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Songwriter's plight exposes the dark underbelly of Gikuyu Benga industry

 Maina ka Ngoma

The struggles of Peter Gachiego, better known as Maina ka Ngoma, sum up the double-faced and exploitative nature of Gikuyu benga music; the dark underbelly everyone wishes to keep well-hidden.

Maina has been at the service of these musicians for more than 10 years; he is a multi-talented artiste, playing drums (hence the name Maina ka Ngoma), guitar and percussions. Above all, he is an accomplished songwriter.

Almost all the songs he has written for these artistes have hit gold, earning them fame and riches. The man, on the other hand, lives a life of penury and want.

Maina also loves his drink, a bit too much. His musical clients know his drinking problem only too well. They are, however, happy with that situation as it serves their interests well. Given his desperate condition, they will manipulate him to write songs for them on the cheap - a thousand here, five hundred, even two hundred - promising him to do ‘something’ once the song becomes a hit...

Once the song hits, as they all do, the artistes don’t pick up his calls, until that other time when they will require his services again; after all, Maina will be still broke, hungry and desperate and will gratefully take the pennies thrown at him, plus the fake promises.

Rinse and repeat...

In the meantime, the media and bloggers covering this sector are too busy chasing after the big musicians, to bother with the story of the ‘insignificant’ and shabby, not-so-good-looking and perpetually drunk drummer.

Who would even take him seriously?

Until MC Zaku happened on the scene. Now Zaku has been giving Gikuyu benga artistes sleepless nights, prying into their affairs, exposing what they would like kept secret; and best of all calling out those who committed copyright ‘sins’.

Five years ago, two of the biggest Gikuyu benga artistes today, Joyce wa Mamaa and Samuel Muchoki popularly known as Samido, released a collabo, Wendo wi Cama (Love is Sweet), which immediately shot to the top of the charts. Today, the single has 8.1 million views on YouTube.

At around that time, when the duo was riding high with that song, Joyce appeared on Jeff Kuria TV, an online channel, and narrated how she wrote the song leading to their collaboration.

Three weeks ago, social media started heating up when it emerged that a little-known songwriter (Maina ka Ngoma) is the brains behind some of the biggest Gikuyu secular songs, but is never given credit, let alone getting financially rewarded for it.

Soon, social media caught fire, with netizens demanding justice for Maina and calling out the artistes.

The controversy soon caught the attention of Njogu wa Njoroge, a former Gikuyu language broadcaster and the current chairman of the Kenya Film Classification Board, who pledged to assist Maina the best way he knows how.

Now, the issue of Maina’s exploitation was brought to the fore by MC Zaku. Zaku explained that he discovered Maina’s song-writing prowess when he questioned the originality of lyrics to Wakinya Meere (Tell them when you get there), a song that had just been released by Benga songstress Wanja Asali.

It later emerged that the chorus to that song is similar to another one done by Maina, but which he had been unable to produce, owing to cash constraints. This led to Wanja getting lots of flak online leading to bitter clashes between Wanja’s fans and Maina’s newly-minted sympathisers.

To Wanja’s credit, she explained that she had entered into some ‘arrangement’ with Maina, regarding the song but only opted to take the chorus, since the rest of the lyrics did not suit the message she wished to convey in her song. She, however, did not disclose the terms of their arrangement.

Allegedly, Wanja and Zaku have an ongoing feud, after the latter ‘exposed’ her for performing while drunk, last September.

Zaku must have received a tip-off on Wanja’s new song, containing Maina’s lyrics and decided to prolong the feud, following a bitter war of words in last year’s beef.

Just like there is a silver lining in every cloud, the feud between Wanja and Zaku has been beneficial to Maina, who has now been able to release his version of Wakinya Meere, complete with a video, though said to be interim.

In the song, Maina tells the sad story of how his family suffered at the hands of relatives, including being chased out of the family home after his father died.

The pressure must have forced Wanja to pull her song down from YouTube.

Back to Joyce wa Mamaa. Zaku interviewed Maina, where he disclosed that contrary to Joyce’s assertions that she wrote lyrics to Wendo wi Cama, it was he who wrote the song on the agreement that the two would perform the song together.

Joyce instead chose to work with Samido.

Maina also spoke of two other songs he has written for Joyce which went on to become hits.

While it is undeniable that Maina is the creative force behind most successful songs done by Gikuyu artistes, going forward, he will need to put his house in order and go easy on the drink, otherwise, the goodwill he is currently enjoying from the public will desert him just as fast as it came.

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