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Changing rhythms and the age of Ohangla


Benga maestro Osito Kalle. (Courtesy)

For more than a decade, Ohangla music has been churning out new artistes, songs and audiences after being popularised around 1992 by two brothers – Jack and Tony Nyadundo.

Ohangla, a growing popular genre among the Luo community, has evolved from a village ritual jig to an urban mass entertainment.

In his book Shades of Benga, veteran rhumba producer Tabu Osusa describes Ohangla as a rural hip hop and an innovation of young creative musicians who could not afford the costs of a fully-fledged band.

While some observers believe that the adoption of piano by Ohangla musicians is fading the guitar very fast that was made famous by legendary Benga artistes, Benga enthusiasts argue that it remains an all-time distinct rhythm.

But while the audience of Luo Benga music remains the same and attracts older generations, Ohangla is stealing the show with crowd-pulling audiences.

The entry of flashy generation of Ohangla artists who attracts the younger generation with their flashy lifestyles, lyrics with strong love and sexual undertones has pushed new audiences away from the legendary Benga rhythms.

However, renditions of some of the iconic pieces by the late Musa Juma, Owino Misiani, Okatch Biggy, George Ramogi, among others are still a big hit in night clubs.

“Many who were playing Benga are now too old and the fans are also old to go to the clubs to dance,” says Benga maestro Osito Kalle, who adds that he is not retiring anytime soon.

He says Benga is seen to be fading because most of the young people have opted to go for other genres like Ohangla, hip hop, reggae and even rhumba.

The veteran musician, who also plays guitar, says the young generation is shying away from Benga because it is expensive, requires proper planning, research and time in order to produce.

Benga rose from a pairing of sharp lead percussion guitar that dominated the track. The guitar was played with urgency steadily building up to a pure climax.

Osito Kalle says Luo musicians were the first to adopt this new guitar playing technique that involved plucking and picking single notes, falling back on how the popular traditional fiddle like Orutu and the eight stringed Nyatiti are played.

“This is how a new sound was born and George Ramogi, George Ojijo, Ochieng Nelly, John Ogara and Aketch Oyosi were among Benga’s original stars,” he says. “It is true Ohangla came with some waves but we had to find a way of restoring the benga,” says Alex Jawaora, a resident musician at Club Nilotic in Bondo town and a benga enthusiast..

Jawaora, who alongside the late Jerry Jalamo, Aluoch Jamaranda and Oginga wuod Awasi formed the Nilotic Band in 2017, tells The Standard that there are many big names that have been pushed to the edge by the new trends.

With more than four clubs playing live bands in Bondo town today, Jawaora says Ohangla took over almost all the clubs and they had no place to perform.

“We had to look for a way to revive Benga and that’s how we formed the Nilotic Band. Nilotic Club has remained an outfit that is widely credited with changing the Benga genre’s feel and form to make it even more fascinating,” he says.

Jawaora says that apart from their primary audiences being raided by the profusion of emergent genres, music pirates have also plunged benga artists into near poverty. “Benga artists can no longer make money like their forebears did from record sales,” says Jawaora.

And Milton Ongoro, who formed Jamnazi Africa with Awilo Lawi thinks that Benga music has a future and requires young people with interest in the genre to move it forward.

“In the music industry, there is nothing like nurturing new talents. It is all about showing interest and working towards that. You can do this within a band or outside,” explains Ongoro.

Michael Omondi, 36, says Benga has largely failed to capitalize on technology to grow and to adapt to new trends.

“Personally I am a great fan of benga because it educates apart from entertaining, but it’s losing its appeal to the youth because many urban youth still view it as rural music,” says Omondi.


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