We got back to Kisumu and into a load of grief. “Gentlemen’s” Gentleman” KSK Odongo was dead… and darn! Rumours were flying all over Kisumu and people said it was suicide.
He was found sitting on his drum stool behind his new electric drum set (recently bought with Uncle’s money) in Olindas’ rehearsal room. KSK had recently become a drum maniac and kept a ton of gear in a room at the back of Olindas dungeons. He’d acquired quite a bit over the years as the focussed professional he was. He had at least four sets of drumkits, including a Lockfast Premier twin bass kit with a Zildjan cymbal set. He had been fooling around with electric connections and electrocuted himself when he wanted to join wires and bit off at live wire with his teeth. I wanted to believe it was an accident. KSK wasn’t that courageous or careless… the guy loved himself. I mean KSK wasn’t the kind of artist who would mess his own life. The guy walked with a mirror, comb and shoe brush in his pockets. The guy showered twice a day and complained a lot about Kisumu heat. The guy hated to sweat, detested the smell of sweaty bodies and kept away from the hot sun as much as he could. The guy always wore well pressed shirts and when sitting on a chair, he would remove his hanky and dust the seat first. When he ate fish, he never ate the head. He only wore jeans and t-shirts on weekends and his jeans were not like Mo’s which never saw water: they were always washed. When the blue of the jeans started fading, he gave them away. You should’ve seen his bed room. You should’ve seen the bed he slept in, he slept like a king. No I didn’t believe KSK was capable of messing himself by taking away the life he loved so. I wasn’t particularly sorry for him since committing suicide means taking one’s own life. And that is doing something stupid. The Sunday keepers say your soul goes straight to hell and you have no chance of Redemption. And death scares me… suicide scares me more.
So you can imagine how mad I was to be told that he had left a note for me to educate his son. I didn’t even know he had a son. So conservative he was I didn’t even know his woman. I only knew he dated several high class working women, the refined liberated women of Kisumu. It didn’t jar me, it only angered me. When a close friend-turned-foe suddenly dies, how does it affect you? What are you supposed to do? I think my twenty-nine year old mind couldn’t really wonder about KSK’s last thoughts as his soul rushed out of his body. I’d seen a few ugly deaths… Oliver, Magak, Nicholas Opija, Joy, my bro Keya and Spark Onyango and I don’t think these deaths affected me that much. I think the way you respond to a guy’s death has to do with how they treated you during their lives. When a guy went through his life like he was of no use to society and he was better dead and no one will miss him, you feel nothing for him when he finally gives the ghost. I think so far the only person I had lost whose death really affected me was Joy. She was the only person I really “lost.”
Then the rude realization that we were still family musically hit me. My life played a brief vista of our times together and I couldn’t believe that the earth had claimed KSK, the drummer who was my deputy for four years. You can probably imagine, this was like a bad dream. In fact it was so annoying to think I was confronted with this death and I had to be Mr. Nice to a traitor. He was a restless and ambitious man who was always walking out on me to recreate Delta Force. Reason for suicide? No one knew but many attributed it to the failure of Kisumu Delta Force especially after Ominde Nyang’ organized the rebellion that resulted in the birth of Victoria Academy. It was said that the entire KDF defected to Academy. Yeah? What goes around comes around. He did the same to me in 1988 when he took away my best musicians and left me marooned. But was this enough reason for the guy to kill himself? I didn’t think so. I know people kill themselves for all sorts of funny reasons. During my high school in Kisumu Day, a classmate killed himself for being jilted by a girl. But in KSK’s case, there had to be another reason. But this wasn’t any business of mine; I had other things in my head.
I didn’t go to the Russia mortuary; no way was I going to go. Eyes were on me, but I didn’t bother myself. No, dread, no. I wasn’t going into that mortuary. Never wanted to see the body. I was asked about his last wishes… about his boy and I said I was going to think about it. But deep inside I was angered. Why me? What about his brothers and sisters? His parents… relatives. Maybe he had died penniless but whose fault was that? I gave him all the opportunities. He gave me hell, eventually stabbed me in the back and nearly destroyed my career. What about the cars I gave him which he crashed? What about the way he attacked me in song calling me fake millionaire? No, I didn’t think I was going to do anything about those last wishes, folks. And I wasn’t going to discuss this thing with anybody because I knew they would try to reason with me to educate the boy. He couldn’t be really penniless, what about his royalties? What about his rental houses? This was another scheme to rip me off.
