Kenyan duo Amos and Josh sang about death: I fell in love with them

Being a health journalist, there is the immense feeling that comes with people letting you in on their struggles. That look of trust in your ability to tell their stories of pain and victories and let the world feel it as they are in it. With permission from the subject of topic, let me tell you about an experience I had. Early this year, some prominent woman approached me, seeking my story telling skills to help her put up some literature of the struggles of an older woman she loved who was “terminally ill”, she told me. “This book will be read by many generations to come”, she emphasized. I sensed an urgency in her voice but I was too excited to think much of it. I considered this as another chance to learn something about another country, another culture. One evening in that country, I lay in this palace-like setting. Skinny and disheveled –I was just too skinny in January— I wondered what it felt living in this opulence, surrounded by body guards and servants. I thought about my assignment. I had five days to put into words, a history of a matriarch of a family of a culture that deeply contrasted the one I grew in. My twenty page book would explain to her grandchildren who she was, her values… Deep.

The following day, I walked into my assignment. When I saw her, I understood why this was so important. She was in her last days of battling cancer. I sat there talking to her, taking notes, recording, and with using every ounce of my energy to remain composed. For the three days, walking back to my room after spending hours with her, just the two of us, I was acutely reminded of how little I am as a human being. That evening, on the rooftop where my breath was taken away, I said to myself “even all the money cannot save me some time”… Truly life and health is a gift.

She loved what I wrote. Just a couple of days ago, I went to attend her burial. It broke my heart. Not one to display vulnerability in public by crying and stuff like that, I went to my room and processed what I was feeling over music. I listened to various artistes who had penned down fall-down gorgeous and emotionally devastating masterpieces about their own grief. As a lover of country music—you know there is a very interesting history of me spending a portion of my teenage near a 54-year old Dutch who played the guitar and loved country music— I found Darryl Worley’s I miss my friend quite consoling. The song made me cry a lot, and it got me curious about the structure of sad songs. Why would it make me cry and yet soothe me at the same time? While at it, I was surprised that while death is a very big part of human life cycle, contemporary artistes in Kenya rarely draw inspiration from death. There are musicians who have become famous by letting people mourn through their sings like British Robbie Williams’ Angels , Diamond Rio You’re gone . … the list is as long as your interest in music.

So I took three days looking at playlists in local radio stations, YouTube and music programmes in TV in Kenya sampling the subjects that many Kenyan musicians sing about. I discovered that while loss featured prominently, it was about heartbreak or failed relationship. Then I stumbled on “Baadaye” by Amos and Josh.

Finally something about death from a Kenyan. You will read the review of the song on our weekend paper Saturday Nation this weekend, and I will update this blog to reflect that. Kenyans may remember Amos and Josh from Tusker project fame, giving a Kenyan touch to KCI and Jojo’s single “Tell me its Real”.I asked Cedric Kadenyi who produced “Baadaye” about the structure of the song and true to what I suspected, the piece adhered to a widely held— albeit vague and disputed by composers— notion that sad songs are written on minor keys, and have a slow tempo. So I decided to check Amos and Josh other pieces and I just fell in love with them, for many reasons which I am about to mansplain.

One, there is nothing as musically intoxicating like an artiste with a great command of his voice and has a great vocal range. I love it that Amos and Josh can sing along tunes that you play on the piano at this end of piano and still be comfortable when your hands move to the notes on that extreme end of the scale. Two, lyrics—the poetic flow, rhyme, choice of words—set each musician apart. Music is “shallow” when the words do not connect with the feelings it is trying to evoke in you. I am a very sensitive human being and the fact that I can sense happiness in this duo’s music, is a big plus. From the lyrics in their single Moto Moto , I gather the two may have grown up in the church, read the bible or are Pentecostals: The similarities of certain verses in the song from the book of psalms or normal Pentecostal statements are notable. The song’s bridge goes like “Jua likiwaka niwe nawe, mchana kutwa, jioni likitua jua, usiniache (As the sun rises I will be with you, the whole day, in the evening when it sets, don’t leave me) … very close to Psalms 113 verse 3…from the rising of the sun to its setting The name of the LORD is to be praise”

Amos and Josh, I got my eyes on you. Well, if you release a crappy piece, I will come back and nail your asses on the cross

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