The man who popularised the vibrant Luhya folk tune Mwana wa Mbeli (the firstborn) is dead. Mzee William Ingosi Moshi died early this week at his home in Kamulembe Village in Tiriki, Vihiga County, after a short illness.
Mzee Ingosi has been a Luhya and Kenyan cultural ambassador for more than five decades. He composed Mwana wa Mbeli in honour of Kenya’s first Prime Minister and President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, after the latter was freed from detention. He performed the song for Mzee Kenyatta at the leader’s Gatundu home in Kiambu County.
The song is about a man praising his first-born child who delivers him from suffering and misery. It was composed as a metaphor depicting Mzee Kenyatta as the man who had delivered Kenyans from the yoke of colonialism.
The tune has since become nearly the artistic identity of the Luhya peoples. Sung at almost all celebratory ceremonies, it has also been recorded by dozens of local and international artistes. The simple, danceable tune has proved popular even among non-Luhya peoples. It is the unofficial Luhya anthem.
Mzee Ingosi has represented Kenya at many international forums, singing Luhya folksongs and playing traditional instruments. His favourite instruments were the stringed eshiriri and litungu, although he spiced his performances with others, such as jingles and the occasional flute.
CHOSE LOW PROFILE LIFE
The artiste’s career did not happen in the age of ‘celebrity worship’, however, and he chose to live a low-profile life at his rural home, performing at schools, colleges, churches and social gatherings. Although he did not gain money and fame for his efforts, he was not bitter about it.
In his long career, Mzee Ingosi released only three albums — Mwana wa Mbeli, Varende Vapelei and another one recorded in France — preferring the stage to the studio.
“He was in his element when he was performing in front of people,’’ recalled his long-time friend Silverse Anami, the Shinyalu MP. “He would entice them to join in the song and dance and, soon, the venue would be electrified.”
Over the long time that Mr Anami was Director of Culture, Mzee Ingosi’s star soared. Mr Anami invited the artiste to many important cultural events and organised his performance at international cultural festivals.
Mr Anami said Mzee Ingosi mentored and trained many musicians — including aspiring musicians and instrumentalists at Kenyatta University, Kaimosi and Eregi teachers training colleges and Bomas of Kenya — in making and playing Luhya musical instruments.
He was awarded a Head of State Commendation by President Mwai Kibaki along with other celebrated musicians such as Emmy Kosgei, Juma Odemba of Kayamba Africa. Mzee Ingosi performed in France, Scotland, London, Japan and a number of African countries.
He cited performances for Mzee Kenyatta at the Independence celebrations and Emperor Akihito in Tokyo, Japan, as his most memorable.
“I was amazed at how much the Japanese appreciate the arts,’’ Mzee Ingosi told the Nation then. “The Emperor himself presented me with a gown of honour.”
The grand old master of luhya folksong and dance will be buried on Saturday.