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Trying moments for Maketho band as star singer loses her voice to strange disease

Musician Ali Akeko and family members during the interview at Eshibanze village in Matungu on September 22, 2022. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

'Aminata' is both a hit that resonates well with revellers and benga music lovers and also a character in Ali Akeko’s Maketho band.

The popular hit and even character are no longer commonplace in nightclubs in Mumias and the larger western Kenya as the character Aminata is suffering from an unknown disease, which has not only robbed her of her health but also her voice.

The character, who played the part of a homely housewife who turned adulterous after her husband bought her a mobile phone in the wake of rapid mobile penetration in rural Kenya, has been down for two years.

“She can only greet you and blubber incomprehensible words,” her husband, who happens to be her band leader, said as we salute her in their Shibanzi village Matungu constituency.

“I took her to hospital and couldn’t raise the Sh90,000 they wanted for MRI after her body started swelling and her speech disappeared,” he said.

Aminata, whose real name is Rukia Were Malala, was introduced to music by her polygamous husband who married three wives. The other two are Azia Nafula (first) and Sofia Nanzala (third). Ms Nafula passed away, leaving behind the two who have become famous for singing side by side with their loving husband Akeko in clubs and festivals in the country.

Akeko said even as many feel it an impossible accomplishment to have co-wives engage in a common practice harmoniously, to him convincing his wives to do so in the music world was as easy as strumming the lead or solo guitar he plays with mastery in his over 130 songs.

“Whenever I wanted to marry, I would tell them that I was a musician since my high school days at Namulungu Secondary School. That I was not so good in farming even with a five-acre piece. Music was my mainstay, they had to sing or learn to play instruments in my band,” he said. “None of the three women I married went against my word; that’s how they found themselves singing together.”

In 1986 at Namulungu, a teacher noticed the talent of Akeko who was then in Form One during a music festival. His appealing lead vocals alongside guitar strumming prowess at the teenage led the school to sail through zonals to national school-level music festivals.

In return, the school offered him a scholarship and bought him a guitar as he joined Form Two.

It is this souvenir guitar, which he keeps atop his semi-permanent house in the village for the memories, that he used to record his first song, Oluikho (relationship).

“The album featured a top village gossip of a couple in an incestuous marriage who had refused to dissolve their union. We were instantly moneyed and famed for going open with the gossip, especially in the village and western Kenya. I couldn’t believe my song and name were a common feature in national radio,” he said.

With the name and fame, the world of entertainment was his to conquer and conquering he did by belting out a series of albums from the late 1990s to the early 2000s.

It was the album Aminata album released in 2003 under producer Wycliffe Nyamwata that soared above the rest to bring the band to fame.

Leading nightclubs like Breakers and Cheers in Mumias Town tussled to have Akeko and his team become their resident band.

Maketho band would shuffle in the two top-tier clubs that were kept afloat by the working masses of Mumias Sugar Factory revellers but could often move to Busia, Mombasa and even Uganda for better-paying assignments.

“This was the time I bought musical instruments, cows, built houses and made my family live comfortably as I could make up to Sh60,000 per weekend,” said Akeko, gazing at the horizon as if to call back the good old days.

Today, the father of 14 can hardly afford decent schooling for his children as his band’s instruments were stolen and the little he gets from composing special songs for politicians is spent on managing the unknown illness that has plagued his wife, Aminata.

His other wife, Nanzala, a backup vocalist in Maketho, is a security guard who at the time we visited was out on an assignment by a private security guard she works for to supplement the family’s income.