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Musician strumming his way to successs

If there is one man who is so passionate about the eight-stringed Kisii traditional musical instrument — obokano — that his whole life revolves around it, it is Ronald Ontiri Onchuru, writes DAVID OMWENGA.

Onchuru, popularly known as Bikundo, has traversed the country entertaining guests with his stirring tunes and leaving them asking for more.

Bikundo learnt to play the obokano from his grandfather.

Bikundo, 32, owes his popularity as one of the most accomplished obokano players in the country to his late grandfather who introduced him to the instrument at an early age.

"When I was young, I used to dance while my grand father strummed obokano. That is when the bug bit me and I have never looked back," he says.

Bikundo, who dropped out of Standard Eight due to lack of fees, started plucking the obokano in 1990. As a schoolboy he used to perform in national music festivals, even performing for then President Daniel arap Moi at State House.

The man, who sings traditional folk songs while strumming the obokano, has recently graduated to Afro fusion after training at the French Cultural Centre.

Most Kisii folksongs are laden with heavy messages, warning against adultery and other social vices.

One day morning

Other than folksongs, Bikundo has also composed and sang songs on poverty, HIV/Aids and politics. In the song Speed Governor, he advises men to use protection to avoid contracting or transmitting HIV.

His song Obotaka Mbori Permanent (Poverty is not permanent) is a true reflection on his life.

"When I did this song, I was very poor. I knew that one day I would be financially stable and today, I’m not complaining," he says with a smile.

Bikundo and his former colleague the late Dismas Nyang’au rubbed some Kisii MPs the wrong way with their song Abachumbe Ng’ai Mwachiete (MPs where did you go after getting elected), as they hit out at MPs for failing to fulfil their promises.

"The song was well received by the public and we were very happy," he says.

Bikundo, who has performed at numerous social events and political rallies, rose to prominence in 1995 when he and Nyang’au released the first Kisii reggae song One Day Morning. They instantly became local celebrities.

Their debut song received enormous airplay from KBC Kisumu. Subsequently, his songs have received extensive airplay on FM radio stations especially Egesa FC, Radio Star and Radio Citizen.

But Bikundo’s real breakthrough came in 2006 during the Spotlight on Kenyan Music event. He was selected among the best from Nyanza and has since been entertaining guests at the Alliance FranÁaise once a month.

He dispels the notion that musicians are poor.

"It is too much drinking and women that ruin musicians otherwise we are a rich lot.

"From the money I earn from music I have bought two vehicles, two pieces of land and built a permanent house at home," he says.

New album

His lowest point in music was during the 2005 referendum on the proposed Constitution. He entertained guests at an ‘Orange’ rally. He did the same for the ‘Banana’ politicians.

This infuriated some Banana politicians who instructed youths to hunt and punish him. Luckily, Bikundo got wind of what was in the offing and went underground. He only resurfaced long after the referendum.

With 16 albums already to his credit, Bikundo is set to launch his latest Afro Fusion CD, Ekayaba, later this month.

The French Cultural Centre sponsored the 10-song CD and Bikundo will travel to Germany, US and South Africa next year to promote it.

He is married to Christine and they have a child. His first marriage collapsed after his wife ran away with everything in his house.

"She left the house looking like an empty hall. I was devastated but I moved on."

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