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Gabriel Omolo’s ‘Lunchtime’ tune echoes Kenyans’ financial woes

 Lunchtime paints the picture of the hopelessness of Nairobi casual labourers. It remains one of the biggest Kenyan classics. [Courtesy]

After a tough 2021, Kenyans are back to the grind with hope that life will be better in the new year.

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, which has refused to go away. Most parents can’t afford school fees for their children after being subjected to back-to-back school calendars.

And with a weakening shilling, many are on a shoestring budget.

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

Lunchtime, a Benga hit, paints the picture of the hopelessness of Nairobi casual labourers who toil all day but still can’t afford basic needs. Omolo recorded the single after observing the trend in Industrial Area where thousands of casual labourers seek their daily bread.

“It’s now lunchtime, 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 around shops pretending they are doing window shopping,” Omolo sings in Kiswahili, 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 local airwaves but also made an impact in other African cities like Kinshasa, Lagos, Accra, Kampala and Harare, just to mention a few.

It earned 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.

In the song Omolo exposes Kenyans’ mannerisms; how they quickly forget their hard toil come end month and squander their money in big hotels.

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

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.

Omolo is ranked alongside Benga stars such as the late Daudi Kabaka, Fadhili Williams and Fundi Konde whom he joined at the Equator Sound Studio, Nairobi, the brewing pot of the Kenyan music sound of the 70s and 80s. Daudi Kabaka, the king of African Twist, recorded his first hit Nie Kabaka Naimba (for the CMS Capitol Music Stores stable) in 1954 at the age of 14. This was under Equator Sound Studio.

Equator Sound Studios, which was also referred 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.

African music greats such as Fadhili William, Peter Tsotsi and Charles Ssongo have their footing here.

Omolo’s star started to shine in the 1960s when he joined Equator Sound Band. By then, he had learned to sing and play 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.

Omolo also composed a song for Tom Mboya after the powerful minister in Jomo Kenyatta’s administration was assassinated. His Apollo Komesha band recorded over 20 singles for Phonogram.

Veteran producer and Ketebul CEO Tabu Osusa termed Omolo as an icon, an all-around musician and a special commentator whose music addressed societal issues.

Omollo who had been ailing for a long time died of lung complications.

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