|Luo Benga Artist Osito Kale(2nd R) holding trophie as he is being congratulated by other artists receiving Life Time category trophie and cash from Board of the Youth Enterprise Development Fund Chairman Gor Semelang'o(2nd R) during HISCA Benga Talent Award 2013 at Meladen Club and Restaurant in Nairobi on Saturday 03/08/13.PHOTO:BONIFACE OKENDO|
For a man who has made a career attracting admiration and controversy in equal measure, Benga musician Elly Mirasi Akumu, popularly known as Dr Osito Kale comes across as down to earth.
Fondly referred to as Mzee wa Kazi by some fans, the Kenyan music maestro displays lots of confidence but little sign of the hubris associated with superstars in the big league.
Looking fit and relaxed, the 56-year-old with 20 albums under his belt seems to have lost none of his scintillating beats accompanied by powerful vocals that have earned him fame across Nyanza and beyond.
When he walked into the Standard Group offices recently dressed in a dark blue suit, and white T-shirt, he an impromptu performance, providing a section of employees pleasure of listening to one of the most recognisable yet almost ‘forgotten’ voices in Kenyan Benga music.
“Music is part of me,” he says. But why has Osito Kale been keeping a low profile, even eliciting suggestions he had quit music altogether due to dwindling fortunes? “I have not quit music and my fans should brace themselves for more surprises,” says the musician who has been singing for over 30 years.
To prove his intent, he reveals he is currently working on a new album that he describes as a force to reckon with. “I am currently busy helping out with promotion of my nineteenth album dubbed Kama Ili Emiguonyo,”loosely translated as Only scratch where it itches. Done in pure Dholuo it is already available in various music shops across the country. I assure you it is music with a difference,” he says.
He says despite currently spending most of his time in Nyanza, he has been staging concerts in various parts of the country besides spending time with his large family.
Osito Kale’s sweet voice and grandiose style blends the music of his heritage with the electrifying sounds from various parts of the world.
The musician, who won the annual Benga Extravaganza in 2000 remains an established instrument player who has performed and recorded hit numbers with various top musicians.
This aside he scooped two major awards for Benga Maestro of the Year and that of Long Life Benga Artiste beating most of his competitors during the latest music rankings dubbed Hisca Talent Awards held at Nairobi’s Meladen Club late last year.
But despite this there are those who feel Osito Kale has an edge over his competitors but he says age and experience have nothing to do with such awards: “It is all about what you are able to deliver.”
Despite his achievements, some critics think he is going downhill, having failed to produce creative hits to overshadow previous songs like ‘Asembo Piny Maber’, ‘and ‘Ndesna Buoyo,’ the widely acclaimed songs that enabled him stage concerts across the country. So, what is his answer to those claiming he is responsible for diluting the original rumba by experimenting with different styles?: “Benga will always remain benga. What I try to do is to be versatile by occasionally fusing it with other styles to fit the current trends. Music is always evolving and we cannot afford to be static.”
He has never been shy of trying new styles. In 1979 he formed Orchestra Diband band and recorded his first musical composition Alice Atieno Bravo.
A year later he joined Benga expert Awino Lawi’s Band of Victoria ‘C’ Fame as one of the lead vocalists for close to eight years. During the time he recorded several compositions among them Hellen Alaka and Auma Gaudencia.
The musician who describes Awino Lawi as a flexible and reserved musician admits that despite their fame they were underpaid.
This resulted to some of the band members opting to sign contracts in secret for various shows across the country.
However the bubble burst shortly in 1987 after which the top guns in the band went their separate ways leaving him with no option but to return back home in 1987 where he spent time mentoring a few aspiring musicians for three years before forming his own band in 1991 dubbed Nabi Kings Victoria “D.”
“In 1992 we got a chance to entertain revelers in various village clubs in Asembo Bay. The starting amount was Sh6 before we moved to Sh26 on the second day and Sh60 on the third day,; he says adding that payment got better with time.
And within no time they were fully established gaining fame among local residents and opting for greener pastures at Riverside Club in Yala.
He reveals that despite his album Asembo Piny Maber released in 1998 that catapulted him to instant fame, ironically pirates reaped handsomely from it as attested to by the number of copies sold on the streets while he was left with nothing.
“The first copy recorded was substandard forcing me to re-do it again before I could finally release a quality product that was appreciated by many people,” he says of challenges in producing first album.
A former football player, his passion for music began at a tender age of eight while at Ramba Primary school, in Nyanza Province.
A Form Two drop out from Church Army Secondary School; due to lack of school fees he was lucky to secure a chance in a private college where he pursued carpentry for two years with meager pay.
In 1979, he returned home and formed Orchestra Diband band and recorded his first musical composition Alice Atieno Bravo. Currently based in Kisumu, the musician with a satin smooth voice and sentimental lyrics believes it is only a matter of time before bouncing back into the mainstream industry.