As a young boy, Cleo Lekingorai moved from place to place in search of green pastures for their livestock. But the renowned Samburu artiste has now found rest in music and hospitality
Harriet James @harriet86jim
Twenty-seven-year-old Cleo Lekingorai hands me a cold glass of cocktail juice. The hot and dry Samburu weather left me dehydrated after a two-hour game drive at the Samburu National Reserve. Unless he tells you his story, you would assume that he is just an ordinary staff at the Samburu Intrepedes Camp.
But he is a renowned musician amongst the Samburu people and an ambassador of Kids Safari Africa, a non-governmental organisation that was established to teach the Samburu children on the significance of conservation.
This second born in his family began singing way back in his primary school days. He was in the school choir and admits that he never took music seriously until his college years when he got an internship at a Mombasa hotel as a barman.
“I used to sing even in college and I would go for many auditions. I released my first song in 2014 with the Kaya Mbaya band,” he says. Later on when he got a job at the Samburu camp in July 2015, the band got disbanded.
He released his first single dubbed Soldier Boy in 2016, a song about his life and his childhood desire to be a soldier. He admits that his major challenge was balancing his cultural background as a Samburu and embracing modernity.
Samburu is a developing town where people still hold onto their tradition and move from one place to another to find fresh grazing grounds. “I had to travel all the way to Nairobi to sing, but when I come back home in Samburu, I become one of them. I still take care of cattle and wear traditional clothes to win their hearts,” explains Cleo.
Traditionally, Samburu men look after cattle and are also responsible for the safety of the tribe. As warriors, they have a duty to defend the tribe from attacks by both animal as well as man. Additionally, their young boys learn to tend cattle from a young age and taught to hunt. Cleo was brought up under these hard circumstances. His parents too had difficulty in accepting his career as a musician.
They had this belief that musicians are crooks and apparently thought that he was not serious in his studies. However, after seeing that’s how he is making ends meet, they have accepted his decision and now support him.
His villagers too, who at once resisted his music, are now embracing what he is doing. However, despite this acceptance, Cleo admits that musicians are still underpaid in Kenya, which has made him supplement his income by having a job that supports his projects. Currently, he is singing Samburu traditional songs and he hopes to preserve the Samburu culture and give it value. “I have realised that one always gravitates towards where they are appreciated.
Traditional music in Samburu is well paying and my community now appreciates the message that I pass through the traditional songs,” Cleo says. Another challenge is balancing between the two demanding jobs.
That he works both in the hospitality industry and music, he admits that sometimes it’s hard juggling the two. Nevertheless, he is lucky to have understanding bosses who give him permission whenever he has a show to perform. Singing traditional songs resulted in him being appointed as the Ambassador of Kids Safari Africa, an organisation that supports conservation amongst the Samburu.
They clean the park regularly and the warriors, who once killed lions, have been taught to value nature. Cleo advises young people desiring to be artistes to be patient, smart and understand what they are doing and the environment that they are working in. “Stay on course. Don’t deviate. Keep believing and working hard knowing that it will pay off,” he says.