THE NATIONAL ANTHEM OF KENYA TURNS 45 THIS YEAR!
We present parts of an article presented in the Kenyan journal East Standard (20.07.2008, "From a Pokomo lullaby, the national anthem was born"), by Andrew Kuria.
The Kenya National Anthem turns 45 next month.
It was a product of long soul searching. Music scripts went through the hands of several writers before the anthem could be adopted as the sole national tune. The tune was borrowed from a Pokomo lullaby [Pokomo is a tribe living at the seashore, between the lands of Mijikenda and Boni tribes – comment by KPF].
At the onset, the task of arranging the National Anthem seemed simple. But when a five-man music commission appointed by President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta set out to work, under the guidance of a great music director and teacher Graham Hyslop, they found out it was no mean task coming up with a tune that would be accepted by all Kenyans.
A primary school teacher from Tana River District, Meza Morowa Galana, then aged 44, originated the tune that was adopted. Before independence as a music director roving around Tanganyika, Kenya and Uganda in search of untapped music talent and unrecorded songs for schools’ competition, Hyslop, visited Makere village in Gwano-Galole location of Tana River District where Galana was a Kiswahili, mathematics and music teacher. It was during this visit that the music director left instructions the primary school at Makere should provide a traditional song for competition.
Initially, Galana took the matter lightly, but when the director insisted the village school should at once provide a song, he realised the seriousness of the matter. The teacher went home and after the heart searching recalled a lullaby which his mother, Mama Maria Bawadza Galana, used to send children to sleep.
The teacher then took out a pen and paper and scribbling the words in his dialect, improved on the song, in one stanza. He then handed the song over to Graham Hyslop.
The song was given out as a set piece presentation from the school. The result was that it was a hit and was selected as one of the best entries. The music teacher, other staff and students were elated. What at the beginning seemed a simple and ordinary village song was acquiring national importance.
The words in of one stanza were compelling and interesting, especially when translated. The song went:
Bee mdondo bee,
Bee mdondo bee,
Wandu wa makondeni,
Mwezi uwaya ng’aa.
The popularity of the song did not stop at the Schools Music Festival. That year Kenya attained self-rule and started looking for the national anthem to replace the British “God Save The Gracious Queen” anthem. Bee Mdondo Bee was among the songs brought forward for consideration.
Prime Minister-designate Mzee Jomo Kenyatta then appointed a five-man committee headed by Hyslop. Other members included George Senoga-Zake (a music teacher and the first African to qualify with a Diploma in Music from the East African Conservatoire of Music), Thomas Kalume, Peter Kibukosya and Washington Omondi. The team was to arrange and look for a tune that would be the National Anthem.
The tune had to be attractive and one that would be suitable for both English and Kiswahili versions.
The team came up with different tunes. It was the first time local musicians in Africa had been given a task of preparing an anthem for the consideration of a government.
At the beginning of September the committee handed over their findings to Prime Minister-designate. They travelled to Kenyatta’s Gatundu home armed with their best three tunes and accompanied by the police band.
After hearing the Kenya Police Band play out the three tunes over and over again, members of the Cabinet were unable to make up their minds. In the end the Prime Minister asked the estimated 600 children who had gathered around his garden to decide for the members of the Cabinet.
The tunes were played once more. Surprisingly every child unanimously voted for what is now, Kenya National Anthem. The Pokomo lullaby carried the day. It was an instant hit to the delight of the Premier.
It was adapted, harmonised and words written by the National Commission of Music. Three stanzas with carefully selected words were put in it.
“Many tunes from various parts of the country were considered. The tune had to be of right length and quality,” the statement of September 25, 1963. stated. This was just less than three months before Kenya’s Independence.
On October 25, 1963, the first recordings of the anthem were processed and distributed throughout the world by East African Records Limited Studios.
Soon, members of the Anthem commission, led by Hyslop and Zake, were teaching Kenyans how to sing the anthem.
A statement was issued that the tune would go in use officially on December 12, 1963. And so after the British flag, the Union Jack came down at midnight on December 12, 1963 and the Kenya flag was hoisted up. Kenyans then ecstatically sang out their national anthem.