At some point in the recent past, many of us have interacted with Vaida, whether through participating in the viral TikTok challenge or shaking our heads as we watch the video.
Like a storm, the Luhya love song swept everything out of its way to the top with its Isikuti beats and captivating lyrics.
And in the blink of an eye Harry Richie – the composer of the song – was transformed from a village singer to a national superstar.
It was so well received that it had the likes of popular Tik Toker Azziad Nasenya among those who posted dance challenges to the song.
According to Richie, this success is not a matter of luck; he believes a good song will always have the right impact regardless of the language in which it is rendered.
“We have grown up listening to Lingala and Rhumba music whose lyrics we do not understand. However, we just love the music, especially from the likes of Kanda Bongoman and Koffi Olomide. But as Kenyans we also have our own identity when it comes to music,” Harry Richie said.
Born Harrison Ondunyi in Bunyore, Vihiga county, he started making music for fun early in life. And for him, singing in his local dialect was a natural decision.
Embrace our cultures
“We should embrace our cultures. I believe I was not born in the Western region by mistake and I think variety is good. We have artistes who sing in Kiswahili or English, and then there are those who use Sheng,” he said.
He added: “I did not think that Vaida would blow up the way it has. I remember while in the studio telling my producer that I wanted to create something different from what I have been doing; a song that is made from the traditional Isikuti beats but complimented with other traditional instruments like the bell.”
And of course, just like many other Luhya songs, the signature phone conversation in the middle was not left out.
Having started as a gospel artiste, Richie owes his initial musical prowess to having first worked with gospel singer Joseph Shisia of the Omundu Omulosi hit song fame back in 2008. Shisia encouraged him through music lessons and live recordings.
Richie’s debut tracks include Ingokho ya Mwambesia and later in 2014 a Kiswahili album titled Nifungue Macho.
Buoyed by the desire to release more songs, in 2016 he recorded three songs, among them Yesu Yestanga.
He took a break from recording until 2020, during the Covid-19 crisis, when he got inspired to write more songs in Luhya like Spoken Word.
Richie is among many artistes who have established themselves as modern-day musicians who sing in their vernacular languages.
Like Richie, Brizy Annechild is making waves on the local music scene with his song, MyJaber, sung in Dholuo.
Born and raised in Nyalenda, the soft-spoken singer is another force to reckon with.
MyJaber is a collaboration with music group H_art the Band.
“My sound is ultra-urban and I believe that in anything you do, it is best to be your natural self. I realised that singing in the Luo language was what spoke about me as an artiste,” Brizy said.
His musical journey started in 2009 but it was not until 2020, when he released the song Hera Nyalo Sandi, that people started recognising his talent as a singer.
The song remains one of his biggest hits, with four million views on YouTube.
Born in a ghetto
“Born in a ghetto, I was forced to grow up very quickly. In this song I was singing about the experiences of young people living in the ghetto. I decided to become a singer because that is what came naturally to me. Music is not something you can just wake up one day and start doing,” he said.
The song My Jaber was a result of Brizy Annechild sharing the stage with H_art the Band in Kisumu, who were impressed by his music and performance.
“Working with H_art the Band is one of the many blessings I am counting because I never expected that, especially with my vernacular genre. And working together has opened a lot of doors for other artistes like me to collaborate with others who do not sing in vernacular. This is a major breakthrough,” Brizy said.
Singer Willy Paul, Bahati, and Akothee are also among artistes who have in the recent past released songs with vernacular singers.
Late last year Bahati collaborated with Ohangla musical sensation Prince Indah to release the song Adhiambo.
When the well-choreographed video featuring Starehe MP Charles Njagua “Jaguar”, his Embakasi East colleague, Babu Owino, comedians Felix Odiwuor “Jalang’o”, Terrence Creative, and Eric Omondi was first released on YouTube, it became the number one trending video in Kenya in less than 24 hours.
Currently, it has 17 million views on YouTube.
Even on his own, Prince Indah has done well, releasing his first song, Cinderella, in 2015. He has since produced a number of hit songs, including Mama Watoto, Weche Hera, Chike Hera, Nyar Migori, and Nyar Joluo, which are popular in the Nyanza region.
He is the first Ohangla artiste to be awarded the YouTube Silver Creator button, given out to channels that reach or surpass 100,000 subscribers.