Reblogged from Daily Nation
The piercing whistle delivered in sync with the tune and, surprisingly, on key, has become his signature.
Ohangla musician Emma Jalamo largely stays true to form and does not radically veer off-course in his latest album Sherry, which was launched recently.
This production presents a mature side of Emma, evidence that his music is continuously evolving. Here is a musician who has reached a point where he is comfortable with his craft.
The songs are slower, more contemplative and as always, danceable. And the keyboard rendition is inventive, melodious and on-beat, something that has always set him apart from other purveyors of the genre.
Perhaps nowhere are these features more evident than in Sherry, which is the title number on this effort. A love song, the number is typical Emma-craft. The trademark “conversation” between the instruments and the vocalist is had and, as always dropped on staccato. Sometimes, the vocals are an overlay over the instruments.
And unlike most compositions in this genre, in which monotony and tiring, long, un-changing renditions are the norm, Emma attempts to create variety. The number climaxes into a full, danceable sound, with heavy percussions coming into play.
The start is a slow, danceable beat with a heavy rhumba accent. It is evidence, if ever any was needed, that Emma’s music has slowly become a deliberate fusion between ohangla and rhumba. Tellingly, his band is called ROR (Ramogi Ohangla Rhumba)
The same general format or variations of it are evident in the other four songs on the album: Raila, Wivu Mbaya, Tr Obwanda Jaimbo and Olendo Wuod Dala.
Perhaps the first song deserves special mention. Unlike most musicians in Luoland, where a praise song for former Prime Minister and Opposition chief Raila Odinga, is a must-have accessory in the portfolio, Emma had somehow always steered clear of this sub-genre, something that made him an oddity of sorts. So what changed?
“It is not a big deal. I guess the juogi (spirits) were not ready. This time round, for some reason, they were more than ready,” he says, echoing the lyrics in the song, a glint in his eyes.
When Emma talks about juogi, it is easy to believe him. Emma started his music as a choir member in Legio Maria, a religious organisation whose cradle is God Kwer, Migori County and whose members ascribe Messianic status to its late founder, Melkio “Papa” Ondeto Obingo.
The group, whose rich liturgy fuses modern-day Catholicism with elements of Luo traditional religion, is heavy on spiritualism. Legio Maria influence is evident in Emma’s music, which incorporates a lot of chanting and indentations of voice, otherwise known as dengo in Dholuo, which is normally deployed in dirges.
It is the unique elements of his sound, inventiveness, humour, discipline and overall professionalism that have set Emma apart from other exponents of the ohangla genre. He is also an accomplished song writer, seen in the smooth flow of Luo rhyme, idiom and metaphor in his music. In the process, he has cultivated near-cult following, mostly among the normally fickle, urban youth.
“For me, Emma’s is not just a fan base. It is a movement, a way of life. He is creative in a playful way, and most important of all, professional. Unlike most of his peers, he has a lot of respect for his fans, and will never stop a performance to recognise some prominent person or to shake down money from his audience,” says Kent Awiti, an enthusiast who has been following his music for some time.
And if the highest level of achievement for any form of art is its ability to develop its own language and forms of expression, then it would appear that Emma’s music is headed, if not already, there.
“Whenever I walk into a place these days, I can tell who is a Ja-Emma (Emma’s fan) just by watching them dance or listening to them talk. His music is also heavy on social commentary and life’s lessons. That’s how much of an effect he has had on our lives,” observes Opiyo Mumbo, a regular at the musician’s shows.
A genre which was normally associated with funerals and other cultural events in parts of present-day Siaya County (largely Alego), ohangla is a fast-paced; “adult” beat which was previously associated with vigorous dancing around the hips and vulgar lyrics. It was the bane of many a provincial administrator, most of whom responded by banning it, effectively taking it underground.
Heavy on percussion, a typical ohangla ensemble would consist of a three to eight drums’ set, shakers and a string instrument: orutu or nyatiti. A cylindrical shoulder-slung drum known as kalapapla, normally introduced during the climax to a song, would complete the set.
Modern-day ohangla owes its “mainstreaming” in no small part to the efforts of veteran musician Jack Nyadundo. But it was his young brother, Tony Nyadundo, who would give it mass appeal, when he boldly incorporated the melodica and later, the keyboard (synthesiser), into his offering during the popular shows he would hold at Kisumu’s Sunset Hotel in the early 2000s, attracting a more elite crowd.
Tony would later venture into heavy recording of his music, then a rarity among ohangla musicians.
Later, other exponents would emerge, keen to commercialise their music. They include Otieno Aloka, whose Kanungo remains a big disco hit in Kenya, with cross-ethnic appeal, sometimes among those who do not necessarily understand its lyrics, evidence of the universality of music.
Others who have built careers out of this ever-evolving genre are Osogo Winyo, Lady Maureen, Onyi Papa Jey and Onyango Alemo, among others.