Revelers on the floor at Signature Club in Kakamega dance to the Mukangala hit song. [File, Standard]

Songstress Gertrude Mwendo Anyika, who died last Friday, had been an icon and flamboyant figure in the Phonotex Success Band.

In 1965, at the age of 20 years, the iconic singer joined the late music maestro Jacob Luseno to form the famed band alongside Isaya Mwinamo and Fadhili Williams.

Through music, the group used Luhya proverbs to caution or teach the youth, women and the society at large.

At that time, the music industry was dominated by legends Daudi Kabaka, John Nzenze, Luseno, Ezekia Ang’ana and Isaiah Mwinamo.

Mwendo pulled the strings as a hobby and collaborated on numerous hit songs on composition and drama as well as choreography of Lipala dances.

Away from the key role played in the band, Mwendo was a symbol of feminine gender and aspect in the real African culture and the changing world.

She rose to become the main lady vocalist that spiced the performance and no single song would go without her input.

Among their notable renditions that went viral include Mukangala and Amakuru, both recorded in 1974 by Isaiah Mwinamo, the legendary sound engineer.

Mwendo rose to stardom and doubled as a dancer as well as talented composer.

Her portfolio extends to other well-adored songs, including Injeti, Masiali, Cecilia, Regina, House Maid, Bushuma Bwa Malika (funeral delicacies), Ingato, Kutsie Ingo (make a visit to the village) and Linda, among others.

Mama Mwendo, together with Luseno, dramatised everyday happenings in life and incorporated this drama in their music to produce many hit songs.

For a long time, the duo did music as a passion until when well-wishers assisted them to record at Philips studio.

Interestingly, the band which sings in Luhya dialect, with few in Kiswahili, focused their songs on current affairs and daily happenings in the society.

They will in turn coil the English language to fit the Luhya dialect and use of local names in order to drive the message home. For instance, Veronica would become Voronika, Seria for Cecilia, Kalara for Claire, Berisira for Peris.

In Makuru, Mwendo portrays how helpless women were in homesteads when the ruthless village elders would come to collect house tax. Their ruthless nature made them go away with the family basins and animals. This was to caution them on their evil deeds.

In Ikalakala, Mwendo described how lazy women would move from one market feeding on delicacies while their children go hungry.

Even with the death of the Luseno, the music went on with members releasing successes such as Likhutsa lia Luseno (passing on of Luseno), Speed Governor, and Soldier.

Mwendo was born in 1945 at Emwironje village, Ilala near Mukumu, within Shinyalu constituency of Kakamega County.

She drank her first cup of knowledge at Mukumu Boarding Primary School in 1953 and thereafter joined Mukumu Girls High School in 1960.

In 1961, she joined Kianda Secretarial College for business and secretarial course before enrolling at the University of Nairobi for French and Communication Technology.

She began employment at Cotton Lint Seed Company as a secretary before moving to General Motors and Trans World Airlines and later Shelter Afrique in the same capacity.

It was until 2005 when she moved to Kenyatta University as secretary to the Director in the department of Early Childhood Education where she retired a year later to concentrate fully on the desire of her heart, music.

Mwendo, who can be likened to Miriam Makena and Mbilia Bel, spiced the music with her soothing mellow voice and exciting drama, making it quality and marketable.

In 1977, was married to Alex Anyika, with whom they bore three children – Humphrey, Lyckie Anyika and another who passed on. Anyika later died in a road accident in December, 2016.

Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale is among key leaders who have condoled with the family. “You are in my thoughts and your family and friends are in my prayers. Rest in peace, Queen of the Baluhyia music. Getty weru, you were great,” he eulogised.

According to her elder son Humphrey Anyika Makatiani, the songster succumbed to gangrene disease last Friday after midnight at Kakamega General Referral Hospital.

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