The Kiswahili dialect used in Tanzanian courts is partly to blame for the jailing of Ohangla songstress Lady Maureen and 13 of her band members in the neighbouring country two weeks ago.
Lady Maureen, whose real name is Maureen Achieng Otiu, recounted to Sunday Nation how when they were presented in court, after a dramatic arrest, there was something of a language barrier that sealed their fate.
“Most of their Kiswahili is hard to understand,” she said, hours after landing in Kenya after securing her release from a prison in Butimba, Tanzania.
“They read charges and we raised our hands to explain how our passports were taken. But the magistrate did not understand us. He said, ‘Nimeshasoma, mmeshafungwa (I’ve already read and you are already convicted). They didn’t give us a chance to defend ourselves. We were taken back to the cells and later to prison,” she narrated.
She went on: “Those in the band who couldn’t understand Kiswahili also suffered when in custody. When you’re told, ‘Chuchumaa’ and you don’t understand, your legs will take a beating,” she said.
The sentence handed by the magistrate on April 6 – one year in prison or a fine of Sh 35,000 for each of the 14 Kenyans – was the climax of Lady Maureen’s horror Easter trip.
All that, she said, is because of a conniving promoter who she accuses of tricking her into heading to Mwanza for two shows that happened on Easter Sunday and Monday.
The Tanzania-based female promoter had been in communication with Maureen for a while. Sometime in March, she met the singer’s team in Mombasa where she signed a performance deal with Maureen’s managers.
TRIP ACROSS BORDER
“They agreed that every show was to be Sh200,000; which is Sh400,000 for two days,” said Maureen.
But when the time came to pay a Sh200,000 down payment as agreed, she only raised Sh80,000.
Regardless, Maureen and her band decided to honour the deal. On the day they travelled to Tanzania, the promoter met them at the Sirare border.
Decisions made at Sirare could later work against them in Tanzania. The promoter collected their temporary passports and headed to the border post ahead of them, saying she could clear their entry.
“We believed her because she was our promoter. So, we gave them to her,” Maureen said.
She does not know what arrangement the promoter made with border officials. What she knows is that they were allowed to cross over to Tanzania using two vehicles belonging to their Tanzanian host.
“We crossed over and no policeman stopped us. It appears the woman wanted to evade paying $100 for each of us plus a work permit. We met her in Tarime and she said she had sorted things out,” said Maureen.
The shows at Mwanza, she said, were well attended, with the first performance at Buruguza Plaza attracting an audience of up to 3,000 people.
After the two shows, she wanted the promoter to pay up so she could plan her trip to Kenya. Using the guise of going to collect cash in her house, the promoter went underground and did not pick Maureen’s calls.
While still at her hotel room wondering what to do, she heard a knock on the door. They were immigration officers.
“They told me, ‘We have already arrested your band members. You are in this country without a work permit and passports,’” narrated Maureen.
That is how they ended up in court and were convicted.
On Wednesday, Lady Maureen and two other band members were released after a team of four fellow artistes paid her fine using Sh167,847 that had been raised in six days through a WhatsApp group.
Seven other band members had been released by Saturday but six are still in jail. The six, she said, could have been released on Friday after Royal Media Services chairman Samuel Macharia bailed them out.
“He himself offered to release the six; only that it was quite late on Friday. On Monday, all of them will be out,” Maureen said.
The whole ordeal has left the singer, best known for singing songs to praise people, bitter.
She is even contemplating quitting music.
“I’m considering getting into business and quitting music. There is nothing music has helped me with. I’m still worried, still trembling. I still don’t believe I’m out of prison,” she said.
She is also questioning whether the politicians she spends her time singing about, among them ODM leader Raila Odinga, really care about her.
“What shocked me was that in Kenya I know many prominent people. There is no Nasa politician who doesn’t know me because most of the time I do my songs about Raila. They know me; I’m with them at rallies on many days, they know me personally as I often mingle with them.
“It shocked me that I could not even get someone to secure my release so that I would later refund the money,” she said, thanking those who made contributions to ensure the release of her and her band.
Lady Maureen’s friends have organised a show-cum-fundraiser at Club Budas along Kangundo Road on Tuesday to raise funds to offset other expenses.
“At the hotel, those people ran away without footing bills. We are supposed to pay for that,” Maureen said.
Mr Paul Okoth, her song publisher, said they chose Budas because she often performs there. He said the artistes who will perform include Emma Jalamo, Musa Jakadala and Prince Inda.
“It will be an extravaganza of several artistes,” said Mr Okoth.
Lady Maureen said she will attend the show “to see my fans and fans of other artistes and thank them for their contributions”.