Kenyan musician Fadhili Williams Mdawida was largely believed to have composed and recorded the ageless hit, Malaika.
He came out shortly before his death on February 11, 2001, to openly declare that he was the brains behind the song that had other artists in East Africa and beyond jostling for a stake.
Hugging his 60s at the time, Fadhili had a few years earlier returned from the US after a 15-year sojourn in the perceived land of opportunities. Malaika was the engine behind his stay there, he said.
What prompted his return? Fadhili’s reply was plain and to the point: “Home is always best and I wanted to be with my people in my evening years”.
He chose Green Park where a matatu commuter terminal has now been built adjacent to the expansive Uhuru Park in Nairobi to declare to the world that Malaika belonged to him.
Tall and imposing, Fadhili arrived looking radiant in a well-tailored grey suit with a bow tie. He strode straight to where I was seated alone; guided by my mode of dressing that I had explained to him on the phone, my notebook and the camera I had carried to capture the moment.
Waiting anxiously for this celebrity I had known only in photographs, my heartbeats were almost audible when he extended his hand for me to shake, pride splashed all over his face. “I am Fadhili,” he introduced himself with a smile.
“This will be my first press interview since my return. I hope it will settle the controversy surrounding my internationally embraced hit, Malaika.
“I am the one who conceived and delivered Malaika to the world in 1963. I am the custodian of that gem. Others have come up with various lyrics and added words here and there. They are but pretenders. I own the throne.”
What inspired him to compose and record the song that was destined to become a world hit?
Fadhili rubbed his eyes, ostensibly to invoke old memories and said with a grin that displayed a healthy set of teeth: “There was this woman whom I loved and intended to marry, but I could not afford the bride price set by her parents. Allow me to keep her name secret. It pained me to see my angel being handed over to a wealthy elderly man. I composed the song to console her and to soothe my injured feelings,” he said.
Did he intend to take action against pretenders eyeing his throne, among them Miriam Makeba, then reputed as the Queen of Africa, Angelique Kidjo and others?
Fadhili said he did not contemplate any action because the lyrics by the others were different.
“People know the parrots that thrive on mimicry and repetition. They associate the song with me, no matter the versions out there. They always demand that I play Malaika whenever I am on stage, locally and internationally,” he said.
He dismissed as untrue talks that Malaika was first-authored by Tanzanian Adam Salim in 1945 while living in Nairobi, for a beautiful girlfriend he could not marry after her parents disapproved of their relationship because he was poor.
He said he wrote and recorded the song with his Jambo Boys Band in 1963. He said the song was later recorded at Equator Studios by music promoter Charles Worrod who marketed it internationally.
Fadhili said music runs in his blood, something inherited from his father who was a traditional musician in Taita Taveta District (now Taita Taveta County). Three of his siblings were also musicians.
He had no qualms stating that he dropped out of secondary school at Shimo La Tewa to pursue a musical career.
Besides Malaika, his hits included Taxi Driver, a song about him trying to rent a cab to Nakuru, in a bid not to break a promise to a woman he was to meet after his car developed a puncture at Naivasha. He also sang Pole Musa, among others.
Fadhili was born in 1938 and died three years after his return from the US.