Friday, July 09, 2010


"Won't you come see me, Queen Jane?" She can't, Bob; she died.

Jane Nyambura, one of Kenya's most popular singers, died on June 29th in a way you'd expect of someone from that continent…shoddy medical treatment. Her husband James said, "I am still in shock but God has done His will. Last month I took her to Kikyuy Mission Hospital…she was discharged after a week." It didn't mean she was cured. All it meant was that nobody discovered that she had meningitis. A few weeks later, Jane once again fell ill, and this time was taken to someplace different, Lang'ata Hospital. Nobody there seemed to know what to make of her problem, either. "On Thursday, she was okay, even talking," her husband said. "But come Friday, she fell into a coma, and a brain scan showed that she had meningitis…"

Queen Jane (her stage name) had been performing in good health and had released an album about four months ago. Adventurous music fans may have heard one of her songs, "Nduraga Ngwetereire" via the much-bootlegged "Rough Guide" ethnic music series. Your download is her first big hit, "Mwendwa KK." These songs, and several of her other hits, have pretty much the same pattern…a light, happy beat and frolicsome, nasal singing. The download below might sound a little like Paul Simon's "Graceland" if it had been produced by David Seville of The Chipmunks.

The singer began her musical career back in 1984, when she took an interesting turn from politics (her uncle, John Michuki, was Enviroment Minister at the time) to writing songs about the problems in her country. She wasn't happy with the average music heard in Kenya, which she said was "about verbal slurs, lewd speech and dance moves." She tried to offer alternatives, and she also ran a music shop that served as a place where budding musicians could learn their craft. Queen Jane's early success was in the band Mbiri Stars in the late 80's. Leader Simon Kihara, tearfully said when told of her death, "I'm like a three-legged stool whose one leg has been broken. The feeling is worse than what I felt when she left my band, Mbiri Stars." Queen Jane's own take on leaving that band was, "Feeling cheated and exploited, I opted out." With the help of producer Kimaita Magiri, and a group called Them Mushrooms, she recorded her album Ndorogonye, released in 1991 under the band name Queenja Les Les. A year later, Mwendwa KK became a hit, and she never looked back.

Now fans are looking back at her many achievements, and those of you who've never heard her, can look down below and grab a song and a bit of African pop-culture.


No comments: