(By Opiyo Odongo) – Source – Facebook page
Ochieng’ Kabasele was among the detainees following the abortive coup d’etat meted on Moi’s tyrannical Nyayo government in 1982 in which Snr. Private Hezekiah Ochuka Rabala was the President of Kenya and manned the country for six hours before fleeing to Tanzania. Ochuka was in the second lowest military rank, Snr. Private Grade I. Ochieng’ Kabasele then was an army officer too and an artist with his L’Ochestre Luna Kidi Band in Nairobi.
L’Orchestre Lunna Kidi was a strong band, some of it’s pioneer band members include vocalists such as Prof. George Albert Omore Magoha Ogola who was also Kabasele’s classmate in primary school after which they joined different secondary schools for O’Levels; Magoha joined Starehe Boys Centre and School while Ochieng’ Kabasele joined Pumwani Secondary School.
Hadjullas Nyapanji Ochieng Ogolla , known to most as Ochieng kabaselleh or Kalle wuod Ogola, was for at least two decades, one of Kenya’s most reknown and succesful musicians. For two decades He thrilled music fans from all over the country with excellent compostions and superb arrangements mirroring those of the Late Franco Luambo Makiadi. In fact His arrangements were so excellent that one would argue that If He were a Zairean , he would have ranked among the best on the continent. . His songs are a unique version of benga with smooth guitars, ringing horns and swingining percussion, augmented by Kabaselleh’s voice which varies between baritone and bass.
He recorded his first hit at age fifteen while a secondary school student at Pumwani secondary. It was one of the pioneers of Kenyan music, Daudi Kabaka, who gave Kabasselleh his first chance. Kabaka was at one time Kabaselleh’s neighbour and was intrigued by his musical ability. He arranged for kabaselleh to record with the Equator sound band.
He later founded his own band which he named Lunna Kidi. It was then that his popularity skyrocketed as He released hit after hit. He sung about a wide variety of topics. In songs like Zainabu, Sikul Agulu and Milicento he sung about a love interest. In Sije he talks about descent Human relations that transcend hard times. Piny Dunia Mokili was a song about people of bad character including a close relative who stole all his records while he was in prison. Wuora Ogolla Adoyo was an hommage to his father while Jacky Oyundi and Owino Ger were songs in praise of other people whose good character Kabaselleh admired.
Most of his songs were in dholuo. Some of his songs covered politics. His stint in prison was as a result of the lyrics in one of his songs which did not please the powers that be. Besides his excellent command of dholuo, Kabaselleh has also sang in Kiswahili and Lingala.
He was arrested by the government and charged with subversion. Specifically he was accused of being a member of an anti-government group called Mwakenya.
His wife Joan Ochieng told the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission that Kabaselleh was arrested on October 26, 1986, by 10 Special Branch officers in a raid on their house in Kariobangi.
The officers ransacked the house and left with his passport, documents and newspaper cuttings. Two Weeks later, Kabaselleh was taken back to his house to collect some documents. He told his wife that since he left, he had not eaten anything. He was given soda and bread but he could not eat food. The officers later left with him.
The family was kept in the dark about his whereabouts. Mrs Ochieng said that people would inform the family that he was seen being taken to Ngong Hills, Naivasha Maximum Prison among other places.
On 29 October 1986, a relative called them at night and told them that he was seen at the High Court and had been sentenced to three years imprisonment.
He was detained at the Industrial Area prison and King’ong’o Maximum Prison in Nyeri before being released in October 1989.
After his release from prison, he composed a song “Jela” which still is a giant hit as the artist himself!
ln this song he sang lightly with joy about King’ong’o prison to lessen his past pain associated with prison life, accumulated for the three years of detention; he sings in praise of King’ong’o as if it were a pleasant place to be in, as if King’ong’o was his sweet home ( he uses irony.. ); “.. King’ong’o King’ong’o, kwa Lunna kwa Wang’ombe..♪♪🎸”
Kabasele confuses his political audience by starting the song “Jela ” by at the begining of the song, praising a very beautiful brown skinned lady “rapudo” who is so beautiful that if you happen to see her, God must be gracious to you, she is so beautiful that if you happen to set your eyes upon her, even your headache disappears.. should you see her, even a rain approaching stops and disappears in the clouds.. for she is a love miracle that has has landed on the earth! Wow! how beautiful Rapudo was? Don’t you think Kabasele was super creative? He manages to evade censorship by confusing the political class that he is singing a love song, yet this is not the case.. he is actually recounting his prison life, but begining it from a very beautiful note that submerges his listener/audience into an austere musical sublime.. his artistic grandeur is just irresistibly attractive, maybe to me Opiyo if not to all my fellow Benga music lunatics..
Towards the song’s postlude, Kabasele gives hope to his audience as he consoles himself so solemnly as he refers to himself as “Mbuta” a sumptuous marine delicacy from Lake Victoria, a favourite identical with the Luos; he sings to himself; “Mbuta ling’ aling’a Nyasaye nitie..” which can loosely be translated to mean, “Mbuta be consoled in the acknowledgement of the existence of God..” and further.. “Mbuta chieng’ moro Nyasaye nokonywa.. Mbuta chieng’moro nwachiewgi hawi.. mbuta ndalo no-go nwarom g’omoro..” meaning; Mbuta someday God will bless us, Mbuta some day we will intercept luck in the morning and someday we will meet the roan antelope.. a sign of good luck ahead !”
He would later reminisce about his time in prison in songs like Jela and Jacky Oyundi, where he sung about his confused feelings when he arrived in prison: “Piny ne lich na, to na mor ma lich ma ngano. Na Mor ma ngano mobwogo ji duto e jela which translates to “I was depressed about my situation yet incredibly. I was so happy that it scared everyone in the prison. Such highs and low where people exhibit two opposite sets of extremes are typical of people suffering from clinical depression.
Typical of great musicians, Ochieng’ Kabasele was also very sarcastic with his musical art, and would proudly take the fight to his music rivals’ doorsteps by singing lines of mockery against them. For example in the track “Dunia Mokili ” he considers himself an elephant 🐘 and indeed he was since he was such a towering giant with an intimidating size, a perfectionist, educated, experienced, principled, strict and a proud Luo. He does a proverbial allusion to a Luo adage; “liech ikuodho koloko ng’eye..” which means nobody dares faces an elephant head-on, you can only chest thump and talk about an elephant by its back or its behind when it doesn’t notices you.. so Kabasele doesn’t care what you say on his back for he is an elephant and you fear hear so much that you can’t face him.. “en waachuu gimuhero wacho kuom liech koloko ng’eye..”
Some people will make a feast out of your tribulations.. when you’re in prison, some people will steal your property, when you lose your job and go broke, some friends will “steal your wife” when you are sick some friends will give you traumatising messages that gives you very little room for hope, such is life, we must be weary of such..
Ochieng’ Kabaselle indeed was a great musician, an entertainer and an educator par excellence! He made Benga music rich by infusing instrumental Rhumba undertones in it.
Rich indeed is African music.
These are our treasure trove as Africans, they’re songs recounting experiences fetched from the real, raw and even ideal African setting with our own local, oral and cultural aunthenticity that resonates with our minds as well as reverberating with our beautiful and strong African souls in such a tranquil and versatile rhythm with which we find solace in our identity and pride as being AFRICA 🌍 and AFRICANS !🖤
After his release from prison, his health deteriorated ; He had developed chest problems and had become diabetic. His condition worsened and he died in Nairobi West Hospital. Sadly , He passed away in December of 1998 due to complications resulting from diabetes.