Today is May 17, and the name Stella is, once again, on the lips of Kenyans.
About 30 years ago, a young man fell in love with young a girl who was then a student at Kenyatta University.
That young man was named Freshley Mwamburi, and his love was a bright, ambitious girl named Stellah. He came from Taita, she came from Kangundo.
The relationship took off well, with the two enjoying the little trappings of youth and, every now and then, riding around town in Mwamburi’s aging car.
SHOCK OF HIS LIFE
But, just as he was considering settling down for an enchanting life with the girl of his dreams, Mwamburi got the shock of his life when, in the early years of the 1990s, Stellah ditched him for another man.
Heartbroken, he went to the studios and, together with his Everest Kings bandmate Abdul Muyonga, recorded the hit song ‘Stellah’, released in 1995 as an album cover.
That song went on to become an evergreen number, taken to the top by Mwamburi’s emotional refrain to Stellah to “come back” to him, and sustained at the top of the charts by the cosy place love stories occupy in creative arts and pop culture.
A lot of Kenyans who will today be humming this song do not know what, other than the evergreenness – or what some may call the staying power— the song means to Mwamburi.
The story had actually started a few years before 1995, when a sprightly, creative and energetic Mwamburi settled in Nairobi from Mombasa to nurture his musical dream.
POPULAR MUSIC GROUP
At the age of 15, he had cobbled up his own musical group, Mombasa International Band before, in 1998, joining Simba Wanyika Band, the popular musical group headed by the Tanzanian Kinyonga brothers, Wilson and George.
Two years later, he left Simba Wanyika for its offshoot, Les Wanyika, where he stayed until 1986, when he formed Mavalo Kings.
— Daily Nation (@dailynation) May 17, 2017
In 1988, he joined hands with Muyonga and changed the band name to Everest Kings.
Stellah, on the other hand, had moved to Nairobi to study at Kenyatta University.
Fate drew them together, the bond strengthened by their individual youthful struggles, the strong chemistry between them, and the pregnant promise of tomorrow.
And then, one day, Stellah informed Mwamburi that she had received a scholarship to study in Japan.
(This is where, I guess, I should inform you that I am piecing these bits together from an interview Mwamburi granted me in Nairobi a few years ago. He was not available for comment on Tuesday, even though his colleague Abdul Muyonga informed us he is well).
Stellah came from a poor family and could neither raise the fare to Japan nor the money for upkeep.
Mwamburi, seeing a chance to prove his love, and riding on the naïve promises made in the midst of the madness of youthful romance, decided to step in and prove his worth.
“I sold my car and a few personal belongings and gave the money to her to travel abroad,” he said during the interview in Nairobi.
Stella travelled to Japan, from where she kept Mwamburi well apprised of her progress via mail.
But the regularity of the communication soon became an agonising trickle.
DATING COLLEGE PRINCIPAL
Stellah would, much later, confess to Mwamburi that she had started dating her college principal, “a stout, short man”, as Mwamburi describes him in the song.
On May 17, 1992, the day she was scheduled to return to the country, Mwamburi took a colourful entourage to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to receive her.
His heart, however, sunk to his knees when Stella, now married, approached him carrying a child from her relationship with her college head, who was in tow.
After the initial shock, Mwamburi tried to rationalise the turn of events, but to do that he needed the input and reasoning of Stellah.
She explained to him her vulnerability in Japan and how it had somehow led her to the man who would be her husband.
‘WE REMAINED FRIENDS’
“We remained friends,” he said. “We kept in touch after the JKIA incident, and once or twice she attended my gigs in Nairobi.”
On Tuesday, that eternal friendship, and Mwamburi’s decision to share with the world his heartbreak, inspired a viral message on social media.
“Kwa wale tunaopenda Rhumba,” it read, “kesho ndio ile siku Stellah alirudi. (For those who love Rhumba, tomorrow is the commemoration of the date she came back).
That friendship, too, is the reason Mwamburi’s and Muyonga’s hit song, arranged in a captivating reggae beat, is being hummed and shared on social media today, 25 years after the pain at JKIA.