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Taita sound clips

For the tale about how these recordings were found, see In Remembrance of Pepo and the Ancestors.
All clips are OGG files streamed via M3U playlists; "low" quality are for slow internet connections, "high" for 56k modems and up. You may need to install an audio player or plug-in to be able to play the files - for more information, links and troubleshooting advice, see help.

There are more clips in each of the tribal sections, and a selection of tracks from over twenty tribes here.

There's a bird singing (Ngelekele)
A dance that tells of events to come. A bird called ngelekele gives omens through its song in the morning. Some elders, on hearing a bad omen, will refuse to travel or do anything until the bird sings a better omen. Performed by Sungululu School Choir, Wundanyi.
1:23 low
Mchanda Complaint
The same choir continues with a song about a person complaining of a quarrel (people used to complain in dance and song rather than just verbally - you can get away with much more in a song, and your thoughts are made public). The singer complains that someone called him a mchanda, which is "a really dull bird" (explains Harrison): "I'm not a mchanda, but a maringo". A maringo is a much better bird to be called after, whereas even picking up a dead mchanda is bad luck: "if you eat it," explains Harrison, "you'll become stupid and as dull as an imp." To call mchanda to an adult also alludes to a proverbial lack of sexual staying power. Incidentally, maringo in Kiswahili means "airs, graces, graceful gait, swagger", and chanda is a finger or toe (hence the sexual allusion).
2:23 low
Nyange and the Bad Fruit (Nyange ana vile tunda mbaya)
This song is about Nyange, a character often told about in Taita oral stories. In this song, he has gone to the forest, eaten a fruit and disappeared: "Who has seen Nyange? Who has seen a foot of Nyange? Who has seen a bone of Nyange? Who has seen even a rib of him?" But there is no trace of Nyange, and the songs ends there. The song teaches children not to eat strange fruits in the forest, as they might get poisoned, or - on a metaphorical level - "captured", whether by animals or enemies (an alternative version of the song title, Nyange mva il-kula tunda mbaya, means Nyange's Capture by the Bad Fruit).
2:16 low
Don't Chase the Boys away at Night
The complicity of boyfriends and girlfriends! Here, girls from Mbauro Primary School (Kungu, near Wundanyi) sing of a boy wishing to spend the night at his sweetheart's home. The girl's mothers, meaning her biological mother as well as the father's other wives, are understandably unhappy at the prospect...
  "You mothers don't chase me away at night - I'm waiting for the day!", pleads the boy. The mothers exclaim "What are you still doing here!" but the boy insists, "Please don't send me back!" First, he sings of the wild animals who might eat him if they make him go, then he pretends that Maasai have come to steal cattle. The message is: "you might be chasing someone away who, by staying, would keep you awake and so make you able to stop the Maasai raiders in time." For the historical background, see The Taita and the Maasai.
2:53 low
The Daughter Sleeping Late
This song follows the same theme. A worried mother is asking her daughter: "What is happening, my daughter, you are sleeping late?" The daughter replies: "I had a fever, and there was no one to fetch me water ... no one was looking after me... I am unwell..." Although left unspoken, the song suggests she may have had a lover with her, or she might be pregnant. Happily (or mysteriously), the next day she's much improved, and able to go and work in the fields. The song ends there - and its interpretation is left up to you. Performed by Werugha Boys School, Werugha (between Wesu Rock and Ngangau, Taita Hills).
2:14 low
Mungu Kungu
I've no information about this one, but I guess it's an entertainment song for a feast, praising the "God of the cooking pot". Alternatively, it may just be a simple praise song thanking God (Mungu) for having filled the pot (kungu).
0:55 low
I Request a Share of Food (Nalomba Kando Kamwana)
A wedding song for a child or daughter. Drums start the song, which relates a man asking wedding guests to "please bring something and make merry". In communal feasts, a person's share of the food was the side of the dish on which he or she was sitting. From Mwaktau, at the foot of the Taita Hills.
3:01 low
When we were Children (Wimbo wo kuchi tungia)
This song, in the words of parents, teaches children to respect their elders: "When we were children / we used to obey our parents... / When mother called me / I answered 'Yes Mama' / When father called me / I answered 'Yes Papa' / When I am asked something by an elder / I respect them and do not refuse."
  Insofar as my execrable Kiswahili allows an interpretation, the song title means "The song of the fowl and the water pitcher" - in other words, it refers to the domestic duties of children, like plucking chickens or fetching water. Wimbo is a song or singing; kuchi is a kind of fowl, used in the past in cock fights; tungi is a simple earthenware water pitcher. Performed by Sungululu Lower Primary School Choir.
1:33 low
Political Praise Song (1983)
Pupils from Mwalamba Full Primary School (Kungu market, near Wesu District Hospital) praising President Moi before the 1983 elections, in the days of one-party politics. The lyrics, in Kiswahili, wax generously about the children's, parents' and citizens' love for Moi. The following are some of the lyrics, in the order in which they are sung: "We, the citizens of Kenya, love President Moi, because he is a great and responsible leader, and [shows] no discrimination ... There is no room for those who break the law, or who like to be criminals... We thank you, Moi, for having used your powers to announce the next election ... The weapon you can use as a citizen of Kenya, is your voting card ... because we know he's the only president without opposition ... register now as a KANU member ... we love Moi because he likes peace, love and unity."
  Kenya's first multi-party elections in the Independence era were held in 1992, and were racked by violence and killings. To no-one's surprise, it was later established that KANU had organized and in cases paid for the "ethnic violence", a scenario that repeated itself almost exactly in 1997. Thankfully, the 2002 elections - which finally kicked out KANU - were a different matter.
4:03 low
Mwachai Machombo - wedding Pepo dance
Drumming is the trademark of Pepo spirit-possession dances, now sadly all but extinct. This is a lighter version, usually performed at or before weddings. In the lyrics, a man invites his cousin, Mwachai Machombo. The two men - sung by girls from Nguraru (between Wundanyi and Mbauru) - speak in proverbs, saying what they shall and shall not do. The meaning is simply "come cousin, come and dance".
  In Kiswahili, pepo means "a genus of disembodied spirits". Rather better is Harrison's accidental rhyme describing the music: "people dance, fall over in trance". Pepo was traditionally performed when a person was possessed by evil spirits and needed a cure. The method is neatly described by the Kiswahili word pepa, meaning to sway, reel, stagger or stutter. Pepo was also used by women as a means of social criticism, or to express their opinions or exasperation about their husbands. In the possessed states they were able to make demands on their husbands that would be impossible to express otherwise, as it was perceived that it was the spirits, rather than the women, who were speaking.
7:24 low
Harvest Song
From Mwaktau near Taveta, at the foot of the Taita Hills. "We are dancing and rejoicing, because we have harvested..."
6:40 low

All songs are from a recording by Harrison Aggrey Mwachala of Wundanyi and Voi, to whom I am grateful for permission to copy the cassette, and for his patience in transcribing and annotating the songs. Most were recorded in June 1983 at the Taita-Taveta District Music Festival.


Traditional Music & Cultures of Kenya
Copyright Jens Finke, 2000-2003