No way. Sorry KSK.
Instead I suggested a fundraiser. I booked Sosial for the celebration of KSK’s life and fundraising for his burial expenses. It shocked me the large number of people who turned up. Uncle too attended with his hot school-girl wife, Maria. At one end, a stage had been set up and a roster of bands had been invited to entertain the mourners. A brief appearance of the still-living still-willing members of KSK’s faction of Kisumu Delta Force was to perform, followed by a cameo from Victoria Academy. I had refused to put Victoria on the program, so Victoria didn’t participate.
Tears and sadness lasted till nightfall, and enough money was raised. Then the event took the shape of a free dance jamboree and the place was rocking and cops on beat had wandered in to wonder if this was a dance party or what kind of a funeral service this was with high volume and dancing people. The place was jumping and pumping and Ayo sparkled as she shared the stage with Mawazo. Academy could only play our records since they had no material of their own, so it was like old times, and what a shame someone like KSK who was so much loved had to die and miss all this fun.
When Academy launched ‘Anyango Nyar Nam’ I could take it no more. Aseela watched me take my SG Custom from its case and sling the strap over my shoulder. She joined me as I came up on stage and plugged in.
“You sure you can play with Academy?” she asked, dubious, “it’s weird.”
“I’ll give it a go,” I smiled, “For KSK and for music.”
The vocal attack was so crisp and wah wah, Ayo jumped stage to share a mic with Mawazo. I added a jangle, with beautiful, precise fingerwork. Behind me, I was aware of the brush of the hi-hat, and the knocking of the tomtom, all even and exactly in time. I wondered if these Academy guys could play this kind of music. They were playing fast which I found oddly infuriating.
I looked across at Ominde Nyang’ as we neared the end of the second verse. I urged him to slow down the rhythm with a nod of the head while I tried out a few runs at the top. The communication was immediately understood. Ominde, the Acadeny boss, was a versatile guitarist with a good sense of working with other musicians.
The drummer led off with some powerful double rimshots and a smash of cymbals, before driving the band instantly with his double toms and bass-drum. ‘Daka daka?’ he seemed to be saying, ‘I’ll give them daka daka raka taka!’
Aseela was singing and mi-soloing at the same time. She followed me up the scale while never smothering her voice in guitar flurries. People could see why she was considered a sexy guitarist. She played a “thin” key during the sebene and she was gyrating suggestively as she plucked and fingered the strings.
As we careered the song to the end, she played a rock-slide riff, rippled and jarred the sound and left it hanging big in the air. She looked flushed with excitement. “That’s exactly what we want to do,” she told Ominde, “but I can’t believe I can play guitar that good. I always love to sex it up.”
While the audience clapped and booed, she thrust her guitar at the Academy soloist and jumped off the stage.
Mo took issues with me about my playing. “What’s up, bwana? you’re playing off key,” he grumbled.
I shrugged and snorted harshly. “That last sebene part on ‘Anyango’ is open string; I dampen the strings with my hand, and then strum over the fret. I don’t have my plectrum.”
“Your hands getting soft, jatelo?”
“I haven’t played seriously in weeks.”
“Wacha. Knock it off, you Kondele man.”
Next was “The Poet” Opiyo Willy’s all-time Kisumu anthem “Wasichana Wacha Tabia Mbaya”, off the There’s No Mathematics In Love album. I was back on stage in a flash and we started the warming benga-rumba groove. In the original recording, this song was a duet featuring Agwenge’s smoothly controlled off-colour alto and Aseela’s brilliant tenor with Mzee Frank’s high soprano shining big in the midst. But in this performance Agwenge’s part was played by Ayo. “The Poet” Opiyo Willy’s songs were normally very wordy and the crowd loved the true things “The Poet” loved to tell. Indeed during Opiyo Willy’s era, our music had slowed down and the singers had room to talk… to say things. To provoke people and make people laugh at themselves. Listening in to the vocal bantering between Aseela and Ayo was to watch a duel. The two women actually quarrelled each other through the song, each one trying to out-do the other much to the delight of the fans.
