Jeckoniah Oyoo recorded the song ‘Meri Mela’ to counsel youths against HIV and Aids. He tells NANJINIA WAMUSWA how the tune became a hit and about piracy.
Tell us what you do?
I am a Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) counsellor, currently working with ‘Her Story Centre,’ in Ngara, Nairobi. We deal with commercial sex workers to help rehabilitate, fight against stigma and discrimination. We also offer them prevention, care and support services. l am also a musician.
Who was Meri Mela?
In 2010, when I was working at Acorn VCT as a counselor in Ndhiwa, Nyanza Province, I was charged with counselling youths on indiscriminate sexual behaviour and HIV spread. l realised that to reach more youths who l couldn’t meet and counsel one-on-one, l needed to record a song. Meri Mela is the name of a fictitious character who indulged in sex without protection.
Then the song was a hit?
Yes, the song became instant hit, just two months after releasing it. Surprisingly, it got more airplay in bars and pubs, where promiscuity was likely to take place. Revellers requested it time after time in the places people did the very things it was preaching against.
Do you think it reached your target audience?
The song reached and preached to more people because of its popularity (not only in Kenya but also East and Central African South Africa and Europe). I believe the message got home. However, as you know with human beings, most ignore the message. Some thought it was for fun. Meanwhile, I have performed the song in various World Aids Day functions. Many people have told me it’s a good song that can be adopted as advocacy in the fight against HIV spread. I have, however,proposed it to various organisations and other stakeholders involved in the fight against HIV spread to have it adopted without success. If it is adopted, l would redo it in various local languages for everyone to understand the message.
At some point, you started singing gospel songs but its like you retreated?
Yes, in July 2013, l saw the light and even composed several gospel tracks among them Without You Lord, Na Wewe Sina Mashaka, Nyakati za Mwisho, Dunia Haina Wema, Nikijaribu Nitende Mema, Oh Lord You Are a Winner, and I will Sing unto You Lord. I work with commercial sex workers, so when they heard that l had gotten saved, they started shying away from me, and withholding information unlike before. I realised it was the “born again” tag l had acquired. When I talked to them about it, they opened up to me once again about their lives on the streets. Now we are communicating well.
The Meri Mela video wasn’t received well by fans...
When it became a hit, some guys took another artiste’s video and pasted it onto my Meri Mela audio, and the movement of pictures didn’t match with the lyrics. Hundreds of fans rushed to purchase the video believing it was my shoot. They felt bitter for the shoddy work and called me lamenting l had let them down. I apologised and told them it was piracy. But later I released a video.
Should we expect something new from you soon?
Yes, I’ll soon be releasing a single. I recorded it in collaboration with Ibest Okoro Ikechukwu from Nigeria and Leodger Paul (Digger P) from Tanzania. It reminds us of childhood days. It recognises our parents.
Tell us about your education, family background...
I was born in 1984 and raised in Homa Bay County with my four sisters. I attended Nyamogo Primary and St Paul’s Lugisa Secondary School. I then joined Kenya Association of Professional Counsellors (KAPC) College to pursue a diploma in Counselling and Psychology. I also did Behavioural Change at Amref International. I have also gone through several trainings and workshops in maternal health, communication and HIV spread.