|Prof Okumuís legacy at Kenya music festivals lives on||Posted By Admin|
The man who revolutionised one of Kenya’s largest art festivals, the Kenya Music Festival, is dead. Professor Caleb Okumu died last Friday
The man who revolutionised one of Kenya’s largest art festivals, the Kenya Music Festival, is dead. Professor Caleb Okumu died last Friday at The Nairobi Hospital after suffering a heart attack. He will be laid to rest on Saturday at Maliera, along Kisumu-Busia road.
Prof Okumu has taken the Kenya Music Festivals places since he took over from Professor Emily Okuno four years ago.
He mingled freely with all participants and was not high-handed while engaging students, teachers, adjudicators and other officials in the event. His death has dealt a big blow to the music fraternity.
Before his death, he met with the Kenya Music Festival executive secretary, Mr Benson Abwao, on Monday and the two had lunch together.
They were planning to travel to Meru County the following day to meet organisers of this year’s national festivals.
However, he cancelled the journey as he was assigned duties in Naivasha by the Kenya Polytechnic — his employer.
The Professor of Music at Kenya Poly’s Department of Performing Arts suffered an asthmatic attack in Naivasha, but he made it back to Nairobi.
He checked into Nairobi West Hospital on Wednesday night. He sent an SMS to Mr Abwao on Thursday and informed him that he was progressing well. But he was not.
He was put on oxygen and rushed to Nairobi Hospital. On Friday morning at 6.40am, Mr Abwao told the Nation, Okumu was no more.
“We have lost a person who was most dedicated to music and the music festival,” Mr Abwao said.
Prof Okumu was not only a teacher of music but also a composer, singer, adjudicator and conductor.
He practised what he preached; he was the leader of his own band — the Maseno University Band.
He was the lead vocalist and also played the guitar. His last major performance was during the adjudicators’ and trainers’ workshop at the Tom Mboya Labour College in Kisumu on May 22.
Prof Okumu will be remembered by many for devolving the Kenya National Music Festivals to the counties.
Traditionally, the festivals were held at Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi. When Prof Okumu took over as chairman, he took the event to the regions on a rotational basis.
The first national event was held in 2008 at Lions School and Menengai High School in Nakuru and it was a success. So was the next, held in Kisumu, and the next ones in Mombasa and Nakuru, again. This year’s festival will be held at Meru School, Kaaga Girl’s High School and Meru Teachers Training College in Meru. It was this event which was taking Prof Okumu to Meru.
Mr Abwao said that it was too sad that the man would not be attending the event, to which he had dedicated so much time and effort. “We, the organisers, will dedicate this year’s festival to him,” he said Mr Peter Wanjohi, who has taken over from Prof Okumu in an acting capacity as the Kenya Schools and Colleges national chairman, said they had lost a role model “Professor guided the Kenya Music Festival and encouraged us to do the very best,” he said. Professor Emily Akuno, former chairperson of the National Festivals, saluted Prof Okumu for his hard work.
“His level of commitment to music scholarships, easy relationships with juniors, peers and superiors, the warmest bass-baritone voice that would switch instantly from Mozart Opera to a Lingala tune will be missed,” she said.
Professor Okumu’s journey to the top was long and winding. From being a primary school teacher in 1976, he worked his way up the ladder and ended up a professor of music. He started as an assistant teacher at Got Kokwiri Primary School in Siaya and he taught in various other schools before becoming a tutor in Kericho Teachers College. He rose to the rank of lecturer at the college before shifting to Bondo Teachers College and then Maseno University College in 1992. He lectured at Maseno before moving to the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa and then to the African University of Zimbabwe. He then returned to Maseno, now a full professor, in 2007 before moving to Kenya Poly to head the Performing Arts Department.
Two things about Prof Okumu have been consistent: His love for music and his desire to learn. His own motivation has seen him compose and sing numerous songs. He has also gone back to class several times, not as a teacher but as a student.
It takes a lot of devotion and belief to become a professor of music.
Professor Okumu is gone but his legacy lives on.