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Four decades in music and counting


Nanjinia Wamuswa

Not many Kenyan musicians can boast a four decades career in the music.

But Gertrude Mwendo joined a band 44 years ago and has never looked back. In the course of her career, she has rubbed shoulders with male veteran musicians such as Isaya Mwinamo, Daudi Kabaka, Gabriel Omollo, Fanuel Amimo, Fundi Konde and John Nzenze.

Gertude Mwendo is not ready to hang up her guitar. [Photo: courtesy]

She is passionate about music and nothing will keep her from it — not even age.

Mwendo has always successfully juggled music, employment and family.

She and the late Jacob Luseno jointly founded Phonotex Success Band in 1965. She was then aged 20.

What began as a hobby for her, where she was the soloist and Luseno the guitarist, turned serious one day when "white men" noticed their talent and promised to sponsor their production through their company called Philips.

"Isaya Mwinamo and Fadhili Williams were our producers," says Mwendo.

Training in music

Peter Kibukosya and Hyslop, who composed the Kenyan national anthem, also spotted Mwendo’s talent. They took her for training in music at Maseno Government Training Institute.

Among the first songs she and Luseno produced was Makatiani Wamala Khutsia (Makatiani has already left) about her father’s death.

Other songs were Mchanganyiko Maalumu (special mix) — a partying and socialising song for young men and women and Shikumba (bone) about woman who loved butchers just for meat. Makuru (headmen) was a song criticising headmen for exploiting the populace in the name of colonial masters.

Makuru has remained a hit to date.

"That is because we humorously dramatised the song and its message," Mwendo explains.

Other evergreen hits include Appointment and Mukangala.

By the time Luseno died in January 2006, they had recorded hundreds of songs.

Band lives on

Now 64, Mwendo says her future plans are already made. She wants to see Phonotex band blossom. After the death of Luseno, the band lives on.

She has recruited youths into the band to exploit their talents. They have recorded several songs including Likhutsa lia Luseno (Luseno’s death) Speed Governor (about HIV and Aids) and Mukangala Part 2. Mwendo says more hits are in the pipeline.

The band sings predominantly in Luhya, but has a few Kiswahili songs.

"We want to preserve our culture and make sure everybody, even the most uneducated person, gets our message. Our songs touch on child abuse and labour, colonisation, infidelity, HIV and Aids, drug abuse, famine and other relevant issues," she says.

Mwendo was born in 1945 in Emironje, Ilala village in Shinyalu. She attended Mukumu Primary School between 1953 and 1960. In 1961 she joined Mukumu Girls’ High School and later joined Kianda College, Nairobi, for business studies.

She studied computer programming and French at Nairobi University before joining Kenya Institute of Administration for a course on the management of information and communications technology.

She has worked at several companies including the Cotton Lint Seed Company Marketing Board and Transworld Airlines.

In 1977, she joined General Motors as a secretary and in 1985 was employed by Shelter Afrique in the same capacity.

She joined Kenyatta University as personal secretary to the Head of Early Childhood Education and retired in 2006 to concentrate fully on music.

She married Alex Anyika in 1977 and the couple has three children.

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