“They’ll be fighting in a minute,” Roki Fela warned, whispered to me.
“Hapana,” I whispered back. “Ayo’s having fun, look. It’s Aseela who’s taking things too seriously. Look at her face. But I love these Victorian women. They go back a long way.”
Then a long way down, we built it into a call-and-response affair with hard questions asked and no answers given. Then Aseela raised her hand to signal the instrumentalists to break it down into climax and it burst into a soukous score with riveting sebene.
There was a brief interlude and we were all nursing drinks and talking in the cool air outside. I took a much needed breather, downed a soda and walked about greeting people. Ayo was drunk and getting sad. “Seems everyone thinks the world of him,” she said and she sighed. “Women especially.” She was talking about KSK. My eyes scanned the crowd and I took in a number of smartly-dressed important-looking women.
“Which one?” I asked.
“There.” Ayo pointed. I saw a nice-looking woman with a well-rounded face, sobbing piteously and being comforted by two other women. She was a looker even in grief. She was biggish and well-dressed. And she was important-looking; could have been a woman of force and strength like my Mama Iva.
“Who’s she?” I asked while picking at the label on her beer: Guinness.
Ayo shrugged. “All I know is that she is a bank manager.”
“Wow. She looks older than him.”
“Obviously. There are others. I doubt if we will carry this funeral through without Kisumu women tearing their clothes. KSK lived his life to the fullest, hehehe.”
“Nonsense. He didn’t marry any of them. Does he have other kids?”
“Possible. The one who bore him the boy he dumped on you with was here. I can’t see her now.”
Biggy Tembo joined us then, just arriving. After shaking hands with me like Moi greeting Babangida, he asked, “Where’s KSK?”
“You mean the body? Russia,” he was told.
“Why not Lake Nursing? With my pal Agwenge, huh?” he asked, reached for the Tusker Aseela held out for him. Lake Nursing Home was the hospital where my brother Awenge was admitted with kidney complications.
“Ai yawa!” Ayo patted Biggy on the shoulder. “The Queen Belinda Aseela Auma knows this big man better than anyone. You could’ve gotten married to him. Long before I joined Victoria.”
Aseela was on her. “Ask yourself why I'm perfect for Biggy? Huh?"
“Give me the short version?” Aseela replied. And she sang:
I don’t really love him.
So I cannooooo—ooot marry him
And don’t ask me why
Ohhh, uuhhh, uuhh
She kissed Biggy openly on the lips and laughed delightedly.
“You don’t love him?” Mawazo put in. “I think you do. One big happy family. I could write a song about this. For Wana Academy.”
“Why the love?” asked Ojua Kali Man. “Anaku-enjoy.”
Ayo laughed. “Ati anam-enjoy?”
“Eh, unani-enjoy? Kwa nini?” asked Biggy.
“Sababu gani? Kwani hauoni, maze?” replied Ayo.
Aseela cleared her throat. With an sexy toss of the head that made hoop earrings and several loose chins swaying, she declared, “For one, we’re not attached. He’s married, that means I have my freedom. Two, I don’t really love him, not in the emotional sense…we get along fine. Hey! Don’t forget I’m an artist.”
“Three?” asked Okach Biggy.
“Ah, three?” Aseela sighed. “Three? I couldn’t ever marry him but I could have a baby with him in a heartbeat.”
“Yeah, but keep love out, it complicates things.”
“The Poet” Opiyo Willy spoke for the first time. “Says the Love Doctor. Opiyo Willy The Poet. Listen to this…” He sang,
This love is complicated
We’re in love, but we’re not attached.
He’s married, that means I have my freedom.
I don’t really love him,
I say I don’t really love him,
Not in the emotional sense…
We get along fine. Hey! Don’t forget I’m artist.
I couldn’t ever marry him
But I could have a baby with him in a heartbeat.
“Huh? How so?” Ayo asked Aseela. “You don’t want the bastard to cheat on you?”
Aseela nodded. “I want to establish control. Freedom.”
That made me remember Aseela’s recent abortion. “I think you love him, don’t deny it,” I said.
Aseela protested. She let out a long sigh, came close to me and whispered in my ear, “Are you thinking about the abortion? It seemed a natural thing to do at the time.”
