Grandma’s Radio and Beyond

I love listening to music. From the olden days when I used to bump my head to Zilizopendwa playing on my grandma’s radio during the lunch hour on BBC Radio Taifa. In fact, it was my grandma who introduced me to music.

At times braggadocious, my grandma, who spent a considerable amount of time as an informal trader in the bustling streets of Mombasa while her spouse worked as a labourer for the British colonial railway, possesses an exquisite penchant for euphonic music. 

A radio was an indispensable item in our household, regardless of the potentially exorbitant cost of battery cells. I still vividly remember that old radio, a forbidden treasure we dared not lay a hand on unless she instructed us to do so.

In addition to listening to music, she relied on the radio for news bulletins. It’s tantalizing to ponder on the fact that we lived upcountry with Dholuo as our native tongue, yet we seldom listened to Dholuo radio stations. 

At times, when the music was so nice, she would softly laugh at the lyrics and then interpret to my younger brother and me what had been said by the musician. Essentially, she was our Genius

Even these days, when I listen to Simba Wanyika’s Shilingi Yaua Tena Maua, Les Wanyika’s Sina Makosa, Daudi Kabaka’s Msichana Wa Elimu, or Gabriel Omolo’s Lunch Time, I’m taken back in time by almost two decades.

The warm sunny days with ripe mangoes hanging temptingly, waiting to be plucked by the eager hands of passersby. Grandma preparing delectable dishes, especially the buttery milked vegetables that took a week or so to prepare, with each day’s effort dedicated to gently warming and pouring in fresh milk.

Barefooted us walking about 2 kilometres every day from home to school. In school, you wouldn’t dare lay a hand on me, as I would unite with my younger brother, and together, we would certainly defeat you! I truly cherish those days.

My grandfather and father enriched our homestead with a myriad of mango trees of different varieties. In fact, during those times, Ka’Mirasi was known for its mangoes.

Of course, my music taste has since evolved. I do not listen to a lot of Zilizopendwa these days. While in high school, I listened to a lot of dancehall and hip-hop music. Post-high school, I established myself as a hip-hop head.

In the last two years, I have been listening to a lot of Amapiano, a sub-genre of house music that originated in South Africa in the mid-2010s but boomed during the Covid-19 pandemic period. The sub-genre “is a hybrid of deep house, jazz, and lounge music characterized by synths and wide percussive basslines.” 

I also listen to select jazz music. Oftentimes, I enjoy listening to records from the genre’s pioneers such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong. Sometimes, I enjoy listening to South African jazz.

I’m not used to reading with background music, but I have tried a couple of times reading with soft jazz music and it somehow works. But I’d rather read without background music, haha.

My musical taste is eclectic, spanning a wide range of genres and eras. I do not shy away from sharing my playlists or loudly playing my favourite songs when my friends are around – I am comfortable with how my taste has evolved. I can play a Daudi Kabaki record, and Bree’s negative comments won’t bother me, lol.

In high school, I’d shy away from playing Zilizopendwa or Ohangla because of fear of being roasted by friends. I mean who listens to those? If you weren’t playing Migos, Future, or Drake records then you were a sucker. 

My friend Zack, however, challenges my taste and knowledge of music. I appreciate and respect the virtuosic rapper’s writing style, eloquence, and deep musical knowledge. When we were still workmates, we constantly debated about music. This led us to start a music podcast that ran for 23 episodes (blame Zack for that!). Find Zack and Mel podcast here.

My current playlist includes music from Johnny Cash, Robert Glasper, B.B. King, Nina Simone, Kendrick Lamar, ASAP Rocky, Schoolboy Q, and JAY-Z.

My grandma-inspired Spotify playlist can be found here.

By Melkizedek Mirasi

Lifelong learner.

2 comments

  1. This has brought nostalgia, Remember my dad would take me to sports bar in 90’s,Yes they were child friendly nothing like what we have now.Madilu System,Papa Wemba and Koffi olomide were his kinder Vibes.Then I was a small girl . Whenever I go to a party and lingala hits specially oldies one, my friends wonder how I learnt those lyrics.

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