Retrospect: 10 Years after- Niokowe by Kshaka | November 24, 2008

What measures a timeless? What makes a song relevant 5, 10, 30, 33 years later? What makes a song a classic?

It is 1998, a Saturday evening. I was listening to a Metro FM show that ran between 5 – 7pm as I did my laundry and the presenter says this is a new track from the already famous Kalamashaka. Being a big fan for their biggest hit, Tafsiri Hii and because I identified with the message they put across, I was going to pay attention to this one.

2008. Am in the office on a slow Saturday, and in my play list is the Ni Wakati album by the same group. Some somber piano keys, followed by drum kicks as Oteraw aka Rawbar spits the first verse amid Large Professor like scratches fused with a flute and strings announce the track ‘Niokowe’ and I stop everything else to listen to this timeless rap.

Subject: Ranges from stealing from public coffers, tribal wars, peace, unity, poverty, oppressive government, assassinations, joblessness and its harsh realities, the aftermath of unrests and heartless leadership.

The first verse, Rawbar (a KU graduate) talks of being educated and is without a job. His MP has vanished and will reappear at the onset of the next election. 1998 was just after the 97 elections. How many of our MPs play Keyser Soze on us today? Kamaa contemplates being a thug as a result of being idle and jobless. But he is afraid of the harsher realities of uncooked ugali at Indaaz Remand prison. The torture he might have to endure. Picture Kamiti Prison? He tells us of a friend who lies six feet under in Langata after being shot with a live bullet during a street protest. Those who remember the street demos of 97 & 98 led by today’s Land’s Minister Orengo will identify with Kamaa’s line of thought.

The chorus, which is also the hook is done by Vigeti aka Johnie is easy to go with and is a prayer that resonates with the listener.

“Mungu wangu niokowe,

Tabu uzitoe, roho yangu nayo ipoe,

Mungu wangu niokowe,

Mi nalia”

Rawbar comes again and this time talks of those bright students who can’t afford school fees, those who can’t have a meal because there is no peace as our leaders who have no heart trot the globe. Think of IDPs. He also mentions Mobuto Seseko who still dies after grabbing Zaire’s (Renamed DRC in 97) wealth and today; DRC still undergoing the same violence they suffered in the 90s. Johnie with probably the most skillful flow, starts with how a policeman shoots his friend and nonchalantly declares it looks like their victim has surrendered. This reminds me of the protester shot in Kisumu by an officer for doing a monkey dance infront of him during the post election violence. He then goes on amid loud gun shots,

“Kumi na tisa kwenye dinga, Ati ajali!

sisi si wajinga,Kwani chali mweusi ye-hawezi drive gari kali,

nani ataniambia mahali, okuo vice versa yuko?”

10 years later, even after a commission was formed to solve the murder of Ouko, we still don’t know those behind his killing.

Then Kamaa ruminates,

“hebu fikiria, amani bila maisha ama maisha bila amani,

amani bila maisha, nadhani haiwezekani,

na binadamu wanaweza, ishi bila kukosana,

sidhani, hata ukikazana,

cheki Njoro, Molo, hii sorrow,

watoto wamebaki bila wazazi,

Wee huoni hata Likoni, system ya wakoloni watumia,

Divide and rule imeingia”

Johnie then ponders why tribes are so separate like oil and water, as if we are not humans, like we are not Adam’s offspring; we have refused to share a piece of bread and we are shamelessly drowning in greed for grabbed riches as our children who are the future watch. The last verse ends as he challenges you the listener to stand up against the status quo and join the ‘a million man match’ for change. The song ends with the three doing the hook together in a rhythmic fashion with timely chants ‘ahh ahh’.

Listening to this song you notice how they apply a complex internal rhyming style in their verses. A style only used by experienced and clever rappers like Rakim, Nas, GZA to mention a few. Their flow is without notable flaw. At some point you think they are about to loose their breath but it is what enhances the song’s rhythm. Like Tafsiri, its sets the standards of how to flow, how to rhyme, and 10 years after, few of todays pretend rappers can match them. The production actuates the rappers fittingly. It puts some loose productions we hear today to shame considering the standards are higher now or so we think.

What is mystifying is that the message in this song still stands after all these years.

To me this is the measure of a timeless, the distinctness. The make of a classic. 10 years seem such a long time, but we might woefully be addressing same issues 2018. Hope not.



  1. Wow! I like the way you’ve analysed that. I have that album & I totally love it! Clearly, a classic.

    I hope to do a review of the whole album as time goes by. I dont think anybody ever did! Its good to hear you have the album.

    Comment by nzembi — November 25, 2008 @ 4:10 pm

  2. timam! welcome back man!

    Thanx man

    Comment by boyfulani. — November 26, 2008 @ 3:32 am

  3. I couldn’t agree with Nzembi more. Thanks to you I am now playing my grand collection of 3 K-Shaka songs. They truly do stand apart.

    I have their Ni Wakati Album on tape. They should do a CD for it am sure it can sell more at this time

    I think the element of timelessness is in the message more than anything else. It can not be time-specific for lack of a better way to put it.


    Comment by Kei — November 27, 2008 @ 2:05 pm

  4. great analysis there man.. That song iza classic!!

    Thanx. Sure is

    checkout my blog at

    Off to see what you got

    Comment by eugenethomas — November 28, 2008 @ 3:03 pm

  5. the lyrics are on point i agree. Nice analysis.

    Comment by mboiz — November 30, 2008 @ 10:02 pm

  6. Great analysis, and that album is indeed nice.

    Nice crib btw

    Comment by msaniixl — December 2, 2008 @ 7:20 pm

  7. With the raging drought situation, I have been thinking alot about this song, and Tupac’s changes. As I was searching for the lyrics I bumped into this post, and I must say this analysis is super. The lines that I relate to mostly at this time go something like “mbona atuwezi ishi ka mabrother tena atuwezi ishi ka masista”

    Comment by Nasta — July 28, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

About author

Gream is ....well, kawaida tu.







%d bloggers like this: