of playing guitar.

“After mastering it, I bought my own guitar at Sh40. But the act did not go down well with my father as guitars were associated with rebellion back in the 70s.”

In early 1980s, Musaimo formed his own band Mbiri Young Stars with backup musicians like Kimani Thomas and Joseph Wamumbe from Gatanga.

By then My Dear Kwaheri was the talk of town – elevating his musical status.

The song is about a lover’s letter to his girlfriend after leaving her back home to go and work abroad.

Eighteen years after its release Musaimo got a chance to perform in the UK for the first time.

While there he narrated that anecdote to his audience who were amused by it.

Musaimo explains that My Dear Kwaheri’s melody came first, followed by the message before he settled on recording.

He cites the serious messages and original melodies as some of the main key factors for the songs’ longevity and timelessness.

“This is also evident in my hit song Chai wa 14. Since its release in 1990, it still remains one of the most requested songs in my shows.”

Musaimo’s music revolves around lost love, life’s troubles or people citing that songs today lack longevity.

He observes that depending on one’s upbringing including the area enables one to come up with deeper messages in their songs.

“Musicians from humble backgrounds are bound to have deeper messages about their lives than their well off counterparts.”

Musaimo also observes playing instruments among musicians today is a dead art hence many choosing to use manufactured beats as alternatives.

Like his Western role models, among them Alan Jackson and Don Williams, Musaimo loves when guitars accompany his songs.

This is evident in his latest songs Chugio ni Maisha, while a 90s hit, Mwigerekanio, comprise heavy rhythmic bass guitar lead.

Musaimo who composes a song in a day or two then works to improve it in a span of weeks cites an example of his 1994 award winning hit album Combination that took him six months to complete.