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African Music Spotlight: Ayub Ogada Doesn’t Remember Writing for Kanye West

by Eva Rose Tesfaye on June 6, 2018

Recently, Kanye West credited artist, Ayub Ogada, for being a song-writer on his latest album, Ye, but the Kenyan musician is known for much more than just writing for Kanye. In fact, he doesn’t even remember working on Kanye’s album because he has so many projects.

“I’ve done so many projects. I cannot remember everything,” Ayub told The Nation from his home in Nyahera, Kisumu Count. “I cannot remember at what moment in time I did that job.” He implied that Kanye may have given him credit for borrowing elements of one of his songs, of which there are over 150.

“People use my music to do their own projects,” he said. He also says that he is often called to take part in various projects, by creating lyrics or composing or both. “They always call me. I never call them. They call me, and then I do the necessary job,”

Ayub’s music is unique for its natural elements. He often incorporates the chirping of birds, sounds of animals, and the voices of children playing in the background. He often records outside to capture these sounds authentically. His music is written about his life living in Kisumu, Kenya. His instrument of choice is the nyatiti, an 8-stringed lyre that originated in the Luo tribe of Kenya.

Ayub, whose birth name is Job Seda, was born in 1956 in Mombasa, Kenya. His music is heavily influenced by the Luo tribe from which is descended. Both his parents were musicians who performed for both United States and Kenyan audiences. This exposure to both cultures heavily impacted his music. Despite being musicians themselves, Ogada’s parents wanted him to become a doctor or a technorat.

Eventually his father allowed him to enroll in piano and trumpet lessons while they were living in the United States. He lived in Chicago while his father was studying medicine and playing music. While there he once met Muhammad Ali (who at the time was called Cassius Clay).

“My dad showed me how to play my first guitar chords. Ironically, after that, he never wanted me to even touch his guitar. I would only play it while he was away from home,” Ogada told the online magazine, Black Roses.

He returned to Kenya attending a Catholic high-school. While still in school, he played various instruments in various bands. “When I went back to Kenya, Ayub once recalled, I had to relearn my language and some of the vernacular. Going to America was a culture shock, but going back to Kenya was another.”

After leaving school he co-founded the African Heritage Band with American, Alan Donovan, in 1979. Over the next six years, Ayub recorded two albums with African Heritage (Niko Saikini and Handas) and toured Europe. He also became an actor, using his birth name, appearing in Out of Africa and The Kitchen Toto. His songs are also on the soundtracks of films such as I Dreamed of Africa, The Constant Gardener, Samsara and The Good Lie.

He fell in love with the instrument, nyatiti, while visiting the African Heritage Art Gallery and considers himself married to it.

“With all due respect, nyatiti looks like a woman. Its sound box resembles a breast and the two holes at its front look like eyes, making the area somewhat similar to a face,” he says.  “At first I found nyatiti limiting as I wanted more notes and harmonics. But with time I learnt and emulated its simplicity—distinct of minimal notes and vast rhythmic sequences.”

While onstage he is known for dressing in elaborate traditional clothing, but offstage he is often seen in jeans and a t-shirt. “Traditional African adornment simply reinforces my music. I dress like normal people when I am not performing to avoid attracting unwanted attention. It’s the only way I can easily relate with people—an important part of being an artist,” he says.

Ogada is considered one of Kenya’s biggest artists. His most famous song, “Koth Biro”, which translates from Luo to “The Rain is Coming,” was played at the Rio 2016 Olympics as a Kenyan athlete received the Olympic Laurel award.

In addition to his love for music, Ogada dedicates himself to nurturing a wounded planet plagued by the lasting effects of colonization.

“Most of us live in stolen countries,” he says. “America is a stolen country. Canada is a stolen country. Australia is a stolen country. We are original, indigenous people, and we still have our strength. Jazz comes from me. Blues comes from me. Rock ‘n’ roll comes from me. We must gain our power back, and then we can feed this planet. Africans are waking up. We are at the bottom of a pile. That’s the best place to be, because the only way you can go is up.”

Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons

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Eva Rose Tesfaye
Eva Tesfaye has traveled around the world her whole life but thinks of Africa as home. She loves reading novels and watching plays (especially ones with people of color in them). She has a love-hate relationship with her big curly hair.