Beloved Choirmaster Dr Arthur Kemoli bows out

Renowned Kenyan Composer-Choirmaster Arthur Kemoli leaves the stage By margaretta wa gacheru Posted in Business Daily, 19 September 2012 The demise on Sunday of one of Kenya’s most esteemed composers and beloved choir masters Dr. Arthur Mudogo Kemoli marks the end of a musical era. Often linked with other acclaimed East African musical maestros who died in the recent past, namely Boniface Mganga who founded the Muungano National Choir, Darius Mbela, choir master of St. Stephens Church choir, and Professor Senoge-Zake, an active musicologist during the Kenyatta era, Dr. Kemoli ‘s contribution to Kenya’s choral gospel music renaissance was immense. For he was not only a composer of anthems, including the AU anthem, the University of Nairobi anthem and even the unofficial anthem of the Nyayo era, Fimbo ya Nyayo. He also played an integral role in what’s been deemed ‘the Golden age of Kenyan choral music’. Forming first the Kariokor Friends Church Choir (which later became the Kariokor Nyayo Choir) and the University of Nairobi student choir, Dr. Kemoli attracted international attention to Kenyan choral music, not only because he performed with his choirs in Asia, the Middle East and other parts of Africa, but also because his exuberant style of conducting Kenyan songsters was so exhilarating and filled with joy that he captivated audiences, charming them with his infectious musical flare. Some critics have attributed Dr. Kemoli with a kind of musical sycophancy during the Nyayo era since he, like Maganga, Mbela and Zake, also composed choral gospel songs that helped to shape the political praise genre which grew up after the attempt coup d’etat against the Moi regime in 1982. Nonetheless, Kemoli’s creativity is irrefutable; so was his indefatigable sense of humor and love for conducting live choral music. That love of music and choir-mastering was apparent during his early days as a student at both Kakamega and Alliance Boys High Schools. It was internationalized when he led the Madrigal Group as a graduate student at Sussex University in UK where he got his doctorate of philosophy in 1973. He was also renowned among the Kenyan student population countrywide since often gave exhilarating performances during annual Kenya Music Festivals. And in 1980, he conducted the Kariokor Friend Church Choir at the inauguration of the Vihiga Cultural Festival which has been held annually ever since. But in addition to his being an immensely popular choirmaster, Kemoli was also a senior lecturer in literature at University of Nairobi as well as a scholar whose research on Kenyan oral literature is published in numerous journals and books, including Voices of my Ancestors, Asio: a collection of Luhya Initiation Songs and Awendende: Luhya Wedding songs as well as Sacrifices for Africa: A Commentary on Caribbean Literature. Kemoli also recorded a range of sound tracks, reflecting his on-going research in Kenyan oral literature. He also recorded numerous television programs promoting African culture for Voice of Kenya, Kenya Institute of Education and URTNA. In addition, he supervised some of Kenya’s most imminent scholars in oral literature, including the late Dr. Jane Nandwa, Prof. Arthur Luvai, Dr. Kavetsa Adagala and Prof. Helen Mwanzi. In 1998, Kemoli was awarded the Order of the Grand Warrior of Kenya (O. G. W.) for his dedication to Kenya’s cultural development through music and for his extensive experience of teaching and researching Kenyan music and oral literature. Kemoli was also an accomplished pianist and vocalist who sang in choirs throughout his academic studies, first at the University of East Africa, then at Durham University and at King’s College, Cambridge in UK, and finally, at Sussex where he got the Ph.D. He also acted in University of Nairobi productions, playing leading roles in Wole Soyinka’s Kongi’s Harvest and Joe de Graft’s Muntu. In 2002, Kemoli received an Honors Award for distinguished service to the University of Nairobi. In 2009 he retired from teaching. However, he was still researching several publications when he passed on, including two volumes of Kenya Folk Music and two of African Spirituals. Among the first to send condolences to the Kemoli family was Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi who described him as “an unassuming musical maestro” who not only nurtured and inspired a multitude of Kenyan choir masters. He will most likely be best remembered “for his hilarious music compositions and dramatic performances while conducting mass choirs on national days”.


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