It is a musical genre that is proving to be popular across the country, even among the modern young Kenyans. For all fast its growth of late, however, ohangla music has an unpalatable origin on the shores of Lake Victoria.
The original ohangla music, a fast tempo beat performed at weddings, funerals and other traditional ceremonies among the Luo people, was full of vulgar messages and was meant for adults only.
The ensemble then consisted of drummer with eight cowhide drums, another with a shoulder-slung monitor lizard skin drum, a flute player and a nyatiti player.
The dancers would vigorously gyrate their hips to the fast tempo, while alcohol flowed freely.
With time, this music was colonised by modern instruments. With the modern instruments and a generation change among musicians and the audience has evolved the beat, which is now much slower.
Technology has enabled musicians to fuse instruments like the synthesiser and guitars into ohangla, and basically doing away with its traditional element.
The biggest ohangla musicians currently are Emma Jalamo and Osogo Winyo, whose performances in various clubs across the country are normally packed. The audience will usually cut across all age groups. Even politicians joined the fray, many of them paying musicians to compose flattering songs about them for use during campaigns.
Of the current crop of musicians, Otieno Aloka is most skilled in playing the orutu, the nyatiti and the flute. That notwithstanding, Aloka has demonstrated his flexibility to adopt to the technologial changes by composing popular hits that include “Kanungo e Teko”, an evergreen hit on the club circles.
Jack Nyadundo and Tony Nyadundo have also adopted the modern beat in their ohangla songs, taking cue from the late Odongo Mayaka. They have, however, retained much of the traditional beat in their instrumentation.
Modernising the beat has helped to rescue ohangla from death, leading to stiff competition for fans among musicians. Apart from Jalamo, Aloka, and Nyadundo, other ohangla musicians of note include Onyango Alemo, Lady Maureen, and Nick Wuod Alego.
With modernity has also come the threat of piracy and copyright infringement.
Ohangla is loved by people of all ages, and its dancing style has also changed. It is now a sharp contrast from the code that guided the music before its modernisation. For instance, in the 1980s, the then chief of West Alego in Alego Usonga in Siaya County,
Peter Osowo, banned the performance of ohangla within the location after one of his wives eloped with a physically challenged ohangla player.
Evidence of the wide acceptance of ohangla in Kenya today can be found in most clubs, where a night does not end without a few songs playing in the course of the night, evidence that modernity is not necessarily a bad thing.