Jungle Fever

In Kibra, there lives a dark, holy jungle.

Rowallan Camp they call it, where those of the scouting movement go to do to their marches. That jungle contains the original vegetation of Kibra- a Nubian word which describes rich, lush vegetation.

The jungle is what’s left of an ancient forest, before the city swallowed it. And in its place birthed Kibera, the massive slum those fond of euphemism call “chocolate city”.

Some say that in that jungle, the spirit of Jok, the Luo creator-god of all things good and progressive roams day and night. He does so to protect his creations against Juk, his younger twin brother and creator of all things evil and destructive.

According to the old stories, the two have been fighting for dominance since the dawn of time. If you ever visit that jungle, you will feel strong winds blowing straight out of the earth, with an equally strong one blowing right into the earth, as Jok & Juk fight their eternal war.

Right up there in the night sky, l saw them tussle, when I visited the jungle last weekend. In the midst of rain, they shuttled across the night sky, fighting. Juk, while flying, wielded a mammoth’s tusk lined with golden patterns, akin to Mwana Darini’s Siwa.

Into it he blowed and a blast of blue fiiiiiire sparked, burning his brother’s godly eyes. I imagine that’s what tiny mortals see as lightning, when scampering for safety. Jok raced across the sky, riding on a giant grasshopper, while shooting volleys of fiery arrows into his godly brother’s face. I think it is what those clueless mortals call shooting stars, to which they make their little wishes

Jok’s grasshopper fluttered its wings, creating strong winds directed at Juk, who absorbed it’s force using his mammoth’s tusk. Then he blew into the tusk with all his might, creating winds of his own directed at his eternal nemesis. I watched the battle for an eternity, lost in that godly world, till a feminine voice absorbed me back into the humanly one:

“Heeeeey guuuuuys! Who will play us some music?”

The question brought me back to our humanly world, where a party was just getting started. Right in the middle of that dark, holy jungle, a bonfire had been lit. It was just a minute past midnight and a crowd was gathered around that bonfire. I joined in. The fire warmed our bodies while awaiting music, that which warms our souls.

You see, I love music. What I love even more is sharing it. That is why I have written several stories based on songs, including the latest three: “Steady Writing on the Midnight Train”, “Dis a fi di Good Father”, and “Coming Home”. In doing so, I wish for my readers to feel and think as I do whenever I listen to the those songs.

To appreciate as I appreciate the building blocks of those tunes. A soulful instrumental maybe, an intricate background vocal possibly. A witty verse there, or a forceful rap. An excellent sampling in the production, or a poetic rhyme scheme. A powerful message, or an enchanting vibe.

Although I normally communicate these musical matters through writing, whenever an opportunity arises I love playing them tunes to a willing audience. The crowd around the bonfire in the jungle was one such willing audience. As such, I was more than happy to take the mantle of DJ that night:

“I will play you some music!”

And so I did. Before starting, I wept tears of joy to Jok for blessing my crooked, undeserving ears with such great honor. To be the custodian of music is not an easy task, so l put on my best suit upon being granted full authority over the blue bluetooth speaker.

That was fifteen minutes to 11 pm, with tiny raindrops pounding the earth, wind and bonfire. I checked that all things were in order. The internet and streaming platforms that is. Cool. I was ready to be a DJ. I breathed in, out. Then, pressed play:

Naturally, l had to start it off twith Octopizzo’s Jungle Fever. The album refuses any distinct categorization, as most good pieces of work are. It has hints of Benga, Ohangla, Rhumba, Chakacha, and everything in between.

By then, I had listened to the album at least a dozen times, being wowed by the amazing production and bars at every instance. Dope, dope songs. ‘Kibanda’, epic bars from the trio.

‘Sitaki’, sweet sampling of David Kibe, with hard-punching bars. Easily my favorite song in there. ‘Swaga Za Wapi’, the song whose forerunner video told me an epic album was in the offing.

‘Plus One’. Beautiful, beautiful. My second (other times 1st) favorite song. Mad, mad respect to Owino Kitoto, whose soothing voice reminds me of Benga legend, George Ramogi. ‘Nataka’, I just like the humming and how jumpy it is.

‘Karatasi’, a song in which, like in many others, Idd Aziz does what he does beautifully. To be honest, I didn’t like Octo’s interpretation of Musa Juma’s ‘Maselina’. ‘Tamaa’, powerful song, I like how “Wallan deh! Wallan deh! Wallan deh!” is chanted mid-song.

As you can see, the album has too many good songs not to share. It had to be the one to usher in the party. Also, were were in a jungle located in Kibera, Octo’s hometown. I knew just the perfect tune to get things started, “City Kabanas” featuring the legendary Iddi Aziz who pulls off a convincing Dholuo accent.

That Dili-produced song has a rich Ohangla beat accompanied by a smooooooooooth Orutu riff that just stirs your up. In an album packed with fifteen playable tunes, I thought it would energize the crowd the most.

