As political competition between President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM chief Raila Odinga intensified, Mt Kenya’s famed benga musician Ben Githae took to the studio and on May 14, 2017 released his “Uhuru Ruto Tano Tena” hit.
It instantly became the Jubilee Party campaign anthem and its tune and lyrics spread like bushfire in the vote-rich region.
And when the electoral agency announced Mr Kenyatta had won and the Supreme Court nullified the victory after Mr Odinga’s supporters lodged a successful petition, Githae went back to the studio and came out with a hit, “Wembe Ni Ule Ule”.
Githae told Nation.Africa that he first met the President in 2011, “since he is my village mate in Gatundu”.
He says the President is his personal friend and when he realised that Mr Odinga was on the verge of winning the 2017 polls, he figured out that music was a powerful tool in communication and could help turn the tables to his friend’s favour.
“I did not even consult the President or any of his aides. I thought I had a duty to help him as a friend, and also advance my personal political stand, since I was his supporter,” he recalls.
He reveals that the two songs “gave me a fat bank account, because the President appreciates a good effort to his favour…He summoned me several times and I cannot complain that he did not appreciate my input”.
The two 2017 presidential elections are now history, and in 2022 Mr Kenyatta will not be on the ballot, putting Githae in a tough balancing act.
The President is perceived to have fallen out with his deputy William Ruto and might not support him in his efforts to succeed him.
Instead, some political quarters argue he appears to be keen to support Mr Odinga’s yet to be announced presidential bid.
“Dr Ruto is a friend of musicians just as the President is. This now gets tricky, because the rift between the President and his deputy is confusing,” Githae says.
“On the other hand, the President appears to be supporting Mr Odinga so as to realise a more cohesive, prosperous and stable country. That is my dream too.”
He says he considers Dr Ruto to be a good man and a friend just as the President.
Singing in praise of Mr Odinga
“But the President is more of a friend to me, he is like my brother. I will be more inclined to listen to him more than any other politician,” he says.
“Problem is, he has yet to make his mind known about 2022. I would follow his political advice. But singing in praise of Mr Odinga in Mt Kenya requires some guts.”
It is out of that confusion that Githae says he has postponed the release of any political song until the emerging formations gain a definite shape.
“One of an artiste’s goals is to make money by utilising his or her talent. Secondly, remain in the good books of the market, because that is where the fan base is. There are some things you can do and end up sabotaging yourself for good,” he says.
When Nation.Africa asked him to be specific on whether he will be going to the studio to release a 2022 succession song, he said: “I am afraid…I do not have a song yet for 2022 and if I had, I will be very cautious.
“My ‘Tano Tena’ experience with Kenyans has taught me to be cautious with politics. But if God gives me a message about 2022 and orders me to be its bearer, I will belt it out.”
Asked what his experience was with his fans that has instilled his fear of political songs, he responded: “Netizens ganged up against me, blaming me for misleading them to vote back a regime they feel did not live up to their expectations.”
He says that because the song was in Kiswahili, the heat against him was national.
“Many Kenyans today blame me for the UhuRuto administration. It is like I singlehandedly voted in the Jubilee administration,” he says.
Githae adds that he is tired of being told he is the one who made UhuRuto’s second term a reality.
“The major goal in my mind when I made ‘Tano Tena’ was to earn. It is not true that my song was behind the UhuRuto win. There were many people who were in the meet-the-people caravans to promote that contest ticket. When I sang I did not hold a gun to your heads to vote for UhuRuto,” he says.
He said he is tired of netizens' habit of portraying him as if he bewitched Kenyans to vote the way they did in 2017.
“Today, when some Kenyans fail to function sexually, they blame me and my song. When they send fare without dates being honoured they blame Githae. Viagra works against them and they blame me. Their beer gets spiked in bars and they think it is because Githae sang ‘Tano Tena’. I even saw myself trending that I was the cause of Covid-19-induced sanctions in the matatu sector,” he says.
He has been so vilified that he left the kitchen after the heat became unbearable, with some Kenyans branding him a politician, dissecting both his public and private life.
“Netizens were so resentful of me that they conspired to take revenge on me by scandalising me. They even unmasked my incident where I had sired twins out of wedlock…” he narrates.
Caution about political songs
Despite the psychological battering that he took, which made him repent and seek his wife's forgiveness, Githae says his mental state would have become a wreck.
But he says the worst is over now, the storm has passed and he anticipates higher glory “but with a lot of caution about political songs”.
Githae, who has over 50 single hits and five albums to his name, said it is true that he left his marital bed for “greener pastures” and “that is when I sired some twins that I am very proud of but whom I would have wished I were left to parent in silence”.
Githae adds: “On that account, I do not have apologies to make, because it was the truth and in any case, a big blessing since it is not always that a man gets the energy and favour to sire twins!”
He remembers how the same netizens schemed to portray him as a pretender in the holy journey to heaven.
“It was five months ago and I was with Pastor David Kiongo at Thika Road’s Blue Springs Hotel. We had an evangelical friend who had jetted in from the United States and happened to bump into us in the hotel,” he narrates.
He says netizens sometimes are creative in a cruel way.
“I and Pastor were taking hot water laced with garlic, lemon and ginger…. It was in glasses. Our friend wanted us to greet via video link some of his friends in the US…We waved as we sloganeered on religious lines…” he says.
But the following day, the video had found its way onto social media, where netizens said they were exposing Githae and Kiongo as typical drunkards who under influence danced to secular songs at Blue Springs.
“Trouble is, you do not know the authors of the videos and the captions…There is no way you can defend yourself. I became content and waited for the good Lord to fight my battles,” he says.