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It started with a headache: ‘Firirinda’ singer Dick Njoroge on how he lost his voice

By Ndungu Gachane | February 23rd 2021 at 19:56:07 GMT +0300

Dick Njoroge alias Munyonyi (centre), the artiste behind the popular Firirinda song, with his son Munyonyi Junior (right) and musician Epha Maina. Munyonyi's song has taken took social media by storm 35 years later after it was released. [Ndungu Gachane, Stanadard]

Firirinda, a Kikuyu traditional golden oldie is becoming a sensation on social media platforms 35 years after its release.

Its singer Dick Njoroge, popularly known as Munyonyi, can’t clearly explain how the song has all of a sudden become the talk in gatherings and social media platforms, only attributing its resurging popularity to the Lord.

Munyonyi was a Benga superstar in 1990s and a celebrity who could only be equated to Joseph Kamaru but his musical career took a u-turn at the Coast where he had joined Kamaru’s band to do 12 shows.

“I had joined Kamaru’s band with the likes of Wa Tailor and Julius Kangethe (By Law) in Mombasa for a series of 12 shows when I developed headaches whenever I took to the stage. I could not continue with the shows and had to ask the late Kamaru to allow me to go back home,” Munyonyi recalls.

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At that time, Munyonyi recalls his hit “Munyonyi” was so popular that he had to be asked to be the last artiste to sing because whenever he sang it, fans could not wait for other artistes to perform. They would leave exhilarated and contented with his performance.

He remembers alighting from their bus from Mombasa after which the headaches persisted and shockingly after passing through River Road, where he used to record his songs, he lost his voice completely only to recover partially which means he can no longer sing.

To date, he says whenever he goes to Nairobi and passes through River Road, he develops a headache and his partial voice disappears.

Things got harder for the musician after he was diagnosed with Tuberculosis and the drugs prescribed affected his heart.

Lost voice

“Doctors could not explain how I lost my voice but they advised me not to undergo an operation. I don’t know what happened with my voice but I'm glad I can now talk with difficulty,” Munyonyi says.

From a famous artiste with 37 albums under his belt who interacted with the First family of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Munyonyi became helpless.

Now he depends on well-wishers for upkeep as he cannot sing anymore.

He vividly recalls how he used to compose songs in praise of Ngengi Muigai, a nephew of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, whom he campaigned for besides performing during Uhuru Kenyatta’s wedding.

“I composed songs in favour of Ngengi Muigai and he paid back later when I had gone to his office to invite him to the communal activity of preparing mud to construct my house. He gave my wife Sh500 and requested her to pay our son to prepare the mud in his place.

That’s when we explained that my wife had miscarriages and we had no child. We were sent to his Asian doctor who treated the wife until she was able to have children,” Munyonyi remembers.

Munyonyi has interacted with President Uhuru Kenyatta on two occasions.

On the first occasion, he met the President at Mlango Kubwa, Eastleigh, Nairobi. The President, he recalls, noticed him stopped his entourage and called him and asked for his phone number.

“On that occasion, I could not remember my number. I was so confused since I had not expected anybody to recognise me in an area like Mlango Kubwa. The President left but on the second occasion when he visited Gatundu, I went close to him. He called me and asked me whether I could remember my phone number and I handed it to him," Munyonyi recollects.  

He also remembers how in 1986 Ngengi’s wife sponsored his song which he says was based on a true account of when his wife had left him with an infant.

“The lullaby Munyonyi was based on true events. My wife and I had separated. The song became a household name. I used to be invited to very many shows to perform it”.

Firirinda is a celebratory song that urges hosts to welcome visitors who drink with beer and teetotallers with tea.

Inspiration

He released the song after noticing how children used to dance, enticing politicians to part with some money.

Later he reworked it to suit dowry negotiation ceremonies.

But the song never really caused waves after he partially lost his voice only to emerge in social media when Jeff Kuria, a host in one of the Kikuyu radio stations posted it on his Facebook account.

“I’m thankful that my name has been re-introduced to the music industry, although my wife and children always cry whenever they hear or play the song as it reminds them of how I lost my voice. I’m optimistic that things will be better,” Munyonyi adds.

However, all is not lost to the artiste.

He now composes songs, plays the guitar and gives the songs to his son Munyonyi Junior whom he hopes will keep his musical career alive.


Dick Njoroge Firirinda Munyonyi
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