I also wanted to see how people would react to this new sound, majority of them probably not having listened to the new hip hop album and its Luo-centric sound. The audience immediately embraced the song, dancing in a circle around the fire. I said a silent prayer to Jok, that ancient God of all good things, for the gift of Ohangla drum sticks and Orutu strings.

Then, l proceeded.

Shuttling from one streaming platform to another, I jumped from genre to genre, time period to time period, as I played an eclectic set to both steer and keep up with the audience’s energy. They warmed and warmed and warmed our bodies, the flames. They warmed and warmed and warmed our souls, the songs.

Nyota Ndogo (Whose music, I swear by the Gods, I had to repeat severally, severally, severally, as the people could not get enough of her) ushered this new chapter. After her, Then channeled the ghost of Daudi Kabaka via Helule, which got some great reactions, from these people unborn when it came out.

Soon after, I went down south and asked Yvonne Chaka Chaka to pour us some magic beer. Before drinking it, we asked three dreadlocked men from Kayole to bless it with by singing praises to El Shaddai. Their old friend, Bensoul, follows closely behind- singing to an ex how he’ll never forget her.

An hour passes by.

Music plays on and on and on.

Many, many, many songs later…

The people were sweating now, and even the gods had stopped their fighting to watch the commotion. I could hear from afar, strange sounds. War chants they were, chanted by the baboons whose sleep our merrymaking was interfering with. For a minute, I kept the speakers quiet, listening. Movement halted, as everyone became aware of the approaching violence.

Baboons started moving warningly, in the dark canopy al around us, while barking their chilling barks. The people gathered closely around the campfire, ready to defend themselves. The gods watched, not interested in interfering with the ways of humans and baboons.

War was inevitable, humans having invaded baboon territory. Baboons intended to defend themselves, as did we. Tension.Just before it imploded, the speaker kicked back to life. Octopizzo’s “Jungle Fever” was back. Suzzana Owiyo’s piercing voice pierced the dark night, as she sang a catchy chorus:

Umbe lela! Lela! (Lela!) [Let’s laugh till we cry]

Umbe lela! (Lela! Lela!)

Umbe lela! Lela! (Lela!)

Umbe lela! (Lela! Lela!)

Okobina nzuke! (nzuke!) [Let’s dance the nzuke]

Okobina! (nzuke! Nzuke!)

Okobina nzuke! (nzuke!)

Okobina! (nzuke! Nzuke!)

The baboons stopped on their tracks, with red bottoms glowing as light from the camp fire struck them. They stopped barking, glaring canines no more. The humans dropped their sticks, cautiously waiting for what would happen next. The gods, l saw them from the corner of my third eye, stood on top of cloud 9. Everyone, gods, humans, baboons, fixed their eyes on the speaker.

They all seemed to be telepathically communicating something, as all lips started mumbling the lyrics sampled from Kanda Bongo Man’s song on the nzuke dance. Godly hips, humanly hips, baboonly hips, all moved, as they started dancing the nzuke. The tension started to dissipate, as the dancing gathered steam. All while, the lips started to voice the lyrics:

Umbe lela! Lela! (Lela!) [Let’s laugh till we cry]

Umbe lela! (Lela! Lela!)

Umbe lela! Lela! (Lela!)

Umbe lela! (Lela! Lela!)

Okobina nzuke! (nzuke!) [Let’s dance the nzuke]

Okobina! (nzuke! Nzuke!)

Okobina nzuke! (nzuke!)

Okobina! (nzuke! Nzuke!)

The urge to dance, like a contagious fever, spread throughout the jungle. It started raining, while the jungle fever spread ever faster, like the ongoing pandemic. Rain pounded the jungle with greater intensity, as the humans started forming a circle around the fire once more. The baboons jumped right in too, all the while dancing the nzuke.

The gods too, keen not to be left out, jumped off cloud 9. The gargantuan gods shrunk in size and shed off their godly amour in their journey downwards. While descending, as I saw with my very eyes, Jok transfigured into a baboon while Juk took the form of a human being. They joined the circle, all the while dancing the Nzuke and singing the song, like everyone else.

The Nzuke fever swept through the jungle, in a wave as strong as the “Kwassa Kwassa” one which swept through Kenya in the late 80s. Back then when, in 1988, Kanda Bongo Man played to an audience of 40,000 at Nyayo Stadium, hosted by the iconic Uncle Fred Obachi Machoka. The Nzuke fever was just as strong, as it infected all present in the jungle.

The jungle fever spread further. All manner of animals that creep and crawl joined in too. Those that fly at night flew in, with owls shining their torch eyes into the crowd, while bats blindly moved around the circle. Heavy rains pounded the earth wind and campfire, but no one relented, for the party must go on.

It went on, as all beings sang and laughed and cried tears of joy, all the while dancing the Nzuke. Midnight approached, crept in, like a thief in the night. By now the jungle fever infected everybody, and they gladly welcomed the next song.

A minute after midnight, I pressed play. Like the new beginning of a new day, the next song ushered in a different tune. Octopizzo and Idd Aziz were once again together, rightly so. Having started the show together, it was only right for them to close it. They did so, by singing “Good Morning Africa”:

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