When John Oyona died at Ombo Mission Hospital Migori, about four decades ago, his colleagues at Victoria jazz believed that he was poisoned using a crocodile bile while his Uholo family still believe Oyona was killed through superstition by one of the then renowned Luo Benga artist.
Why would someone kill Oyona who wasn’t such popular as compared to other vibrant band members ? story for another day.
Oyona’s death remain the saddest death ever in the Luo music industry which evokes emotion till today and yet he was just an instrumentalist and in rare cases a supporting vocalist.
Oyona was good in whatever he did and there had been several attempts by other Benga bands to poach him then. During those days, competition in both composition and performance was quite intense. It was a dangerous competition that ended up brewing jealousy and enmity in the industry.
If you listen even to the tribute songs to Oyona done by artists like the late Collela Mazee and Awino Lawi, you will get the feelings that came with his death and underlying theories . Even if you ask those who were not born by then ; they’ll confidently tell you Oyona was killed.
“.. an timbe Luo pod awuoro
Ng’ama bedni konyo no jogo ochich go dhine apiny piny..” Awino Lawi.
According to Collela, all band members had been set to die ( by whoever) because they had narrowly missed an accident a week earlier from Kisumu on their way to Migori.
When Oyona’s body was being removed from Ombo, a ring circled the sun and it rained heavily that day – as Luos said ” piny ywago Oyona “
This in the recent times only happened when Jaramogi died ; meaning either the gods were annoyed or Oyona was destined to a heroic status – whatever it is.
In his death, Oyona Jabul Wuod Nyar Ugana shed tears even after being in mortuary for two weeks. Oyona was literally crying in death and his mum had to talk to him to stop crying . Why would a dead body shed tears? was it normal?
You see, this was the sunrise days of Rachuonyo Show in Kendu Bay and Victoria jazz had planned to perform at the event alongside other bands like Owino’ s shirati jazz band which cancelled their attendance the very day Oyona passed on. It might have been in solidarity with the deceased but people misinterpreted it.
Oyona’s problem started a day before the planned show. He complained of abdominal pain , and finally breathing his last after various interventions and being rushed to Ombo mission hospital . This specific death basically changed the perception of Luo artists and music fans about ” death”
After Oyona’s death, musicians created perceived enemies and blamed these enemies for every misfortune that befell them. Accidents and sickness were treated as an attempt by the “enemies” to finish them and funnily a single artist was targeted.
So in late 80s and in the wake of the early 90s , Luo Benga artists resorted to witchcraft for protection. Even as HIV was finding its root in Nyanza, our artists still believed the only thing that could kill them was “bilo” . “Bilo” bore the burden of blame of nearly 90% of the deaths of musicians during that period.
We had an artist who would travel all the way from Nairobi to be treated by a native doctor in Ukwala for obvious malaria infection. Another one who was based in Migori would cross the border to a native doctor in Tarime even if he noticed a mild boil in his armpit .
Among the numerous reasons that led to the split of victoria jazz was a theory that a member was using superstition to “kill the voice ” of others . Some members claimed that they would lose their voice at crucial time when they are about to perform only for others to shine.
When Owino Misiani composed a song in praise of his native doctor Isabella ; the first song he did after sickness that saw him out of the industry for six months , it confirmed the fact that most of the then artists placed their lives in the custody of ” dark scientists “
We lost several artists in the 90s to HIV and other infections but the chorus was ” so and so oneg gi bilo” and sadly even in the twenty first century, Luos still believe an artist can’t just die a normal death ; there must be something behind it. There is no single artist who have died without a forged theory on the possible cause of death.
Being a musician doesn’t take away the fact that they are human being and can die just as You will one day die.
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By Adede Owalla Derep-Ruoth