Papa Eliakim: My engineer father never stifled my music

Papa Eliakim Rogo

Papa Eliakim Rogo is a 39-year-old musician who specialises in Luo Rhumba music.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • Singer’s style has been compared to that of Ochieng Kabasseleh.
  • The musician's father was a civil engineer and a scholar.


Papa Eliakim Rogo is a 39-year-old musician. He hails from Gem Kathomo, Siaya County. The first born in a family of six siblings, he attended Manyatta Primary School and Nyamasaria Secondary School, both in Kisumu County.

Afterwards, he proceeded to Aga Khan University, Dar es Salaam, for a certificate in education, leadership and management. He then enrolled for a diploma in Education – Kiswahili and Geography – at Kampala University. He spoke to Nobert Oluoch Ndisio about his music career.

Papa Eliakim Rogo’s mastery of English easily caught my attention. To satiate my curiosity, I set our conversation rolling in this direction.

“I come from a family of scholars. My father was a civil engineer and a scholar. This notwithstanding, he did not stifle my music talent. He never pulled me towards engineering. Instead, he helped me strike a balance between academics and my talent. This is how I have ended up as a trained teacher-cum-musician.

“If you ask me, one’s talent should never impede one’s excellence in academics. Scholarship is as much a priority as talent. All that the young need is self-discipline and guidance from people who are close to them. My father’s guidance has paid off. No one can take advantage of me in my music career.”

Q. How do you juggle chalk and guitar?

A. At the moment, I oscillate between chalk and guitar. I, however, look forward to getting into music full time. Music gives me a kind of contentment I can never find elsewhere.”

The journey to stardom in the talent economy is never an easy one. What would you say of your beginnings in the music industry?

My government name is Chrispin Eliakim Rogo. I am the leader of Sweet Melody International Band. I began my music career at a Kisumu-based church in 1997. I started Flames of Praise, a gospel band under which I released a number of gospel songs.

“In 2018, I switched to secular music. I formed Sweet Melody International Band and decided to major in Luo rhumba. The appreciation and support I have received from my fans is overwhelming.

The relationship between the artiste and the society is one riddled with accusations and counter accusations. The artiste blames the society for taking him for granted. That the society uses him to serve her whims but does little towards his welfare. The society faults the artiste for his love of flamboyance at the expense of investment. What do you think of this relationship?

I agree with the society. All the way. There is money in music. It is a viable career like any other out there. Musicians should, nonetheless, know that fame and stardom come and go. Similarly, fans come and go. They should shun flamboyance and embrace worthy investments in preparation either for retirement or rainy days.

There is yet an elephant whose presence in the room we can’t ignore. Copyright violation. This is a conversation that has been going on since time immemorial. The Kenya Copyright Board should act firmly on matters pertaining to copyright. Ideally, artistes should be paid according to the amount of airplay their songs get upon registration with the Central Management Organisations. It is sad, for instance, that we are winding up the year without any payments from the Central Management Organisations.

Kenyan artistes are accused of swallowing the lie that the future of Kenyan music music is in Congo. That rhumba is the highest point any African music can reach. This, according to some scholars, is the reason benga suffers from neglect.

My forte is Luo rhumba. Congolese rhumba, therefore, obviously appeals to me. The Congolese rhumba style towers above ours. For instance, consider the way Congolese arrange their instruments in a song. They can blend up to six guitars in a song and still get the arrangement right.

I, however, believe that homegrown rhumba is equally great. Consider, for example, how high Ochieng Kabaselleh and Musa Juma set the bar. In regard to the relationship between rhumba and benga, the lesson novelist Chinua Achebe taught us refers. Where one thing stands, another stands beside it. We can make rhumba great without decimating or neglecting benga.

There was a time Luo rhumba had a solid following. This is no longer the case because of the disruption ohangla has caused on the Luo music scene.

I don’t agree with you. What we have lacked are serious rhumba artistes. This is because most rhumba veterans have passed on. My arrival on the scene can’t have been timelier. I am already getting a good fan base for Sweet Melody International.

Ohangla can never upstage rhumba. In fact, there is no better manifestation of the rhumba influence on ohangla than the infusion of saxophones and guitars by some ohangla artistes in their stage performances. I have correctly read the signs and my strategy has been to forge partnerships with ohangla artistes. This is my diplomatic way of wooing their fans back to Luo rhumba.”

Say something about Ochieng Kabaselleh's influence in your compositions.

It is completely coincidental. I thought I was very original until most of my fans started telling me that I sound like Ochieng Kabaselleh. I was Kabaselleh’s great fan.”

The question of the place of women in music cannot be wished away. Are there women in the Sweet Melody International Band membership?

“Rhumba is a choral performance in which women should play major roles. This is the way to go. At Sweet Melody International Band, we currently have four female dancers. We look forward to a future in which we shall have female guitarists and vocalists.”

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