Saturday, September 5, 2009

Kipchamba Arap Tapotuk: King of kalenjin Music

Opinion Article By Sollo Kiragu

Renowned musician Raphael Kipchamba arap Tapotuk who was given a hero's send-off at his Nyatembe village in Bomet district, was a household name in not only Kenya, but also the neighbouring countries.

He will be remembered especially for his songs which were occasionally harsh commentaries on culture, politics, the environment and the economy.

In his close to 1,000 songs, he sang about HIV and the disease it causes - Aids - as well as the floundering constitution review.

"Not even the children were left out; silence was not golden, nor talking silver," one of the songs runs.

Kipchamba's music soothes, provokes and deliberately charms the listener, and his wheedling voice endeared him to many.

Humour is abundant in his works, and he effortlessly wove it into his songs as he poked fun at the man nature.

Always clean-shaven and smartly dressed, he was not the typical village musician. And although a celebrated Kalenjin singer until his death last week, his music traversed the ethnic boundaries.

He was not vainglorious nor the self-seeking type across the street. And although he was not honoured in any meaningful way, this did little to dampen his spirits - most probably because he sang not for money, but to entertain and educate.

Music was an art and a medium by which he put his messages across in an articulate way. "I was not driven by commercial interests and I did not pursue payments for most of my popular songs recorded in the earlier days," the musician once said.

Kipchamba's last public show was at Kericho's Mid-West Hotel during a function in which local Marathon Centre performed well in the Standard Chartered road race, one of the greatest road in the world.

He was a conservative and religious man and strictly observed the Kalenjin customs and traditional beliefs.

The musician was selfless man who sacrificed a lot for the community, and believed in passing on knowledge and wisdom to the young. For instance, he once reportedly converted one of his houses into a classroom in which he taught the youth to play the guitar and other musical instruments.

Born in Bomet district in 1937, Kipchamba dropped out of school early for lack of fees and started singing at the tender age of 10.

His teacher at Segemik primary school, Linus Sitienei, discovered his music talent in 1950. "I owe much of my success to Mr Sitienei," he once told journalists in an interview.

At school, Kipchamba was a bright pupil and active athlete, but his parents could not afford the Sh105 yearly fee required by the Catholic-sponsored Kaplong intermediate school, now Kaplong boys secondary, in Bureti district.

Breaking up with his first music partnership after four years in 1959 was not a setback. He played the traditional guitar, or chemonges, but and picked up the modern one later in a career that spanned half a century.

His band, Koilng'et, comprised Oriango arap Chepkwony, Francis Langat, Moris Mainek and Sekeri Tallam, and their first recording happened in Kisumu. They then moved to Kericho to start recording with Chandarana Music Stores.

Kipchamba can be said to be the father figure of music in the Kalenjin land as he was a genius in the composition of high-quality, undiluted and inspirational songs.

Among his best are Kibiritit, Teret tab Kogo, Kimulogong, Mukeni and Mokori. But most probably due to low earnings at the earlier stages, Kipchamba did not at any one time live the life of a celebrity.

Former President Daniel arap Moi once described him as "a real and authentic singer" and recognised his role in the unification of cultures of all the Rift Valley communities.

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