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‘Python skin’ enchanting fans 40 years on

By Wycliffe Nyakina

Christopher Monyoncho’s guitar makes incredible sounds. The magical effect of his music leaves fans wrapped in each other’s arms, lost in its melodious rhythm. He sometimes sings with his eyes closed and his body as still as a statue.

He has been expressing his feelings through his music for over 40 years.

His 1970s hit song Emeremo Yamasamba Rift Valley narrates the hazardous working conditions in Kericho’s tea estates.

"I was forced to resign from a tea estate by an arrogant supervisor in 1973. That prompted me to compose this song in collaboration with John Sitora and the Nyamwari Band," Monyoncho told Sunday Magazine recently.

Christopher Monyoncho

Born in 1945 in Kitutu Chache, Monyoncho goes by the stage name Riyo Riebasweti (python skin).

He says he chose the name because his community believes that python skin has medicinal value and protects the wearer from evil spirits. He believes that, like python skin, his music has a magical effect on his fans.

Monyoncho began his primary education at the age of 14, after returning from Arusha where he was fending for himself as a lumberjack. He dropped out of secondary school for lack of school fees (then Sh45 a term), and returned to felling trees.

The composer of 500 tracks would occasionally sing his compositions at weddings and pre-wedding parties, often moving young revellers to tears.

Still popular

Eventually, he was accused of corrupting young minds with his romantic music, prompting the local administration to impose a levy on him as a deterrent. Unable to raise the Sh86 monthly tax, he moved from the area.

Several months after his disappearance from the village he landed in Kericho to begin his career in music. In the 1970s, he recorded hit songs such as Entereba Egatinda Ekarara, Yobensia Moraa and Emeremo Yamasamba, which remain popular to date.

In the 1980s, his hits included Ogosira wa Joyce, Goika Otugute Oyomino, Ingine na Ingine and Bosibori Omurugi.

Monyoncho says persistence, consistence and taking calculated risks has kept him in the music industry and regrets joining politics in 1992.

"People come to you with all manner of problems and expect you to solve them. When you don’t, they hate you," the former councillor of Kegogi Ward laments in his 19th album Kumbe Siasa Nemechando (politics is trouble).

Monyoncho says his Nyamwari and Kegogi bands will be switching from benga to kwasa kwasa.