Leyla and 50-year gulf she could bridge

Leyla Mohammed

This week a young girl became a social media sensation with her rendition of the timeless classic, Wimbo wa Historia.

Leyla Mohammed’s silky voice breathed life into the tune that talks of the early years of Kenya’s independence, rekindling embers of a fast-dwindling sense of nationhood.

Dwindling, because one cannot ignore the chasm that exists between this young teenage sensation bubbling with hope and the original composers of the song.

Under Enock Ondego, the Ukunda Group Singers first performed the song in 1968, some five decades ago. At the time they, like Leyla, were in their formative years and represented the hopes and ambitions of a young nation.

They rubbed shoulders with the high and mighty, performed for President Jomo Kenyatta, much the same way Leyla is now performing under the auspices of the Permanent Presidential Music Commission.

Leyla is perhaps unaware of the path trodden by those ahead of her, especially since a nasty rumour in the 1980s went round like bushfire and led many to believe that Ukunda Group Singers and Mzee Ondego all perished in a road accident.

Sadly, as I learned this week, it is an untruth that many have bought into.

Mzee Ondego and many of the Wimbo wa Historia singers are alive.

The old man is now visually-impaired and recently gave an interview where he detailed his tribulations over years of unfulfilled promises, broken hopes and that nasty rumour that killed their very essence.

It is an unfairness that remains raw, like a festering wound on the skin of this nation’s story. It is a rude reflection of how a hymn whose beautiful tune once represented birth, became a lamentation.

But it is also the hope that the wide-eyed, mellow-voiced Leyla represents.

By seeking to fill this chasm we could, symbolically, begin to address our past narrative as represented by the pioneers like Mzee Ondego and pass it on to the young’uns like Leyla.

Then our collective ‘Wimbo wa Historia’ can once again become a beautiful melody and rekindle a sense of hope.

And nothing would do this better than bringing the original singers of Wimbo wa Historia and Leyla together for a performance during the upcoming Mashujaa day celebrations.

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