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The legacy of reggae empress Njambi Koikai

Achieving Woman
 The legacy of reggae empress Njambi Koikai

When Mary Njambi Koikai hit 13, it was meant to be a time of discovery. This is the age when both boys and girls go through an emotional, social and physical roller coaster—move up, move down, turn here, turn there. During teenage, the heart races with excitement as joy and adventure meet up with apprehensions and self-doubts. Teenage is a time to embrace change and a journey that must be taken.

But for Njambi, the renowned queen of Reggae who breathed her last on Monday at the age of 38, that journey of discovery was laden with obstacles, the largest being a medical condition she would live with for a quarter of a century.

At the age of 13 years, Njambi’s body went against the rules of nature, especially during her menstrual periods. Tissue similar to that lining the uterus began to grow outside of her uterus causing her immense pain. Ordinarily, this lining is shed off during the monthly periods, but becomes a challenge when it grows outside of the uterus. It was endometriosis.

But for for 17 years, no doctor could properly diagnose her condition with pain becoming unbearable as a result. Her lungs, teeth, appendix, heart and even the spine became lurking places for the dreadful condition. Pain was all she knew all her adult life.

“This is a full body disease that is eating up our organs,” she once wrote on her social media pages. “We bleed from every part of our bodies. We have no medical insurance. Our (grandmothers) are being diagnosed with endometriosis even after menopause.”

Her many years of fighting the scourge had slowly turned her into an activist, urging all who would care to listen to up the ante in finding a solution to the disease. She was getting tired of ‘raising awareness’ for a condition that affects millions of women worldwide. “We are not boarding,” she would say.

Her last post was poignant. From her hospital bed and partly covered in hospital linen, Njambi made a personal appeal to President William Ruto who was poised to visit the US, and more so, Atlanta, Georgia, where the Centre for Endometriosis Care is located.

Atlanta, she said, is “a dream city for every young girl and woman who has ever battled this horrific disease”.

“Due to our traditions and taboos, young girls and women are ashamed to believe that period pain is normal. As you commence your visit, I would like to kindly add a few visits that would help the millions of Kenyan women battling in silence. Please (visit) The Centre for Endometriosis Care and the Northside Hospital Women’s unit,” she wrote. She even gave the President the contact person.

The packed presidential itinerary shared with the media did not include the hospital and Njambi will never know if the president contacted the hospital through other means.

Njambi was known in Kenya and beyond for her love of Reggae, taking on the name of Fyah Mummah Jahmby. She would become a household name at Metro FM and QFM radio stations where she held her own.  

It was in Reggae beats, in or out of the studio, that Njambi’s spirits were awakened. She pulled crowds whenever the beats took her. Despite the physical pain, these crowds saw her lion-like demeanour as she rocked her long dreads from side to side. Endurance was the name of the game. She had her uncle to thank for her lifelong love of Reggae.

Her uncle (brother to Njambi’s mother) loved Reggae and there was nothing he would not do to get his niece into the beat.

“He paid for my deejay academy at Black Supremacy, but I became more of an emcee,” she says. “He knew I had become an emcee after he heard of the noises I was making. But we were no match for the uptown deejays who would enter into clubs with those…. you know… the inflight suitcases full of CDs and the Pioneer speakers. Na sisi hata mic hatuna.”

Then she got her suitcase, a cordless microphone, and music software, all courtesy of her benevolent uncle. She ditched the compact discs and got a gig after another. “My uncle had invested in a sound system of 26 speakers for me. I became a sound engineer and technician by force,” she wrote.

Her fanbase kept growing. She had planned country-wide tours before “one of our own” told her to announce the closure of Metro FM. It was a low point in her career. Her stoic nature made her weather any storms, health or otherwise.

Apart from a headgear that she wrapped around her locks, Njambi’s favourite attire included a jungle print outfit complete with military-style boots. Like a soldier in a battle, she was always armed and ready for any situation. A few bullets tore into her thick armour. But some did.

A case in point is when she was perplexed after her primary school director decided to drop her home after school. Njambi was born and grew up in ‘Ungwaro’, as Kawangware is known colloquially. But her mother who valued education had her enrolled in upmarket schools; St. Hannah’s Preparatory School and Makini.

“One day, we came home from a school trip and my mum couldn’t make it in time to pick me up. I was left alone. The school director, Mrs. Mary Okello knew mum. My mum intrigued many people. How a 30-something-year-old mum would afford to bring her children to these schools baffled many. She wanted better for us. Anyway, Mrs. Okello decided to take me home. Woi,” Njambi said in a past interview with the Standard Newspaper.

Njambi wished the ground could open up and swallow her than take the director to their two-roomed, mud-walled house. She even thought of alighting a little further from home and walking the rest of the way. But the director insisted.

“So we found mum. Mrs. Okello hugged my mum tightly and said some very powerful words. ‘How you are able to educate these children and provide for them is nothing, but astonishing’,” she said. 

Even in such ‘mishaps’, Njambi’s confidence never wavered. She endured with the spirit that kept her face to the wind, that transformed her trials into glory and saw the goal beyond her pain.

For Empress Fyah Mummah Jahmby, she has dropped the mic, but the final chapter of her illustrious life is yet to be written.

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