Why Gabriel Omolo’s Lunchtime echoes Kenyans' financial dilemma

In 'Lunchtime', Gabriel Omolo exposes the mannerism of Kenyans who forget their sweaty toil after the hard labour. [Courtesy]


After a tough 2021, Kenyans are back on the grind with hopes that life will be better in 2022.

There is nothing much to convince them it will be. Just sheer hope. Besides, can it get worse than it has been?

Thousands suffered job losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic, an enigma that has refused to go. Most parents can’t afford school fees for their school going children after being subjected to back-to-back school calendars. And with the Kenyan economy on a description of a weakening shilling, for the majority, life is on a shoe string budget. It is not hand to mouth. It is survival for the fittest for those venting for their families.

Three years ago today, Gabriel Omolo, the man remembered for the Lunchtime classic took a bow. He was 80. He had released the song in 1974.

 Lunchtime, a Benga hit paints a picture of a helpless state of the Nairobi casual laborer who toils all day on hard labour but still can’t meet life demands. Omolo recorded the single after observing the trend in Industrial Area where thousands of the casual laborers in Nairobi seek their daily bread.

 “It’s now lunch time, let’s take a break and go eat and come back at 2pm. Others are going to lie in the parks. It’s because of problems my brother. hunger is biting. Others are taking soda and cake while in reality they wish for chapati and meat. Others are strolling round shops pretending they are doing window shopping,” Omolo sings in Swalihi, his simple tenor and rhythmic guitar tune getting the message home.

 To-date, Lunchtime remains one of the biggest Kenyan classics that not only dominated airwaves in the country but also stirred waves across Africa; in major cities like Kinshasha, Lagos, Accra, Kampala and Harare, just to mention a few.

 It got Omolo an International Gold Disc after selling over 150,000 copies in Eastern and Western Africa, making him the first Kenyan musician to receive the award. That was in 1974. He was then awarded a Golden Disk Award two years later for the sale of over 250,000 records.

 Peculiar to Kenyans, in the song Omolo exposes the rare mannerism of Kenyans who forgets their sweaty toil after the hard labour. Come month-end, he sings, the same people would disappear to big hotels where they would lavishly eat life with a big spoon.

 “Kumbe shida ndiyo hufanya mtu kulala chini ya miti. Kumbe shida ndiyo hufanya mtu kungangana na maharagwe,” he poses on the interlude.

Omolo is closely classified around the legendary lot of Kenyan Benga maestros such as the late Daudi Kabaka, Fadhili Williams and Fundi Konde whom her ended joining at the Equator Sound Studio, Nairobi, the brewing pot of the Kenyan music sound of the 70s and 80s.

Born in 1939, Omolo was raised in the railway quarters of Muthurwa and attended St Peter Claver Primary School. St Peter Claver Primary is also the same school Daudi Kabaka and his cousin John Nzenze attended before teaming up to record Bachelor Boy and Nyumba za Tobacco.

 For the generation that cares to follow this making of the Kenyan Benga, they will find John Nzenze’s name ascribed on his band Air Fiesta Matata whose members included John Otieno, Joseph Yan, Jack Kalunga, Gabriel Wamalwa, Paul Chege and Sebi Doka. Daudi Kabaka, the king of the African Twist, takes us back to where it all started after his first hit Nie Kabaka Naimba (for the CMS Capitol Music Stores stable) in 1954 while still 14; Equator Sound Studio.

 Equator Sound Studios, which was also refered to as Equator Records after changing its name from East African Records was owned by Afcot Ltd. Come 1960, Charles Worrod launched Equator Sound Studios Ltd. along with the Equator Sound Band. The names of other African music greats such as Fadhili William, Peter Tsotsi and Charles Ssongo have their footing here. We can go on but that is a story for another day.    

 Omolo’s star started to shine in the 1960s when he joined Equator Sound Band. By then, he had learned singing and playing the guitar. Here, he became a composer, joining the league of the big boys who ruled the city in the sun with song and dance.

 While he is remembered for recording for Ochieng’ Kabaselleh, Omolo’s first song Maro Oketho Ugunja was released in 1969. He released Argwings Hero National after the assassination of the famous Luo politician and first Gem MP Argwings Kodhek of the famous road named after him.

 Playing cards between politics and entertainment, Omolo also sang Tom Mboya after the powerful minister in Jomo Kenyatta’s administration was assassinated. His Apollo Komesha band recorded over 20 singles for Phonogram.

 Commending on Omolo’s life veteran producer and Ketebul CEO Tabu Osusa, termed him as an icon, an all-round musician and special commentator whose music addressed societal issues.

Omollo had been ailing for long died of lung complications.