Although the fame of Ohangla has surpassed Benga, veteran Benga female musician Princess Jully believes it’s only a matter of time before they reclaim their top position.
It follows the emergence of experienced and dedicated (Benga) musicians, and off-shoots of veteran Benga artistes who are steadily and gradually filling up the space in the race for top honours.
“We have a number of Benga legends of this generation and graduates of previous veterans who are picking up from where they (veterans) left. The young Benga musicians are determined not to let us down for us to retain our identity,” Princess Jully told the Sunday Standard magazine.
To show her seriousness, the songstress whose sweet and melodious voice could be equated to that of Congolese superstars Mbilia Bel or Faya Tess, said she has released a new album, Resa.
Resa, a Dholuo song means salvation dwells on ways to assist the less fortunate or the disadvantaged in society in different ways through charitable organisations.
“This is the time to do it by the blessed! They should come out in great numbers to assist the less fortunate members of the society,” Princess Jully appeals in the song.
At the time, she was living in poverty and in a mud house in Migori County at a time when her contribution in her song Dunia Mbaya sensitised society to the fight against HIV and AIDS.
“It’s time for the government to come out and assist us and possibly myself, in recognition for the sensitisation we made in the 1990s to the public in the fight against HIV and AIDS pandemic,” she said as her appeal comes close to World AIDS Day on December 1.
Making a comeback after several years of musical silence, Princess Jully, the band leader of Orchestra Jolly Voices, a band she inherited from her late husband Prince Jully who died in 1998, says Benga artistes are determined to retake their rightful place in the music landscape.
Orchestra Jolly Voices has 10 members, including technical personnel drummer Juali Onyango, rhythm guitarist Guda, bass guitarist Dennis Ogallo and solo guitarist Dan Odhiambo.
Migori being a mineral hub, some of her musicians take their time in the mining sites in search of gold and other minerals.
“Some of them are part-time artistes as they also take part in gold digging and in search of other minerals to sell and supplement what they earn from the music industry,” says the songstress.
Admitting that Ohangla artistes are more accepted in Western Kenya and the rest of the country than Benga artistes, Princess Jully says they are facing more challenges than their counterparts.
“We have administrative expenses that at times erode the ability of our work compared to our competitors. We cannot compete on an equal footing but we are determined to beat them soon.”
Princess Jully says Ohangla has at most five members compared to a full orchestra, which requires at least eight members to be fully functional.
“Furthermore, the cost of equipment on us is exorbitant compared to our competitors. This is because we have more staff to operate them and pay them. It’s easier to manage an Ohangla outfit than a band,” she says.
Princess Jully is among a few female artistes who have successfully inherited bands originally headed by their husbands.
She was among the artistes who were invited to entertain former President Uhuru Kenyatta at the Mashujaa Day Celebrations in Kisii on October 20, 2020.
She said the life of a musician during the piracy era was somehow better than today when direct copying of music from the source to the market is rampant.
“The piracy era was better in terms of remuneration than today when direct-music-copying from source to the market has driven us out of business. This is done without our knowledge,” says the 53-year-old songstress.
The mother of two started her music career as a church choir member at the nursery level, which was extended to the primary level before she dropped out of school at Standard Eight in 1985.
She was among the first lot of the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination.
Princess Jully is a bitter lady for not being able to pursue her secondary education due to a lack of school fees.
“Had I pursued my secondary-level education, I’m sure I could have been a different person today,” she says.
However, the accomplished songstress does not believe that is the end of life.
She performs in the Agriculture Society of Kenya Shows across the country and is ready and open to perform in any public functions.
“And I’m ready to perform if invited to any events within our borders,” says the Kenyan songstress who has admired Congolese musician Mbilia Bel.
Three weeks ago, she had a number of live performances in Migori Night Clubs.
“We are determined to see Benga take its rightful place in the society,” said Orchestra Jolly Voices Band Leader Princess Jully.