Inside a Nairobi pub recently, a folk group sang the praises of Barack Obama, hoping that their ode to Kenya’s new favourite son will match the US political star’s meteoric rise.
In a pulsating dance rhythm — a fusion of one-string fiddles, drums, cow horn and strident vocals — the all-male Kenge Kenge folk troupe has produced a catchy song about the US presidential hopeful ahead of the November 4 election.
“In America blessing is Obama, American people for good change vote Obama. In America ooh, in America, this is the time, if you miss it it’s gone,” the vocalists sang.
Kenge Kenge launched the song in Kenya at OJ’s Pub last Friday to a nonchalant crowd that had initially gyrated to more familiar curtain-raiser rhythms.
Nonetheless band leader George Achieng was enthusiatic that the song — “Obama for Change” — would stir excitement among Kenyans who are closely following the US presidential campaign hoping for an Obama win.
“It will definitely sell. Already people are asking for it (the CD),” Achieng told AFP after the performance.
The 13-member band composed the song for Obama, whose late father was Kenyan, during a five-nation European tour that kicked off in late July.
“We started performing this song during our shows and that is when we realised it was hitting,” said Achieng.
Since being given a hero’s welcome here in 2006, Obama has stirred interest among Kenyans, not least from the country’s Luo community to which his father belonged and sees his presidency as a harbinger of hope for the east African country.
“Kenyans are going to be happy especially the Luo community, but that’s not going to help them,” said Alphonce Omondi, a 27-year-old student and a reveller at OJ’s Pub.
“Obama is going to be a public figure. He’s going to work hard for the American community and not Kenyans or Luos,” added Omondi, a Luo, wearing a T-shirt with Obama’s picture.
“I’m proud. I’m a Luo man. I’m proud and I congratulate him.”
Although many Kenyans acknowledge that an Obama win would not automatically change their lives, seeing an African American of Kenyan descent become the most powerful man in the world would be enough reason for celebration.
“Fine, he has a Kenyan origin and everything, but I don’t think it’s going to only apply on us,” said Bella Awuor, another patron.
She added that an Obama presidency would break the long list of America’s white leaders.
“It’s always been white, white, white, but at least for once we are proud and we are really praying that Obama is going make it,” added Awuor.
Her sister Josephine Adhiambo was cautious.
“There has never been a black president. So there are chances that they might not choose him at the end of the day. But chances I think are 90 percent,” she said, also predicting that the band’s song would be a hit.
Obamamania in Nairobi has also spread to public transport vans, on which Obama’s pictures are threatening to rival Arsenal and Manchester United insignia as the favourite decoration.
In Nairobi’s largest slum Kibera, several groups have sprung in support of the Illinois senator and T-shirt vendors across the city are making a killing by selling tops bearing Obama’s picture or name.
“Obama is concerned about the youth,” said Daniel Ochieng, the leader of a Kibera self-help group also doubling as a local Obama campaign machine under the moniker “Obama’s Disciples.”
“He can help us more than an older candidate,” he added, in an apparent reference to Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who is 72. Obama is 47.
T-shirt designer Tony Ndolo has sold 250 tops written “Ndio Tunaweza,” Swahili version of Obama’s campaign slogan “Yes We Can,” in the last two weeks.
“I can’t complain. Yes I’m making money as you can see. Barack means blessing in Swahili and well, it’s a blessing to my wallet,” Ndolo said.
Rising from devastating post-election violence, some Kenyans warned against “rigging” Obama out of the presidential contest.
“If he (Obama) is beaten, he should be beaten fairly otherwise there will be chaos in the whole world,” said Kibera resident Elias Juma, who says he is from the same village as Obama’s Kenyan folks.
But for Kenge Kenge band leader Achieng, “as long as he (Obama) wins then I’m satisfied and I know that my song has done its work.”