The National Anthem: Whose composition?
By AMOS NGAIRA
As the country marks another Jamhuri (Independence) Day, the National Anthem is under the spotlight again over its composition. This controversy should have been put to rest a long time ago.
The song projects a nation’s pride and inspiration and some of the key people who were directly involved in its composition are still alive.
But even more important, there is adequate information in the National Archives and government records of who did what, when and where, which should clear any lingering doubts regarding the song’s composition in 1963.
Controversy has lately been rekindled following the death of an elder said to have played a pivotal role in putting together the beautiful, patriotic song. What is not in doubt, however, is the origin of the tune, which is a traditional Pokomo lullaby.
This time around, national attention is on one of the country’s leading musicologists, Prof Washington Omondi, who has for decades been a university lecturer and founding chairman of the Permanent Presidential Music Commission.
The professor of music at Kenyatta University is listed as one of the five composers of the Kenya National Anthem.
He recently came out to say that the elder from the Pokomo community in Tana River County, was not the composer of the National Anthem, as has been alleged in some quarters. Even State House had sent a message of condolence that appeared to endorse the claim.
NATIONAL ANTHEM COMMISSION
In a press statement issued in Nairobi, Prof Omondi said he felt duty-bound to state that Mzee Meza Maroa Galana, a veteran Pokomo folk musician, who died last month, was not among the people who composed the National Anthem.
“During the composition we only used a Pokomo lullaby recorded by Graham Hyslop from Mzee Galana and not his lyrics,” the veteran music teacher said.
Hyslop was the artistic director of the five-man commission that came up with the anthem. He led the group that visited various peoples at the Coast to sample and record folk tunes for consideration and possible adaptation.
“Like most folk songs, there was no known composer of most of these Pokomo folk songs,” he said.
According to Prof Omondi, the other members of the commission were veteran Ugandan musicologist George Senoga-Zake, who taught music at Kenyatta University with him for many years; Peter Kibukosya, who was for several decades associated with the Kenya National Music Festival, Thomas Kalume, and himself.
“I am the only member of the National Anthem Commission who is still alive,” he added.
In a recent interview, Prof Omondi asserted that clarification on the composition could be obtained from the Kenya Gazette of July 26, 1963.
UDUGU OR UNDUNGU?
The story of the National Anthem is also recorded for posterity in the Kenya News – Independence Celebrations Press Release No. 6; the Daily Nation and the East African Standard of Saturday of July 27, 1963; Taifa Leo of September 26, 1963; the Souvenir Programme of Kenya Independence Celebrations, among other sources.
The former principal of Maseno University College, also made available to the media a signed November 8, 1963 letter of appreciation from the then Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta (who later become President of Kenya) for his role in the composition of the anthem.
In the letter, Mzee Kenyatta lauded Mr Omondi and his team for the splendid work in composing the National Anthem.
What appears to have galled Prof Omondi further was the change of the word “udugu” in the original anthem to “Undugu”.
“The first stanza of the Kiswahili version was “udugu”, which was subsequently enshrined in the original Constitution of Kenya.
“Udugu refers to a deeper bond between people. This is what we wanted reflected in the song,” he explained.
In spite of his immense contribution to the nation in the use of music as a tool for promoting patriotism, Prof Omondi says he is yet to be accorded any recognition by way of a State award or commendation.