As depicted in James Cameron’s 1997 epic movie, Titanic, starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, Wallace Hartley led the Titanic’s eight-member band in singing “Nearer, My God to Thee” as panic engulfed the passengers aboard the infamous Titanic ship.
The team assembled in the first-class lounge to play in an effort to keep everyone calm.
As the ship continued to plunge, the band moved to the forward half of the boat deck and continued playing even when their doom became apparent.
On the afternoon of August 15, like the band’s heroic contribution in trying to instil calm to the very last moment, six choirs – five drawn from Kenya and one from neighbouring Tanzania – entertained millions of people glued to television screens to follow events at the Bomas of Kenya, anxiously waiting for the declaration of a president-elect.
While some — especially on social media — praised the choirs for calming tensions with the upbeat religious and patriotic songs, others thought they were simply making the wait more agonising.
Given that the announcement that was to take place at 3 pm was made after 6 pm, with the intervening hours punctuated with verbal and physical confrontations, the choirs’ team leader has told Newszetu it took a lot of willpower to continue performing.
Moments before Dr William Ruto was declared the president-elect at the Bomas of Kenya by electoral commission chairman Wafula Chebulkati, a chaotic scene ensued, threatening to plunge the country into a constitutional crisis.
In this chaotic moment, even as the country inched into uncertainty minute by minute, the choir did not stop singing.
The choir’s unison patriotic lyrics of “Twapenda amani, twapenda undugu ulio hapa Kenya. Ni muhimu sisi wananchi tuilinde umoja wetu” —calling for peace and unity — nonchalantly breathed hope.
These verses were repeated and repeated especially in the moments when the heat almost reached boiling point.
The singers sang their hearts out in reassuring and entertaining patriotic lyrics that somewhat served to soothe Kenyans.
The legendary Mwalimu Thomas Wasonga, a retired teacher by profession, was the man who led the team of choirs through the turbulence that rocked the pre-announcement of the country’s president-elect by the national returning officer, Mr Chebukati.
The choirs had also sung earlier in the week as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission started updating Kenyans on the August 9 voting and counting process.
Mr Wasonga had been contracted by the electoral body, IEBC, to coordinate entertainment during the tallying process at the Bomas of Kenya.
He then put up a team of six choirs comprising about 100 members.
Five were Kenyan while the sixth group was from Tanzania. He explained that the Tanzanian choir had been contracted by the electoral body because their renditions resonated with the country’s event.
Theirs was to entertain and preach peace during the process through their patriotic and religious renditions.
They did just that without minding any other businesses on the podium. Newszetu could not immediately establish how much the entertainment docket cost the commission.
“I only coordinated the fusion with other five Kenyan teams comprising NHIF choir, Safari choir, Wazalendo, and Ninga, an Acapella group,” he said, adding that the choirs sang in turns except for the last day. On this day, he said, all the choirs were on stage singing common songs.
Born in 1954, and raised in Nakuru, Mr Wasonga who hails from Siaya County has since 1985 been part of the choirs featuring prominently on national holidays.
He also has his own compositions including ‘Heko Jamhuri’ which his team of choirs were repeating its verses as the storm furiously raged.
After assembling the team, during the training, and preparations before assuming the stage to perform, the team, he said, always prepared for eventualities including accidents and chaos.
But this was not the first time he was thrown to the deep end. He had in the late 1990s accompanied President Daniel Moi to events that almost, always certainly turned chaotic.
“As President Moi’s reign neared sunset, there was always rebellion,” he said. “Sometimes when we accompanied him as it happened at Kabarak and Bukhungu Stadium, we could always be caught up in the melee.”
He added: “It is during these times that I learnt that in face of adversity, always relax and keep calm.”
On the eventful day, the man who has served Kenya for decades was on the mantle.
He says his experience and love for his country kept him calm and in turn, the nation was reminded that the scenes at Bomas were a passing cloud.
Mr Wasonga said he loves Kenyans because “we are resilient people, no matter what we come across we always bounce back and move together”.
The electoral commission, in a media invite, said the long-awaited big announcement was to be made at 3 pm.
As the set time for the announcement passed by, the choir proved to have been prepared for the task; they simply pulled another song from their catalogue and continued to manage the tension.
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