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Former choir leader finds fame in Ohangla

New Ohangla sensation Austin Odhiambo, whose stage name is Emma Jalamo , has weathered many storms.

Given by his fans, Odhiambo’s stage name, Emma, is the short form for Emmanuel, while Jalamo means prayerful in Dholuo.

From menial jobs in his rural village of Sigomere in Ugunja, Siaya County, to being a watchman in Ngara area, Jalamo has seen it all.

Born to a cobbler in 1980 in Mathare slums, it looked almost pre-determined that he had to work extra hard to make it in life.

NairobiNews caught up with him at his home in Kitengela, where he told his own story last week.

Ohangla musician Augustine Odhiambo, popularly known as Emma Jalamo. PHOTO | DENISH OCHIENG
Ohangla musician Augustine Odhiambo, popularly known as Emma Jalamo. PHOTO | DENISH OCHIENG

Unbelievable

“Whenever I look back at where I have come from, it is unbelievable and I thank God for it all,” he said.

The soft-spoken, diminutive artiste said he joined school at the age of 12 and never completed his primary education.

The second-born in a family of six said life was hard and they had to seek menial jobs to make ends meet. Going to school, he added, was too much of a luxury to be afforded.

After a brief stint as a mitumba hawker in his local Ugunja market, he returned to Nairobi in 2000 where he joined his elder brother in Kayole.

A year later, he moved to Kibera to live with a friend after his brother was arrested.

In Kibera, as a member of Nehema Church where he became a choir team leader, he  discovered his singing talent. But he had no idea that music would be his launching pad.

Ten years ago when he produced his first music album, a gospel composition containing six songs, he continued to do menial jobs  to earn a living.

It was the brief encounter with musician Seth Oloo in 2008 that properly ushered him into the music world.

Emma Jalamo's house in Kitengela. PHOTO | DENISH OCHIENG
Emma Jalamo’s house in Kitengela. PHOTO | DENISH OCHIENG

“He invited me to help him with his band for a night playing the piano and later paid me Sh600. My eyes opened and I saw a career in music,” he said.

Oloo was the leader of the traditional dance group and was looking to replace his keyboard player who had left. Desperate for a job, Jalamo jumped at the opportunity.

Later when Oloo left in 2009, the group of seven who remained continue for some time before the band eventually broke up  in 2010.

Jalamo then joined Lady Maureen with whom they performed for more than six months until he produced his first album First Lady.

But it was not until he released his third album, Simba Ja Uriri in August 2012 that he was catapulted to fame. Songs like Ma ee ndalo, Jaraha and Gololi in the album became his fan’s favourites immediately.

Much of that success is attributed to the unique genre of his composition. Jalamo’s songs combine Benga, Ohangla and Rhumba into a new whole blend that attracts all fans of the three categories.

“I knew that I had to blend all the genres if my music was to be unique and danceable to all,” he explains, saying it is the same reason why his band is called Ramogi Ohangla Rhumba.