It amused me. She was sweet on him—mostly out of desperation.
And we carried on poking at each other and laughing and having fun like secondary school students. Mawazo then announced he had recently given out an engagement ring to his sweetheart.
Ayo beamed, faked out a genuine concern. “Amazing. Hey, did you do it the traditional way? Luo chicks like it traditional. You know, on bended knees?”
“Ah?” Mawazo grinned, “No.”
“No?” “The Poet” Opiyo Willy jumped in. “Oh, no, no. No. I don’t get it. Oh, Ayo, that’s a good one. I’ll have to remember that on my next song. On bended knees. Well, we are musicians, aren’t we? We sing about love and manners and tell men how to treat women like ladies and we show women how to love men. Right? Right?”
“Right,” somebody yessed him.
“But… really we can’t be the perfect people we want the people to be. We are slobs for most of the time. Haha!”
“Meaning?” asked Mawazo. “Unatuambia nini, maze?”
I turned then to look at Mawazo. I had noticed how bad he looked some days ago when I met him at Lakeshore Studios. Today he looked no better; he had lost almost half his weight, his laughs ended up in tearing coughs. I took him to one side and demanded to know from him what was wrong… why was he in such bad shape and he told me he was recently diagnosed with TB and typhoid. He had quit smoking. As we talked, a young woman approached us and Mawazo introduced her to me as Judy, his fiancée. The young woman looked at me with wonder and said she was a great fan of mine. She looked cheerful and innocent. She told me she was a nurse and I only hoped she was now going to take good care of Mawazo. I only hoped whatever was eating him alive was not what I thought it was.
Mawazo leaned close to me and sang a line for me.
“Nampenda, lakini naogopa,” he sang the well-known Wanyika line
KDF were playing rumba and Benz took things off in blaze of dual solo guitar mayhem that had everyone shaking and rocking while getting filled up with alcohol and food from the buffet. I nudged Mawazo to go ahead when Onyata was done with his set. Mawazo stood on the stage and got everyone’s attention.
“We are all gathered here today as Wana Delta. I want to thank you all for coming, for your help and support in bringing this place to life. Especially to Benz and his excellent crew and our Academy and KDF buddies.” He indicated Ojua Kali Man sitting down in front.
“Bullshit,” bitched Ominde. “I don’t belong with the KDF pack. Academy hoyee,” he roared back and everyone laughed.
Roki Fela shot up. “To say KDF is to show respect to KSK. Respect Gentlemen’s Gentleman KSK Odongo. Respect Kisumu Delta Force!’”
“Speaking of KSK and KDF.” Mawazo gave me a lopsided smile. “I want to thank him for his diligent work in Delta Force, this really is his vision. Otis son of Odundo, Abonyo telo owadgi Odingo, I salute you too boss.” He applauded and everyone else joined in, forcing me to stand and take a bow.
“Okay, this one goes to KSK. I also want to thank him for, um something… special.” Mawazo said hesitantly and everyone quieted at his serious expression. Ayo glanced over at Judy the fiancée whose gaze held Mawazo with such affection and anticipation the singer could hardly breathe.
“I have a confession to make, I have been living a lie for many years and I want to thank KSK for making me realize I can’t lie anymore.“ Mawazo looked straight at Judy, who watched him with obvious love. He turned to the expectant crowd.
“I’m getting married to his cousin Judy.” There was clap of silence and Judy trembled as she waited.
“Halleluyah,” Aseela hollered.
“Finally,” Ayo screamed. She ran to Judy, hugged her.
“Thank God, for a minute I thought you were going to tell us you’re defecting to Kanu,” Biggy Tembo blurted followed by laughter and applause from the others. Most greeted the news with a mixture of surprise, relief and casual “so what” shrugs.
“I thought he was going to say he is HIV,” Ayo whispered to me.
“Wow, I had no idea,” Aseela said to no one in particular in a shameless attempt at surprise. Biggy came over and wrapped her in a bear hug.
“Thank you, young lady, you got the son of a bitch to open up,” Ayo said to Judy with tears in her eyes. She stepped back in sudden embarrassment.
