Mwomboko, the graceful dance that got Mashujaa Day celebrations in rhythm

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By Stevens Muendo | 1 month ago
Octa Melodies entertain guests during Mashujaa Day celebrations at Wang'uru International Stadium in Mwea, Kirinyaga county. [Mose Sammy/Standard]

The Mashujaa Day national celebrations held at Wang’uru Stadium in Kirinyaga country were highlighted with a thrilling entertainment mashup.

It was a colourful and well-synchronised fusion of the Kenyan’s rich music heritage and trendy youthful dance moves sweeping through a rather elated crowd at the Mt Kenya spot with thousands of Kenyans following the live televised event from home.

A significant well-worked session this was after two months of rehearsals that yielded the final 15 minutes presentation of five songs by 46 solo artistes and music and dance groups most drawn from Kirinyaga and its environs.

The production, a master craft by the Permanent Presidential Music Commission (PPMC) was highlighted by the traditional Kikuyu traditional Mwomboko dance rhythmically livened by accordion and the metal ring tunes. In Mt Kenya, they refer the two musical instruments as Kinanda Kia Mugeto and Karing’aring’a, respectively.

Even though the Kikuyu tribe - that predominantly occupies the Mt Kenya region where the revolving annual celebrations where held this time round – is know for many traditional dances, including Gichukia, Ngucu, Mugoiyo, Muthongoci and Kibaata, it is this Mwomboko dance that seems to have captured national attention hence its prominence allocation on such a significant national day.

Mwomboko dancers in a well-choreographed show as if symbolically reclaiming its youthful place according to the Kikuyu traditions. Significantly, it also gave a statement reflecting a new dawn for a region that is in sharp political focus as President Uhuru Kenyatta makes his final stretch before handing over power.

“Traditionally, Mwomboko was a dance for young unmarried men. That was before the old adopted it and made it wide accepted especially around Muranga County,” said Kimani wa Kioni, a 78-year-old Mwomboko lover who attended the celebrations.

Unlike past national ceremonies where the lead Mwomboko dance accordion rhythm has predominantly been played by old and experienced grey haired men, the two instrumentalists who also doubled as the lead singers were young, one in brown dyed eye while the other had trendy locks.   

A story is narrated on how before Kenya received its independence, the colonial administration banned most traditional dances which the people of Central Kenya were perceived to use as a tool to spread anti-colonial messages. It is said that the colonies tolerated Mwomboko, which more or less borrows heavily from the British fox trot dance. Both dances are characterised by couples dancing rhythmically, in a counted steps slow circular motion. Mwomboko even gets more sophisticated with dances moving in a file as they count two steps before bending down and then moving majestically back and forth; a romantic jig that can even melt the heart of a warlord.

“Since the government begun the hosting of national celebrations in counties on a rotational basis, the Permanent Presidential Music Commission (PPMC) always endeavors to give a bigger platform to artistes from that region and its environs in order to empower them and highlight what they have to offer in terms of music and dance,” says Donald Otoyo, the PPMC director.

“The commission is mandated amongst other functions to document, preserve and disseminate the music and dance heritage in Kenya. So far, PPMC has 30 running hours of this heritage and is serializing these songs and dances under the label ‘Ngoma za Kenya Series’ which are now available to members of the public and institutions,” Otoyo remarks.

The entertainment program also featured an Akurinu set featuring 12 prominent Akurinu musicians as well as Mugithii stars who represented the most prominent secular genre in Central Kenya.

Among those who featured included popular young singers such as Samwel Muchoki aka Samido, Joseph Kanyi aka Jose Gatutura, Mary Gioche aka Kareh B, Samuel Kimani aka Kim wa Wambui as well as Beatrice Muthoni aka Safina Salim.

Benga singers included John Maina aka JB Maina, Joyce Wanjiku aka Joyce wa Mama, Peter Kigia aka Kigia wa Esther, Simon Kihara aka Musaimo and Michael Murimi.

The new rotational system has opened more opportunities for regional stars who have not gone popular on a national scale to get recognised. It is also one that is seeing more artistes get empowered financially and too, through the two month’s training that selected creatives undergo ahead of the big day.

Ben Githae during this year's Mashujaa Day celebration. [Elvis Ogina/Standard]

With the days of specific entertainment faces dominating performances during national celebrations gone and the old favoured choirs having been limited, as it was witnessed during yesterdays fete, versatile and vibrant acts are giving national celebrations a fresh breath of life.

   “The exact figure is not available but the government has set aside a good budget that takes care of all the performing groups. Everyone is well compensated for their participation in the celebrations. It is all about transparency as we have been giving everyone an equal opportunity. Auditions are called out about three months before the national celebrations, where every artiste who applies is given a chance to audition. All artistes perform on the same platform, whether big or up and coming. Artistes who are selected to be part of the celebrations are given rehearsal spaces and bands to rehearse with which is a way of improving the quality of their live performances,” notes Otoyo.

Local artistes: Since the government begun the hosting of national celebrations in counties on a rotational basis, the Permanent Presidential Music Commission always endeavors to give a bigger platform to artistes from that region and its environs in order to empower them and highlight what they have to offer in terms of music and dance. This is also why PPMC produce music projects which are usually released a few days before the big day.

Lastly, the PPMC director introduces the recording and release of special songs for these celebrations, which over time have become the most anticipated part of the entertainment program. Most of these songs have gone ahead to garner more than 500,000 organic views on YouTube alone. The millage and exposure that all musicians who take part in these celebrations cannot be quantified.

PPMC is mandated amongst other functions to document, preserve and disseminate the music and dance heritage in Kenya. The commission is equipped with a professional broadcast quality digital video production unit for this function. This has enabled it to carry out recordings on audiovisual format of the music and dance practices of Kenyan communities within the cultural setting. So far, PPMC has 30 running hours of this heritage and is serializing these songs and dances under the label ‘Ngoma za Kenya.

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