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Curtain falls on composer of popular 'Marry Me' ballad

By Allan Mungai | Published Fri, October 20th 2017 at 00:00, Updated October 19th 2017 at 23:28 GMT +3
Waigwa Wachira in 1988. Inset: Louisa Mugoh, who inspired the classic, 'Marry Me', in 1979. [Courtesy]

In summary

  • Curtain falls on Waigwa Wachira, poet, singer, actor, writer and performing arts lecturer
  • His song, ‘Marry me’, released in the early ‘80s, was played as parents walked brides down the aisle

“If I live up to 100 years there will be no tears.”

These is the first line of Waigwa Wachira’s classic love ballad, ‘Marry Me.’

Mr Waigwa, who passed away on October 16, did not live to be 100 and as such, there will be tears; lots of them, not just from his family and friends but from his fans who cut across several generations, and theatre students.

Waigwa died aged 68 after a struggle with Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system.

As the curtains close on the illustrious career of this lecturer, actor, author, playwright and musician, ‘Marry me’ lives on, sung by the crooner who enchanted an entire nation with the 1983 hit song.

His widow, Wacuka Ikua, regrets that death has robbed Waigwa of the opportunity to pursue his interest in music and play writing to the end.

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She reveals something that few knew about the creative genius - although he gave his all on the stage, with his pen and in lecture halls, he always spared the best for his family.

“He was not just about his art, he was passionate about fatherhood and I am happy that he spared the best of his talents for his family,” she says.

Aside from ‘Marry Me,’ Waigwa released two other songs - ‘Lord, My Child is Ill’  and ‘Wairimu wa Waigwa.’

But according to his family, the bulk of his work was unreleased.

“What he recorded does not begin to describe him. The country will never know who he was,” says his wife.

Instant hit

‘Marry Me’ was released in April 1983 and was an instant hit, catapulting Waigwa to national stardom.

The song was inspired by his sister, Louisa Mugoh.  It was penned and performed at Louisa’s wedding reception in 1979, before it was recorded to critical and popular acclaim.

To date, Waigwa’s sister remembers with nostalgia her brother’s wedding gift to her.

“Mine was the first wedding in the family and that inspired him to write the song, which he performed at my wedding reception. When he finally recorded it in 1983, he played all the instruments himself,” says Ms Mugoh.

The first digital copy of the hit song was downloaded on YouTube three years ago. Like it did more than three decades ago, it generated an immediate buzz, as fans posted nostalgic tales of their youth evoked by Waigwa’s song.

“I have loved this song since I was a kid and heard it in a Nigerian movie. I promised my mum she would walk me down the aisle with it,” said one online fan.

Another one, Ann Ndegwa, likened listening to the song to the fond memories that come with meeting an old love.

“Finding this song felt like bumping into an old love.” she posted.

Waigwa was first and foremost a poet, a genius of the spoken word and an icon of romance in both the young and the old.

“I first encountered Waigwa through his poem, ‘Like the Sea and its Waters.’ Then an old love sang this song and I kept hoping I could hear it again. The nostalgia is real,” said Ms Ndegwa.

Although his hit song was released in the early ‘80s, it continued to flutter wings of love more than three decades later.

“A song well sung, with all the emotions and heart-softening words,” posted another of his fans.

Such are the feelings that Waigwa sparked through his music.

For some, his songs took them back to what used to be referred to as the English Service of the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), specifically, to the Sundowner Show that played between 6pm and 7pm, where they were among the most requested.

Film actor

Waigwa was also a successful stage and film actor, appearing in the Hollywood film, ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ in 1988, ‘Cheetah’ (1989) and ‘Maangamizi: The Ancient One’ (2001).

His contribution to music is as immense as it was to academia. He lectured until 2013, when he retired to focus on his health.

Waigwa was a professor of drama and theatre at the University of Nairobi and the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy in Dramatic Art in 2006.

Born on November 5, 1949, in Muruguru, Nyeri, he is survived by his wife and two children, Wachira and Nzisa.

He will be buried on October 24.

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