Benga maestro leaves fans wailing for more

Musa Juma performs during a past Guinness fete in Kisumu. Photo/JACOB OWITI

He was a jack of benga and rhumba music, and a master of both. And now he has left the stage for good — left his fans screaming for more.

“I am amazed by the boldness of death,” Musa Juma sings in Rapar Owino (in memory of Owino). “This world is ending, let’s hold on to God… This world is surely coming to an end, let’s pray more and cling on to Jesus.”

Indeed when death came calling for him, the maestro, like other mortals, had no alternative but to give his acquiescence, dying of chest complications shortly after 6pm on Tuesday. He had staged a come-back performance at Palm City in Mombasa on Saturday night.

The death of arguably one of the country’s best musicians at the Mombasa Hospital seared through the hearts of his fans like a hot knife through butter.

The coincidence that he died in the same hospital in the same town where his sibling, Omondi Tony, died three years ago left many tongue-tied at the mockery that’s death.

Omondi Tony was Musa’s younger brother and a top-rated musician at Limpopo International band, and was about to launch a solo music career.

On Wednesday, family members and friends who had trooped to Mombasa after getting the sad news, turned up at Mombasa Hospital.

His wife, Winnie, sister Millicent Mumbo, a close friend and fellow musician Igwe Bandason all talked fondly of Musa.

Mrs Juma said: “Musa was a strong and hard-working man. He wanted to start a fund for Limpopo to support the under-privileged and nurture artists,” she said, as her one-and-a-half-year old daughter, Victoria Awuor played in her arms.

Ms Mumbo remembered her elder brother as kind. She had donated blood to save her brother’s life hours before he was taken to ICU.

Fellow musician Bandason of Patrons Musica likened Musa to rhumba greats such as Franco, Tabu Ley and Madilu.

His colleague Chrispin Tambwe, of Amitie Musica said Musa’s death was a big blow to the Congolese fraternity as most used his band as a launch pad.

Mombasa-based Victoria VB Kings band leader Awil Kamusa said fellow musicians would meet at Buxton in Mombasa to arrange for a funds drive.

Once burial plans are concluded, the maestro will make his final journey to his resting place in Usonga, Siaya County, a land he so fondly acclaims in yet another hit song Siaya Kababa (Siaya, my father’s birthplace).

In Kisumu, a cloud of gloom enveloped the benga and rhumba scenes after news of the death of the man of humble beginnings whose career catapulted him to the dance floors in Africa, Germany, US, England and Holland among others.

Before his last trip to the US this year, rumours of his death circulated so much he had to clear the air and lament about the back-stabbing in the local music industry.

It may be for that reason that when he died, many hoped it would all be yet another rumour. But this time it was real, and sounds of his songs, Freddy Afune, Siaya Kababa, Christina, Mercelina, Oyoo Daktari, Lake Victoria and dozens more evoked painful memories of his skilful melodies on stage.

According to Prof Caleb Okumu whose speciality is music, MJ, as he was popularly known, blended rhumba with benga to produce tunes that transcended his Luo lyrics to an anthem in dance halls all over East Africa.

The don says MJ’s Limpopo International band was a school which rubbed a mark of musical excellence on its graduates.

Indeed Johny Junior, Owacha Willy, Oswaga Le Junior, and his brother Omondi Tony are living proof of Musa’s mentorship.

“His songs were case studies I used to teach, traders made a killing selling his songs, his performances were an attraction and in essence he was the bog cake from which many people fed,” says the professor of music at Maseno University and chairman of the Kenya Music Copyright Society.

MJ vocals and guitar skills dazzled many, as did his smooth and almost flawless transition from one song to another during live performances.

Lake Victoria unveiled late last year, saw him move to satisfy his fans across the board by doing most of them in Kiswahili and English.

Mr Tom Kodiyo who is the professors vice-chairman said the death of Musa Juma, who was born in December 6, 1975 was a big blow.

By Mark Agutu and Mike Kalama in Mombasa and Daniel Otieno and James Minudi in Kisumu


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