By Margaretta wa Gacheru
Jak Katarikawe was a beloved East African artist who wasn’t just a painter of allegorical landscapes of Ugandan rural life. He was also a charming storyteller who’d hold his audience (be it a client, longtime patron or friend) rapt, as he interpreted the stories he had just painted. He’d always tell his tales with a twinkle in his eye as his characters, be they elephants or actual human beings, were often involved in some sort of illicit love affair; the kind he might have known first-hand back home in Uganda, before he came to Kenya in the late 1970s.
Jak didn’t arrive in Nairobi until he was nearly forty years old, or thereabouts. He was never sure of the year and month in which he was born, but he approximated it at 1938. That means that on October 19 when he passed on; Jak would have spent the same numbers of years living in Kenya as he did in Uganda.
Yet, as Jak grew less capable of painting the whimsical way he had done for a good forty years, producing brilliant and beautiful artworks that went into public institutions and private collections all over the world; he refused to ‘go home’ to Uganda. Despite having pumped a large portion of the revenues he had made from his paintings into constructing his family home in Kigezi, southwestern Uganda, he no longer seemed to identify with the land of his forefathers. Kenya is where he had become King of contemporary East African art in the 1980s and 1990s. So in spite of his weakening condition and his difficulty in paying his rent, Jak remained in the flat on Forest Avenue (now Wangari Maathai Boulevard) until the very end.
Until his death, Jak was a living legend who inspired younger artists by both his talent and apparent financial success. He was among the first East Africans whose artworks could sell for hundreds of thousands of shillings a painting. He is also one of the first whose works were exhibited abroad, in Europe and the USA.
By Kanyi Thiong’o
Different scholars of Literature have in the past researched on the literary meanings in Kenya’s popular songs where some of these works have been published in local dailies, in international Academic Journals and some have even been submitted for the award of Masters and PhD in Literature in different local and international Universities. Some of these scholars include, Kariuki Gakuo, Pauline Mahugu, Maina wa Mutonya, Joyce Nyairo, Kariuki Kiura, David Rotich, Kangangi Wanja, Earnest Monte and Kanyi Thiongo, to mention a few. These studies can be treated as confirmation that literary criticism of the literature that is encompassed in songs as critical reflections of society has defined its space in the media and in the academia.
This article revisits literary meanings conveyed in Joseph Kamaru’s songs to reread history, education and entertainment that is permeated in his songs as discourses of literature. Like all committed artistes Joseph Kamaru has a music career that dates back to the precolonial era; the political climate of the dictatorship of the first and the second regimes from the 70’s to the era of multiparty democracy; political songs; love songs and religious songs to mention a few of the thematic areas that have defined his music. Joseph Kamaru does not sing for singing sake. Each of Joseph Kamaru’s songs educates, entertains and informs. These are the three main pillars which every credible work of Literature must achieve.
Joseph Kamaru has a music career that dates back to the 60’s. As Craig Harris observes in Joseph Kamaru Artistic biography, Kamaru has been influencing the music scene since 1967. Influence in this case can be taken to mean, how most musicians in Kenya compose and write their songs. This can be cited not only in the melodic structure (tune), which marks most of the song. Kamaru’s songs have been studied at master’s level and PhD level. This is evidenced in Kariuki Gakuo’s Masters thesis A Study of Alienation in Joseph Kamaru’s songs and Ernest Monte PhD on the Songs of the Mau Mau (Stellenbosch University) to mention but two.
Joseph Kamaru passed away on 1 October 2018 in Nairobi