Baraka Karama and Henry Andanje @PeopleDailyKe
Veteran musician Gabriel Omollo best known for his Lunch Time hit song is dead. Omollo, who was one of the few remaining Benga maestros of the 1960s, died on Wednesday night at the Busia County Referral Hospital where he undergoing treatment following. He had been admitted to the hospital on December 31 after he developed breathing complications.
According to his widow, Alice Adeya and his childhood friend and fellow musician Charles Makawita, the singer passed on at 8.30pm. He was 79. According to sources, the music icon was suffering from a septicemia, an infection in the blood system.
Lunch Time song, which highlights the plight of low-wage earners in the city, was Omollo’s claim to fame, which besides making him a household name, won him the International Golden Disc in 1974 after he sold over 150,000 copies in East and West Africa. Omollo also became the first Kenyan musician to win the Guinness Stout Effort in the same year, thanks to Lunch Time.
Despite the success that was the famous number, Omollo, just like fellow Benga musicians of his time, was eluded by the wealth and lavish lifestyle associated with popular musicians and other celebrities.
His other hit songs Keep Change and Mr Kupe, which like Lunch Time were heavy on social commentary, rent the radio airwaves during the 70s and 80s. Notably, Omollo played the bass guitar on the famous Pole Musa, a hit song by Daudi Kabaka. In an interview with People Daily six years ago in Kisumu, the musician highlighted his plight living in deplorable conditions despite the fame.
“Despite being famous, I am not living the kind of life expected of a musician of my calibre. They used to pay me royalty after every three months, but no more,” he said.
That morning, he had travelled from his Nyabenda home in Ugenya, Siaya county, where he has been living since his career nosedived. Omollo’s talent was honed early in his village church where he was a member of the choir.
“I was a very active choir member. I started playing guitar in 1960 but the area chief was very strict and warned me against playing the guitar,” he recalled. Undeterred, Omollo moved to Nairobi in 1966 to pursue what he said he loved most: playing the guitar. His career took off when he joined the iconic Equator Sound Band where he played alongside Daudi Kabaka, Fadhili Williams, Zambian legend Nashil Pichen Kazembe and Peter Tsotsi.
The band was formed in 1960 by veteran producer Charles Worrod who also managed the Equator Sounds Studio. Lunch Time was not just inspired by observation, he lived it. He said while working as a casual worker at Nairobi’s Industrial Area, their daily routine inspired the song.
“I and my fellow workers at the industrial area could only afford beans for lunch. But at end month, we could afford something more sumptuous. So I decided to compose a song that depicted our real life experiences,” he told People Daily.
Apart from awards, the song opened doors for Omollo, including an opportunity to perform in Zambia, Ghana and Uganda. He received late national recognition in 2010 when he performed at the first Mashujaa Day celebrations on October 20, 2010, followed by a Head of State Commendation a year later.
Omollo was born in Nyabenda in Ugenya in 1939, but was raised at the Kenya Railways quarters in Muthurwa and later in Makongeni, Nairobi. He learnt how to play the guitar while at St Peter’s Claver’s Primary School where he also sang in the choir.