Music brought me fame not money: 'Emily Chepchumba' composer now runs a posho mill

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By Gilbert Kimutai | 5 months ago
Kalenjin Secular artiste Philip Yegon popularly known as Bamwai display his guitar prowess during an interview at his home in Sotik, Bomet County. [Gilbert Kimutai, Standard]

When he crossed the finishing line in the 3,000m steeplechase race during the London Olympics in August 2012, Ezekiel Kemboi broke into a dance. He was dancing to a popular Kalenjin song ‘Emily Chepchumba’ by Philip Yegon.

One would expect that with the publicity and the song's popularity, it must have brought its composer fortunes. Far from it.

But Yegon says he has nothing to show for the popular tune.

Yegon, who ruled the Kalenjin secular music scene for more than 20 years retreated to Kirait village in Bomet County to start a new life. Today, he earns a living from farming and business.

The 49-year-old father of two, popularly known by his stage name Bamwai, said he quit music due to dwindling fortunes.

“I can say this without fear, music only gave me a name and fame but not money. That is why I decided to retreat to the village to start a new life in farming and business,” Yegon told The Standard in an interview at his home.

'Emily Chepchumba' is a song about a beautiful woman Yegon met at Kaptarakwa in Keiyo in 2004. The woman, according to Yegon, had requested him to compose a song about her. The two love birds in the song, separated by long distance, expressed desires to meet again.

The jovial musician who hang his boots five years ago said music created a false image of his life, adding that when he returned home many thought he was a millionaire.

“Initially, when I came back home I was treated with a lot of respect by villagers who thought my life as a musician had earned me lots of money because I dined with the who is who in politics and athletics. They were taken aback when I built a grass-thatched house,” he said.

Yegon said vernacular stations came in handy in marketing his songs. 'Emily Chepchumba', he said, became an instant hit and he made regular performances where he earned money that he used to stock his music store.

Learning from experience from fellow musicians who sold their music rights to their producers, Yegon reserved rights of all his music.

"Many Kalenjin musicians were duped to sell their music rights and ended up only being paid as little as Sh5,000 with producers later earning millions from the songs," he said.

He said he does not regret returning to the village and will soon be on his feet again.

He said neighbours are supportive of his business ventures; a retail shop and a posho mill.

Yegon remembers how his career in music started in 1996 on a high note, saying at first it was passion and later turned into a career.

Yegon says after dropping out of school in Form Two due to lack of school fees after the death of his father in 1990, he ventured out to do menial jobs, shuttling between Kaplong and Soimet trading centres.

He says one day while working as a waiter at a hotel, he bumped into members of a music band who had come for lunch.

Months after meeting the band, Yegon said he found himself scripting songs during his free time, and soon he was in studios recording songs and performing them in public events.

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