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Singer Misiani dies in crash

By David Ohito

Veteran benga musician, Owino Misiani, died in a road in Kisumu on Wednesday.

The incident threw residents into mourning as the news of his death spread. The matatu driver was among those who died in the afternoon crash. Scores of passengers sustained critical injuries in the accident that occurred at a black spot.

One of the vehicles, a minibus, rolled on impact, while the mangled smaller public transport van was pushed into a ditch. When The Standard arrived at the scene, Misiani’s body lay prostrate at the spot where he had been thrown on impact. Traffic on the busy Kisumu-Kakamega highway was affected as hundreds of residents gathered at the scene singing dirges.

Seventeen people were taken to the New Nyanza General Hospital. One victim was taken to the Intensive Care Unit, while three were being operated on. The minibus, christened Gitwamba, was coming from Riat Hills in Mamboleo when the driver lost control and rammed into the stationery van, which had stopped at Mamboleo Junction police roadblock.

"I was driving downhill when my hydraulic brakes failed. I put on the headlamps and hooted to alert police manning the roadblock but I was overwhelmed," the driver said.

Nyanza provincial police officer Grace Kaindi said she had recently ordered the roadblock relocated. Langata MP Raila Odinga, the musician’s long-time friend, said he was saddened by the incident.

"It is a terrible blow to my family and to the people of Kenya. We have lost an inspirational leader, a man of vision and unrivalled talent," he said.

Raila described Misiani, who led the DO7 Shirati Jazz Band, as a rare character whose death leaves a gap in the movement for change. Other leaders who sent condolences to Misiani’s family were MPs Gor Sungu, Stephen Ondiek, Philip Okundi, Eric Nyamunga, Ayiecho Olweny and Otieno Kajwang’.

Residents mobbed Kisumu Town West MP Ken Nyagudi at the scene and demanded that the roadblock be moved from the blackspot.

Misiani composed political lyrics and was a key ally of Liberal Democratic Party leaders and used his songs to mobilise support. The artist, born Daniel Owen Misiani in Shirati, Tanzania, was one of the pioneers of benga, a fast beat described by musicologist Werner Graebner as "a rhythm guitar with strong roots in nyatiti harp playing and a punchy, upfront bass line".

Misiani launched his musical career after moving into Kenya in the early 1960s. While his early recordings featured the acoustic guitar, he switched to the electric guitar and formed Shirati Jazz in 1967.

In the 1970s, Misiani and Shirati Jazz ranked among the most successful musical groups in Kenya.

While their early songs focused on affairs of the heart, Misiani and Shirati Jazz increasingly shifted to themes of African history and the Bible.

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