Photo: Courtesy

Songbird Achieng’ Abura chose the wrong day to die. She died on Mashujaa Day when President Uhuru Kenyatta broke the norm by choosing to celebrate our heroes instead of peddling cheap campaign rhetoric characteristic of national holidays.

It was a warm, breezy and bright Thursday; a perfect day to celebrate heroes. Not a perfect day to die. I remember Achieng’ for her voice, as a consummate performer and her flamboyant dressing. Like most Luos, whatever she did, she did with unmatched passion.

We tend to forget how distinctively patriotic Luos are. They throw all their love to whatever they choose to pursue; be it politics, sports, art or music. And their contribution in all these spheres is unmatched. But they are never celebrated enough. It is embarrassing that for all Jaramogi Oginga’s sacrifices, there is no street named after him in Nairobi, or even a befitting statue.

This is the reason we were royally offended by the brazen omission of his name in the president’s list of heroes on Mashujaa Day.

Abura gave us something that was authentically Kenyan. It was something that a visiting foreigner searching for something local could listen to and enjoy.

As details about her last days emerged, a lot was said about our famed hypocrisy. Everyone celebrated her, yet as she struggled with her son’s hospital bills, few helped. But I find this accusation a tad harsh.

Kenyans are friendly, and had we known, many would have reached out. In an interview with Business Daily, she told Jackson Biko: “I’ve raised money for so many causes and I was hoping that somebody in turn would say, ‘Okay, let’s support her.’ I have learnt one thing from this experience; the people who don’t have that much are the ones who donate to help. But the people who you are certain are better off will not offer any help.”

That was a useful lesson to all of us. We tend to look down on the poor and the lowly types, assuming they will not help. Yet, the middle-class and the captains of industry can be a letdown in the hour of need. Either they are too busy, or too embarrassed to send even the Sh2,000 they have.

I have called for harambees when I was stuck and friends I thought were loaded and would help just disappointed me. It is the people that I did not think of inviting, or whom I invited as an afterthought, who came and overwhelmed me. It was my every day friends who saved the day. I have been invited to fundraisers that I didn’t show up to mainly because I didn’t have the money. But I have learnt that even sending a few hundred always goes a long way.

So, I know what Abura was talking about. It is the everyday people who are the salt of the Earth. Waheshimwa and their ilk, or the middle-class that live in a bubble cushioned by insurance plans, can be a letdown. A politician often is motivated to help where there is political capital to be milked.

It is easy to make assumptions about artists as being loaded or rich. In Kenya, that is hardly the case. American psychologist Abraham Maslow forgot to list entertainment as a basic need after food, shelter and clothing. In other countries, entertainers live well and employ a battalion. But here, our apathy towards our art and music is appalling and is sending many artists to the grave poor. If you are reading this, stop buying pirated products. Fare thee well, Achieng’ Abura


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