It is a warm Friday afternoon as we drive to the otherwise hilly Machakos County's Mumbuni area, a place called Kwa Musyoka, loosely translated as ‘he who returns'.
This is the quiet neighbourhood where Freshly Mwamburi, the legendary Taita singer behind the popular Stella hit, a song composed out of a real-life story of heartbreak, lives. He resides here with his wife, who he married after his first love disappointed him, despite funding her college expenses all the way to her scholarship in Japan.
The now aged but rather energetic and styled cool and good-spirited man welcomes us, before his wife, Dorcas Nduku, helps him to pull seats for us. “I know by now you know a bit of my story. Have you heard the Stella remix yet?” Mwamburi teases of the new single that was released about three weeks ago.
As we start the conversation, the sound of birds chirping, dogs barking and chicken clucking is all the jazz around us. Everything here is part of the ballad. It is a unique fusion that Mwamburi seems to love as he jokes, “Valentine’s Day is near and love birds everywhere are showing love.”
He argues that Valentine’s Day was brought to Africa by the British. “This is a very important day worldwide. Let us not pressure up things that cannot work during this day. We need to agree with our partners. This is a day that should not be ruled by disagreements but agreements,” he says.
Mwamburi says Nduku had already told him that she would like a vacation at the Coast on Valentine's Day, with her children, something he was still contemplating. “This is something new, and one that has a certain push, which comes with a plan. Wearing red shirts and giving out red roses to our loved ones… well, my family and I have a small plan in place,” he says.
The father of five recently released Stella remix. He says he did the remix after six years of great thinking for a change. He says his band – Everest Kings – that is composed of nine members, did not feature in the remix video because he wanted the song to be different. “You see, in the remix, the video itself is energetic. That is the diversity I have been working on for the time I have been quiet. I wanted to maintain the same lyrics but change the feel of the video to a modern-day setup,” he explains.
Mwamburi, who started singing in 1980 says that he inherited music from his grandfather who used to perform during public holidays when the late President Jomo Kenyatta attended functions around their area.
“I also accompanied my grandfather to the national celebrations, which he attended. I saw his performances and where I can say I my inspiration came from,” Mwamburi says. “My music is about educating society. My themes rarely change because I sing what I see in my day-to-day life and what society is all about. I have four rhumba songs and two salsa songs ready for release so my fans should expect great things from Freshly soon,” he reveals.
Mwamburi says Stella was a real-life story. It is what happened to him. He met Stella in 1991 when he went to perform at the Garden Hotel in Machakos.
“My band Everest Kings, and I, had just shifted from Thika. During this time Stella was studying at the University of Nairobi but she left for Japan in 1992 to advance her studies. We were in love and so I expected her to come back and marry me after the studies overseas. I gave the relationship my all, including disposing of my old car to cater for her financial needs while abroad. We were in constant communication and all through, I knew she was all mine, that I would marry her. This Kamba girl was such a beauty…you know,” he recalls.
However, Stella later sent him a message that she had moved on and married. “I could not blame or complain about it. Things happen. It wasn’t easy believing this as I had invested so much in her. Like I said during a recent interview, the truth is that men investing in women, like they are referring to it as ‘eating fare’ is nothing new. This is an old culture that men have to live with. Besides, we don’t keep in touch. She moved on and I later married my wife Nduku who has been everything to me,” he says.
He admits that his wife had an issue with the Stella hit, saying her memory affected their marriage, something the two have since overcome.
“Initially my wife was not comfortable when she heard about Stella. I mean, which woman ever wants her husband to keep remembering his ex-lovers? Now, everything is okay with her. Our marriage is happy,” Mwamburi remarks informing that it has been eight years since he spoke to Stella whom he describes as a good person who in one way or another impacted his love life. She is married to a short man as my song says. If I would still talk to her she would remind me of things that are of the past. I took a break. I can’t dwell in the past. As I have always seen it, love is a very strange thing.”
Mwamburi warns that young men should not get excited about young girls seducing them with their good looks, and end up losing focus. He says there is beauty beyond the good looks. He says young men must learn to live within their means and avoid the pressure from women who demand more than they can afford.
After forming his Everest Band, the star got signed by Simba Wanyika band led by the late Wilson Peter and his brother George Peter in 1983. In 1987, he joined Les Wanyika, a group led by the late John Ngereza and Profesa Omar. He was part of some of Kenya’s great hits of the day such as Mama Watoto, Lipi la Ajabu. Mwamburi cites that before he met Stella he had produced volume seven of his album. “I have more than a hundred songs in my studio. My work is to select the song that I will release.”