My children are ardent music fans. They sing along to popular hits, Sunday school rhymes, advertisement jingles, Christmas Carols and numerous other tunes.
Once in a while, I get free entertainment when one of them attempts to sing, and does it badly. Last Sunday, Little Tiffany was in the bathroom having a shower in readiness for church and as usual, she sang a number of songs at the top of her voice. She started with the famous Kumbaya.
The whole household went quiet as we listened to Little Tiffany, who kept singing even after she had left the bathroom. She sang with tremendous passion, perhaps in an attempt to catch everybody’s attention in the neighborhood.
“We say ‘Kumbaya my Lord’, not ‘Kumbaya biro’”, Mama Jimmy corrected her, but she stuck to her guns and kept singing about the biro.
Everyone at her school says biro, she said, so there was no way mum could be right against so many people. It took plenty of convincing before she finally accepted mummy’s version.
Tiffany’s performance reminded me of my childhood when children often sang a popular nursery rhyme known as Public Van. Here are some of the lyrics to the song:
“Public van, public van, number twenty-eight, I went for a ride but now I stepped on the brake!”
Girls often chanted it during their skipping games and few children sang it correctly, however.
“Mabrigan mabrigan, number twenty-eight, I went for a walk but now I step under brake!” It is still a mystery how public van became mabrigan, but this technicality never stopped children from having their fun.
One would be forgiven for thinking that this musical disaster is limited to children, but nothing could be further from the truth. Adults are perhaps worse than children.
For instance, I have discovered that many adult Kenyans can hardly sing the National Anthem past the first stanza. They insert their own words in second and third stanzas or just hum.
Numerous other songs underwent similar defacement in those days. One such song was Bob Marley’s Buffalo Soldier. I remember a middle-aged man who often sang this song whenever he was drunk, and he could sing it fully in a mixture of Kikuyu and Kiswahili!
Chaka Demus and Pliers’ Murder She Wrote was in most instances sung as Madam Shiro. Then there was Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s song Umquombothi, which many Kenyans sing with their own lyrics to this day.
One such “singer” happens to be our house girl Maggy who occasionally breaks into song while performing her household chores, often infusing her own lyrics
Some time last week, I listened with profound amusement as she sang a number of Lingala tunes. She started by singing Tabu Ley’s Muzina.
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“Mujinaaa! Mujina bitaka, yebi mwana, yebi tonte pantu! Mujina yeloka bambe ooh, ya mujinaaa”.
Mama Jimmy was in stitches throughout this performance. “Why would you sing a song whose meaning you do not know?” she scoffed. In her defence, Maggy maintained that she had listened to the song on radio many times, so there was no way her lyrics were wrong.
She then switched from Lingala to Chrismas Carols, starting with Jingle Bells.
Once again, she sang pretty well, and even got some words correctly, but many were the lyrics she made up herself.
Her version went something like this: “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. All this time, you wishing that, we say that time and say. Hey!”
Mama Jimmy gave me a puzzled look. I leaned over and whispered that people will always sing whatever they want, how they want, so it is no use trying to stop them.
She left room without uttering another word.