Remembering Musa Juma, king of rhumba, 11 years later

Musa Juma

Rhumba musician, the late Musa Juma.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • It was while he was in Mombasa for music tour that the curtain came down on Musa Juma.
  • Since his demise, rhumba music has lost its lustre because he had raised the bar too high.

On March 15, 2011 Kenyans were deeply aggrieved by the sudden death of rhumba musician Musa Juma. Rhumba fans must have yowled in despair, judging from the pensive mood that engulfed the lakeside Kisumu city and its environs.

Musa had just returned from a seven-month tour of the USA during which he performed in various states. Missing the country and the fans and compelled by his undying love for the stage after that long sojourn, Juma, popularly known by his fans as “MJ” Wuod Usonga (son of Alego Usonga), chose to suspend his rest from music to perform in Kisumu, Nairobi and Mombasa. It was while he was in Mombasa that the curtain came down on a man who approached music with very admirable gusto.

I got to know Musa in 2004 in Kisumu. On stage you could see a disciplined man who endeavoured to restrict himself within the rules of the game. Musa was the epitome of the famous three “Cs” - cool, calm and collected, traits that were exploited by those who didn’t understand him to profile him as being proud. Musa moved people with his skills in music and humbling personality. 

He was an outstanding composer, ingenious lead guitarist and a prolific singer with a very charming personality and good sense of humour. MJ was a household name in Kenya where he was a constant feature on most entertainment shows.

Popular compositions 

Since his demise, rhumba music has lost its lustre because the man from Usonga had raised the bar too high for the current crop of musicians to match. In his albums, he promoted culture, public education and enhanced awareness on pertinent social issues. He also sung love songs and cautioned against immorality. Musa did his part in the endeavours above and it is a sort of an irony of fate that the man who devoted his life to make rhumba the depository of culture and ethos died after a very short illness. 

There is no doubt that the work that Musa Juma did still speaks for itself more than anything one can write in a newspaper article. The benga and rhumba fraternity, especially rhumba enthusiasts, lost a promising and prolific individual whose proficiency as a guitarist is yet to be matched 11 years since his demise. In his ‘Macelina’ album, he cautions against pretending to be in love just on account of one’s money or earthly possessions.

In ‘Clerkson Otieno Jamigingo’, the song is full of praise for good deeds in service to humanity. Its harmonic combination, style and instrumentation provide a peep into Musa’s unparalleled talent and endowment with expertise and mastery of guitar strumming and melodic voice.

In ‘Auma’ album, he castigates what he calls “mapenzi ya kiholela” (reckless love) noting that one may end up claiming to have been bewitched after acquiring the dreaded HIV/AIDS. His other best albums include ‘Ratego Baba’, ‘Siaya Kababa’, ‘Gidali’, and ‘Ufisadi,’ among others.

Hands-on leadership style

There is no doubt that Musa was a rhumba virtuoso of no mean repute who approached music with singular dedication. He avoided showy behaviours associated with many a musician whose claims to fame are unjustifiable. This distinguished him from a number of current musicians.

For example, he avoided composing music loaded with lurid sexual innuendos and pornographic lyrics as is the case with some of today’s musicians. He chose the route of the likes of Ochieng Kabasela, George Ramogi, Kolela Mazee, and DO Misiani whose music appeals to diverse generations. He not only followed the footsteps of his predecessors but also surpassed some of them. Musa was Kenya’s equivalent of the late Luambo Lwanzo Makiadi, aka Franco of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Today, one can hardly get a musician who sings and strums the guitar at the same time. His hands-on leadership style also made the band the veritable Limpopo International as it was called. He used to say that music requires ‘somo’ and ‘akili’ (Luo for knowledge and wisdom). The same message is relayed in his ‘Christina’ album.

There was one other unique character of Musa Juma that is unforgettable. He did not accept gifts while performing on stage nor could one induce him to change to another song. He had his songs arranged in a particular order and sequence in which he would play them. He was soft spoken and did not get carried away easily by his fame. Musa did his songs in Dholuo, English and Kiswahili. His codes of dressing also never failed to capture the admiration of his fans.

Musa made a name for himself with his smooth flowing rhumba genre of music. Long live Musa Juma. May his soul find eternal repose.

Lawrence Owino works with Mandera County Government as Assistant Quantity Surveyor; [email protected]

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