“Damn, I never thought I’d see the day,” Ojua Kali Man said humorously but there was no hiding the enormous relief at no longer having to bear the burden of hiding Mawazo’s source of anguish. He and Mawazo were now best of friends.
I was struck by the effect of Mawazo’s pronouncement. I hadn’t expected it, but like a stone dropped in a pond, the effect rippled through the lives of those he touched.
Naomi, a petite Kisii woman with a pinched scowl on her face pushed her way to the front of the crowd around Mawazo. She had been his number one for many years and she had put up with a lot in the name of love. Mawazo tensed as he faced her. He always respectfully kept his distance from the fierce Bantu woman of valour who ran his life like a drill sergeant.
“I’m very disappointed in you Mark Pascal Omondi, my love, I wasted six years waiting. Just waiting. For what? This moment?” There was a silence at her remark until she broke into a girlish sob. Mawazo hunched his shoulders in a vain attempt to hide his acute blush. There would be no end to the ribbing from her for a while. Naomi reached up and gave Mawazo a kiss on the lips
“Lucky girl, you be good to this man or I’ll kill you,” she threatened Judy. “Bear his burden, and mind you, it’s not a light one.”
“Or else she’ll saute you in ogira with obuolo mushrooms,” Aseela added half-jokingly.
We could all see the impact of Naomi’s work in Mawazo’s revival. I couldn’t be happier for the guy. Mawazo was equally amazed at how well everyone took his revelation in stride and I wondered why he worried so much. He walked around the place greeting people with Judy and Naomi close to his side, frequently touching him on the arm or shoulder to assure him.
Everyone hugged or shook Mawazo’s hand, congratulating him on his courage. Mawazo nodded, too overcome to form words pass the tight knot in his throat.
Many young women as we expected, sat in icy silence or left quickly from the celebration. I suspected there would be a few threats on his life tomorrow from jilted lovers. One of them was an older woman who stared at Mawazo and the group around him with visible disgust. She managed the Kondele building where Dasarille Grill was housed; the club where Academy performed. She shot Mawazo a dirty look. Mawazo had lived with her for many months during the dry spells when music income was short. The woman used to take advantage of his off balance state and was always telling people she was his wife. She continued to feed Mawazo with a dirty look. This was all happening too fast, I thought.
“Great idea, Omosh,” Aseela leered. “I, for one would love to have you in my bed for a night of goodbye-to-the-singledom-club before you tie the knot. It’s allowed.” Mawazo looked very uncomfortable with the banter. He had never been used to the way Aseela always came on boldly for his pants. She certainly had the personality for it and was more sociable than he was, Ayo mused. Ojua Kali Man cleared his throat and nodded; it was already decided. Everyone clinked bottles in a toast to Mawazo. A lively and sometimes bawdy discussion of what Mawazo’s new duties would be ensued among the gang.
“Sawa, I’ll think about it,” he mumbled and everyone reacted as if it was a done deal. “Thanks for the advice, though I think I am the only one to marry out KDF gang. The only one. So small wonder is where did you guys get your experiences from.”
Laughter tore through and broke the small party and threw people in different directions. Mawazo and Ominde climbed on the stage in great haste, the former grabbing a mic and the latter strapping on a guitar. Academy traditionally played some bluegrass music as part of their repertoire since they had no material of their own. They were playing an instrumental called ‘Yuyu Wawa Yuyu’, which was a fairly up-beat, higher speed rumba tune. Mawazo cut his teeth in the vocals and Ominde spiked up the solo and the tempo boiled over.
“So now you are not educating his boy?” Ayo was saying to me as we danced. I frowned, having missed the conversation.
“Ei, give me a break,” I patted her on the ass. “You all know how I feel about KSK,” I explained and Ayo nodded out of politeness.
“I was concerned about KSK’s last wishes.”
“If you were me, what would you do?” I punned further, returning the smack to Ayo.
“Sorry I asked,” she said looking at me with a half-smile.
She quirked up a corner of her mouth in a moment of doubt. It was clear KSK had left me holding the baby and everyone was waiting, watching me. Ayo was always the loud one who vocalised other people’s thoughts and opinions. She had no respect for me and I hated the way she was always butting in.
