Gabriel Omollo (1939-2018)

Volume 15, Issue 1  | 
Published 12/07/2018

‘Lunch time’ hit song maker Gabriel Omollo died on 4 January 2018 at the age of 79 at the Siaya Referral Hospital, after a long battle with tuberculosis. He was buried in his home at Nyabeda Village, Busia County.   Omollo was  born in 1939  in Muthurwa in Nairobi and was among the few surviving veteran musicians of the ‘Zilizopendwa’ genre.

His music career took off in the 1960s when he joined the legendary Equator Sound Band where he played alongside Daudi Kabaka, Fadhili  William, Zambian legend Nashil Pichen Kazembe and Peter Tsoti. The band was formed in 1960 by veteran producer Charles Worrod who also managed the Equator Sounds Studio. Besides performing with the Equator Sound Band, Gabriel also performed with the Eagles Band, Blue Shades and later Apollo Komesha Band. Notably, it was Gabriel who played the bass guitar on the famous ‘Pole Musa’, a composition by Tsotsi.

Omollo was one of the best composers whose music will be remembered especially for its enticing social commentaries. ‘Lunch Time’ still resonates 40 years after its release. In it Omollo captures the plight of the urban worker who struggles to make ends meet, and can only afford a little luxury at the end of the month. This applies to date.

‘I was working in Industrial Area’ he said, ‘and noticed that at the end of the month, my fellow workers would all run away from the usual githeri and porridge for lunch and instead be found eating chapati and beef. Similarly, come the end of the month and all the fellows who would otherwise be whiling the time away, sleeping under the shade of Jeevanjee Gardens in Nairobi would be feasting on chips and chicken.’

The lyrics for ‘Lunch Time’ came naturally from these observations and the impact was felt well beyond Kenya. A remix version of his ‘Lunch Time’ (originally released in 1970) was done 35 years later in 2005 by the late Poxi Presha and Kenyan-based Congolese singer Paddy Makani.

In September 1974, Gabriel became the first Kenyan musician to be awarded an International Golden Disc for the sales of his single, ‘Lunch Time’. Phonogram Records certified a total of 150,000 copies of the single, sold in East and West Africa by that time. The company’s vice-president, Joop Buinink, flew to Nairobi to be present when the permanent secretary for Information and Broadcasting, John Ithau, officially handed over the plaque to Omollo at the Panafric Hotel in Nairobi.

As a result of this achievement, he was selected as the first musician in the country to be awarded the Guinness Stout Effort Award in September 1974. Omollo and his band, Apollo Komesha, had recorded 20 singles for Phonogram with total sales of 300,000 copies, more than the 80 bands contracted to the company together.

Gabriel's follow-up singles like ‘Keep Change’ and ‘Mr Kupe’ retained the social commentary, but could not attain the same heights of success as ‘Lunch Time’.

In later years, Omolo tried his hand at various businesses, including running a taxi venture and operating a music store in Mombasa. He was also employed as a driver with the United Nations in Nairobi from 1989 to 1995.

His accomplishments have, however, gone unnoticed by most Kenyans, save for a performance at the first Mashujaa Day celebrations in 2010 and a Head of State Commendation (HSC) a year later.

Gabriel Omollo spent his time at his home in Ugunja, Siaya County, writing songs and playing his guitar. He leaves a widow, Alice Adeya and five children.

Last modified on Thursday, 12 July 2018 10:01

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