EULOGY: Curtain falls on singer and music trainer
The sudden death of Afro-jazz musician Lydia Achieng’ Abura has silenced an influential voice on the Kenyan entertainment scene.
However, her legacy will live on in the several albums she left behind and the legions of up-and-coming musicians whose careers she helped nurture.
The big body belied the tribulations the singer had been going through in recent times.
Her family and close friends confirmed that Achieng’ went through trying moments in the last days of her life.
Achieng’, blessed with a rich voice and a big size that made her stand out, was in the last days torn between trying to keep herself well and struggling against the odds to save her son Prince, who suffers from sickle cell.
To her fans and fellow musicians, news of her death on Thursday evening at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi was particularly devastating, considering the desperate situation she found herself in.
Media personality and fellow singer Sheila Mwanyigha, who recently hosted Achieng’ on her online show, recalled her singular desire to have her son cured.
“Achieng’ was a strong person who inspired many of us in our singing careers,” Mwanyigha said.
She recalled how they worked together a few years ago on the then popular music talent search show, Tusker Project Fame.
Achieng’ was the matronly principal of the show’s music academy, where she worked with veteran thespian Ian Mbugua, music teacher Hellen Mtawali, saxophonist Joseph Hellon and others in polishing young talent carefully selected from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and later, Rwanda.
“Her strong personality and strict adherence to what she wanted to do always earned her the respect of the students,” Mwanyigha recalled.
Earlier in the year, Achieng’ was devastated by the general lack of support when she tried to organise a funds drive for her son’s treatment. According to some of her posts on social media, nothing much was forthcoming from the effort.
The burly musician, who earlier this year revealed in one of her posts that she has lost nearly 40kg due to illness, seemed determined to soldier on with her life although the ailment had made walking difficult for her. By Friday, there was no official word from the family on the cause of her death.
Them Mushrooms Band leader John Katana, who was among the first people to confirm her death, said he would always remember Achieng’ for her principled decisions in her music career. “She was a team leader in whatever decisions she made,” Katana said.
Achieng’ made her debut in music with a gospel album I believe in 1990 and later released two others, Way Over Yonder and Sulwe. In 2002, she shifted from gospel to Afro-jazz, unleashing her Maisha album.
One of the biggest achievements came in 2004 when she won a Kora Music award for the Best East African Female Artiste, a prize she shared with equally talented Ethiopian singer Tsedenia Gebremarkos.
ACHIENG’ THE DIVA
Other Kenyan Kora Music award winners are Eric Wainaina, Henrie Mutuku, gospel singer DNG (Davidson Ngibuni) and rapper Big Pin.
During Kenya’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2013, Achieng’ proudly announced that she, like Kenya, was celebrating her 50th birthday.
She never shied away from talking about her past and especially how her parents initially opposed her pursuit of a music career.
Achieng’ was a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Goodwill Ambassador. It was through this that she was able to occasionally travel and improve the lives of the poor through music and to improve the lives of many.
Similarly, during her heydays, she was also involved in many other poverty eradication programmes.
Achieng’ cut a niche as one of the members of the popular Divas of Nile group which featured Mercy Myra, Princess Jully and Suzanna Owiyo. Together they staged shows at various venues in the country and beyond.
In a post on her Facebook wall on Friday, her protégé and namesake Iddi Achieng’ lauded her for having been inspirational in her musical career.
Musician and producer Suzanna Gachukia, formerly of Musically Speaking, on Friday eulogised Achieng’ for having helped her launch her solo music career in 1995.
“We have laughed, loved, composed, produced and performed together over the years. You were the diva,” Suzanne wrote.