In Embarambamba's theatrics lies a deep religious message

Kisii Governor James Ongwae with Embarambamba dancers during a past event.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Is Christopher Mosioma, better known as Embarambamba, a musician, a dancer or an acrobat? This has been a burning question across various mainstream and social media platforms this week, as the Gusii music sensation shot his latest video amid theatrics bordering on the outrageous. He runs, somersaults, wriggles, jumps, climbs anything climbable and shouts gibberish.

His dress sense is outstanding: it comprises suits in “shouting” colours with dotted patches, especially on the shoulder.

Gospel musician Embarambamba with actor and producer Alex Mathenge during the shooting of his latest song, Mbuya Nyasae(God is good) at the Nairobi arboretum.

Photo credit: Pool

You might have seen Embarambamba in a video with his characteristic polka-dotted suit singing a song and dancing in mud. Then he swirls like wine in a glass.

The energy in his performances is so much everyone holds their breath hoping that he won’t hurt himself. He seldom does, especially since he converted from a secular to a gospel musician. He will climb a cow, break a tree but come out unscathed.

On Mashujaa Day in Kisii County last year, presidential orderlies had to stop him from performing as he ran helter-skelter.

“The security men thought that I might roll right to the President’s feet,” Embarambamba told the Saturday Nation.

Such has been the outrageousness of his performances that last month, a community development organisation known as Nguzo Africa, filed a petition seeking orders to bar the musician from performing those “dangerous stunts”.

“Nguzo Africa on behalf of concerned Kenyans hereby petition the above-mentioned institutions to urgently stop the Kisii artist Embarambamba… from performing peculiar stunts that may affect his safety, followers and the environment,” reads the petition addressed to the Health Cabinet Secretary, the Kenya Mental Health Board, Kenya Psychiatrists Association, Kenya Film Classification Board and Kisii Council of Elders.

But the latest controversy has been a boon for Embarambamba, whose latest gospel song, Mbuya Nyasae (Thank you God), has got the country’s attention. In the video, he uproots trees and bananas and climbs a rattled cow.

“The cow was happy and even smiled as I danced,” Embarambamba says.

Creative and performing arts expert Obino Nyambane believes that Embarambamba is employing a unique style to cut a niche for himself in the arts.

“Performance has no specific format. Through his dance moves, Embarambamba has managed to attract the attention of the art world. What I am against is that he overdoes his antics and as a result, gives a bad image to the Abagusii people,” says Mr Nyambane, who is also the Director of Culture in Kisii County Government.

On Thursday night, when an earthquake hit parts of Gusii leading to injuries and destruction of property, the joke across social media platforms was that it was as a result of Embarambamba dancing in the dark hours of the night.

The musician, who is emerging as the Gusii’s region’s topmost artiste and one of the most popular artistes in the country, defends the energy he puts into his music saying that it is drawn from God.

“I am guided by the Holy Spirit in whatever I do. When I used to sing secular music, I once danced and got injured but that has not happened since I switched to gospel music,” he says.

Despite his antics which cloud the message in his songs, Embarambaba’s songs are loaded with imagery and symbolism, making him a master of Ekegusii language.

“There are very few living Gusii musicians with such a deep message in their music as Embarambamba,” Mr Nyambane says.

Although he never set foot in a secondary school, Embarambamba’s songs have featured in university lecture halls and in theses for their imagery and symbolism.

In the paper “A cognitive approach to Ekegusii Pop Songs,” Karatina University dons Victor Ntabo, Moses Gathigia and Naom Nyarigoti, Chairperson of the University Faculty Council at the United States International University-Africa, discuss Embarambamba’s song Amasomo (Education) to explain the use of metaphors in the Ekegusii pop songs.

Kibabii University lecturer Dr Felix Orina’s PhD thesis “Analysis of Symbolism and Transience in the Oral Literature of Abagusii of Western Kenya,” borrowed partly from Embarambaba’s songs among those of select Gusii musicians.

“In his songs, he throws jabs of wisdom for instance that you should not put on a lamp for a blind man to use for lighting (togotongeria omouko etaya) and you should not chase a black cat at night in a house with no lighting (naki oraminyokie ekebusi ekemwamu nyomba ase egesunto),” Mr Nyambane says.

In one of his gospel songs, Embarambamba sings, “Omwana Onyasae akongíta obote,” translated to the son of God makes me thirsty.

His first album Ensanako Twebwati Maskani (an ant does not have respect) was a masterpiece which propelled him to fame. He was just 16-years-old.

His second album which came out in 2017 is titled “Gento nkeri ekebe buna chinchoke chigoite kore omouko (there is nothing as bad as bees attacking a blind man.”

This was followed by “gento nkeri ekebe onyore eng’ti nyomba etaye erime (there is nothing as bad as finding a snake in your house and then the lights go off,” released in 2009 and then a year later, album number four titled “ngai nanyore omochumbe (Where can I find a representative), which was more of a campaign song.

This was followed by the fifth album titled “gento nkeiyo ekebe otang’anie omotino nyomba igo oratenge amatindogoro (There is nothing as bad as having a dumb man in the house and you come home late when he is asleep and expect him to open the door for you.”

His song Amasomo (Education) is basically presented as a piece of advice to students to embrace education in order to optimally reap from its benefits.

“The song (Amasomo) underscores the value of education and offers pieces of advice to the youth to embrace education to reap its benefits,” Dr Ntabo, Dr Gathigia and Prof Nyarigoti write.

The dons pick out 10 symbolism from Amasomo. These are Omonto n’ embori (A human being is a goat), Amasomo n’ ebinagwa (Education is like mauritius thorns), Omonto n’ rinani (A human being is a forest), Amasomo n’ endagera (Education is food), Omonto n’ amabuta (A human being is oil), Omonto n’ MPESA (A human being is mobile money), Omonto n’ egetenge (A human being is a kitenge), Omonto n’ ekebeya (A human being is a tin lamp), monto n’ ekanisa (A human being is a church), and monto n’ ekeragita (A human being is a tractor).

In the song Chiabagoire (The bulls are at large), he talks about men who prefer maize roasted on the streets of towns despite the fact that they have gardens teeming with green maize back at home.

“The image of an ensuing dangerous pandemonium when bulls are at large is appropriated to capture the new danger the killer disease, HIV/Aids poses to the community,” the dons write.

Embarambamba attributes his love for Ekegusii imagery, symbolism and metaphors to the time he spent with his grandfather.

Born in 1988, the father of four hopes that his music can propel him to financial freedom.

“Last year, a group of my fans from the US mobilised resources and bought me a public address system. This year, I hope to raise enough funds from my music to build a permanent house,” he says.

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