The song ended and we returned to our tables. Naomi emerged from the back of hall and joined us as we sat sipping our beers and talking quietly. Hard cavacha played out in the background on the stage; it was now Poposso on the lead vocals accompanied by Mawazo and Okach Biggy on ‘Sigana Mar Anyango’ giving the dark room the feeling of speak-easy.
Ayo left to get a drink. Without missing the beat, Aseela nudged me, took my arm and engaged me in a hard quirky dance.
“The place looks good, thanks,” she said as she swept the floor with smooth moves. She held onto my hand while she waltzed around and floated about. I did rapid footwork, rotated her, tossed her around drew her back, threw her off and drove her back to me.
“It turned out alright.”
“Alright? It’s a nice send-off for KSK.”
“Yeah.” I ground her to myself, looked around and caught Biggy looking at us with a ruthless stare.
“Biggy,” I whispered in her ear.
“Yeah, slow down please… and you’re turning me on.” She was breathing hard; she rubbed herself against me and broke free. I brought her back we danced hard and crazy. She bumped her body on me. “This is not happening.” She gasped. “Don’t hold me like that; this is not rumba, so we have no excuse.”
“You can give it to me? If I asked?”
She eye-balled me. “Why not? I can’t resist you.”
She held me, gave me a pained desirous look, ground her pelvis area against me, felt me and groaned. “I can’t believe… please let me go, you’re hurting me!” She broke off and went to Biggy.
I went out for fresh air, joined the repartee. Naomi was ranting and raving; obviously she was tipsy.
“Sorry for your loss, Naomi,” Ominde Nyang’ said in his trademark loud voice and there was general agreement all around.
“You, on the other hand, could get a new girl to love,” Naomi told him with an arched brow.
“I told you my wife and I are a package deal,” Ominde told her mischievously. “Get somebody else.”
“So we won’t be seeing you around now Judy’s taken over your driver’s seat?” Ojua Kali Man asked blithely. Naomi smacked him on the back of the head, the jolt made him spill his beer.
“It’s not over, mazee” she informed him. “Watch me. He’s mine. I will give him time to get over the madness of marriage. That nurse has no idea what’s in store for her. She got him because he fell sick and she was the night nurse at the hospital. But I have the best medicine.” Ojua Kali Man glared at her then looked to me and “The Poet” Opiyo Willy, comprehension sinking in.
“She loves singers,” I revealed.
“Actually you will be seeing a lot more of me since I’ll be moving to Kisumu from Kisii,” Naomi said and the others ohhed lasciviously.
“If you worked here you could a good Luo guy,” “The Poet” Opiyo Willy remarked. He was notoriously sloppy about saying what he shouldn't say. Naomi considered the idea thoughtfully.
“That would be great considering I’m naturally attracted to Luo men.” This got another round of lewd responses. I halted in mid sip at the words and stared at Naomi to make sure she was serious.
“You really mean that?” Ayo asked. She said she thought a job at a bar was a step back to Naomi’s management career. The others groaned at her naive response.
We chit-chatted, avoiding the newsworthy topics, for almost an hour. Ayo sashayed around serving drinks. Aseela was most amused, so carefree and chipper. The two went on doing girl talk and laughing, mostly Ayo was doing all the yapping, yapping enough for the two of them. In the midst of it all, I caught Aseela looking at me longingly.
After filling his noggin with beer that only sought to give him migraines, Biggy Tembo announced he was hitting the road. Aseela put her arm around his waist and the two of them disappeared in the dark of the night.
Academy performed again and I joined them accompanying them in guitar. Then other bands played and the night wore itself out. Late in the midnight hour as we got drunk and gossiped, I learned from Mo that KSK was HIV positive. Arum tidi the bird of death was perching: more deaths were knocking.
The funeral service was held in the old Catholic church near Kibuye— the second time in his life, Mawazo said, he’d set foot in a church. There were more people outside than in the sanctuary and the pews were almost empty. Afterwards I accompanied the immediate family and a few friends to KSK’s home village of Sega Ugambe in Ugenya where they held a private grand ceremony before the cheap cypress coffin was lowered into the earth.
And that was how “Gentlemen’s Gentleman” KSK Odongo completed his thirty-three year old journey.
Novel, 569 pages
BUY FROM ANY OF THE FOLLOWING RETAILERS