E-Sir as illustrated by Capu Toons
- Listen. This is how I like to scourge my free time: scroll through the dark web of the internet and find new stuff: new documentaries, new conspiracy theories, new music.
- What will I find today? I ask the gods.
- Boom. Out of nowhere, I am delighted when I land upon a new hit, ready to replenish my dopamine levels, get high on the good stuff. To top it off; it had sprinkled the stardust of all my favorite artists; Nameless, Nyashinski, Jua Cali. The gods talk, but you have to listen.
- Listen. Listen. Listen.
- I listen. Something feels off. I play the song again. And again. I play it another time. Hm. Another day, another song. Certainly not the worst thing I have listened to. It doesn’t help matters that the song keeps mentioning an icon, or rather, purports to. The icon? E-Sir.
- E-Sir was the soundtrack of my youth. E-Sir was the gods’ favourite musician. To a 90’s kid, the sense of awe to anyone who had been close to E-Sir was overwhelming. Being E-Sir’s best friend…jamming with E-Sir …and the Pirates. Just ask Nameless.
- It was beyond satisfaction, Nameless or Habib or Ogopa deejays piping up: “I performed with E-Sir.”
- For me, E-Sir’s legend lived in Insyder magazine covers and Daily Nation’s Sunday Lifestyle lyrics section.
- Don’t tell anyone, but I used those lyrics to woo girls in high school. It was epic. E-Sir is epic.
- Back to the song. I listen.
- Bandana Ya E-Sir. The song titles itself. Okay, I think.
- I replay the song. Sigh.
- Bandana Ya E-Sir is a let-down. There is nothing about E-Sir in this song. The lyrics are dirty. Disappointing, even. E-Sir was more than a bandana. Sure, it was his signature look, in the same way I don a hat, but there was more to the man. This doesn’t feel like a tribute, more of a fashion statement. Pun intended.
- E-Si’s album’s ‘Nimefika’ announced him to the world. To Kenya. To me. The mystique about his genius shimmered in a particular way because so much was left to our imagination: When I hear E-Sir, I hear something more innate, something almost beyond what can be verbalized.
- “Kuna kuna kijana mmoja kutoka South C…Jo!
Kijana mwenye label kama Nike (Jo)
Mnafaa kumwona akishika mic (Jo)
Mikono juu ya hewa kama kite (Jo)
- That was E-Sir.
- I don’t even know what Boomba Train means but I know it is an earworm. I find myself habitually bopping my head to it in matatus, oblivious of what is going on around me. He seduced us with his flow and rhythm, then took us home with his cadence, before taking us to bed with his delivery.
- Bandana Ya E-Sir makes me feel sad. Apathetic. It disgraces a legend. This was feel-good music, that does not make me feel good.
- Nelly The Goon says he spent two years writing this song. Two years? This is the equivalent of having foreplay for an hour and then getting the main job done in two minutes. Or less.
- All the greats, Nyashinski, Wyre, Tallia Oyando, Jua Cali etc. are video foxes and vixens. These are people who have produced bangers like Ngeli ya Genge, Maisha, Mimi Na Ye, Mungu Pekee et cetera. I list those titles as an incantation against this one.
- Listen. I listen again. Maybe I am too critical.
- Okay, to give the devil his due, Motif The Don came up with a good beat. I like the beat. E-Sir would have jumped on that beat. Massacred it, bit by bit.
- Of course, growing up listening to E-Sir may have coloured my opinion a little bit, but let’s face it, the man was a legend.
- He exploded into the Kenyan consciousness suddenly, then like a sudden blackout, through a road accident in 2003, he died. He was 21.
- What made E-Sir E-Sir was that there could be no other E-Sir. That is the mark of a legend. To tell your story so acutely, that others can only imitate, that trying to sing and rap in Swahili, a style he almost trademarked, could get you sued for copyright infringement. He had the gift of gab, but he also had the gift of exclusivity.
Issah ‘E-Sir’ Mmari, the mellow-voiced lyrical Swahili lynchpin. When he was in his element, E-Sir spit Swahili rhymes like he ate Kamusis for breakfast: A human CPU. A linguistic Rubik’s Cube. A verbal PlayStation. But death robbed us of a cultural icon in the making. His legend has only grown in the 19 years since he died, but time hasn’t demystified his music; it has mostly revealed the opacity of his good nature; garnished by crumbs of himself in his music videos.
- Bandana Ya E-Sir cannot therefore be what we remember him for, two decades later. Ochunglo Family are on-brand singing about women, Habib wants to screw some woman in his on-off music career and Nameless—what’s Nameless even singing about? Anyone?
- Moss, Moss. E-Sir used to say. Take things moss moss. That became a catchphrase. Heck, we even use it today. Moss moss.
- Maybe we never really got to understand E-Sir. Maybe we don’t get E-Sir. Maybe that explains the ‘Bandana ya E-Sir’ song. At over five minutes, take away the chorus and you have a bunch of feel-good artistes slaloming their way through women, drugs, ghetto life and everything else—but E-Sir.
- Swagger and attitude. E-Sir was big on attitude. Serious attitude, bad attitude. The big bang of pop. The champ who would rather show you his scars than his medals. But maybe it’s also because dead rappers get better promotion.
- Listen. Listen to this from Nelly The Goon.
- Hastalavista naendea your sister;
Namkutanisha style za Baptista;
Na Monalisa n idem wa Garissa;
Nakwata misa niko sa kanisa.
- See what I mean?
- Or maybe the debate is more about the message than the messenger. In that case, I am at pains to see where E-Sir fits; I was waiting for a mention of the legendary MC’s memos to the industry, the lyrical weaver’s nonchalance to naysayers, his iconic wordings that have become a mainstay even today: Boomba Boomba, Jo na si u-sare!—but it was like waiting for the bus in a city where you’re not sure they have a bus line.
- Which gets me thinking: What is good music?
- Good music concerns itself with the agony and ecstasy of being young: and this is true if you took your drugs in Kilimani or Kawangware; and it is true if you frolicked in a festival yurt or derelict warehouse; and it is true whether you were a kid in the Nineties or the Noughties. The soundtrack of your youth and young manhood will slip away with passing time, like some half-remembered ex-girlfriend. Young music gets old. But E-Sir is timeless. E-Sir will still be there. E-Stir will still remain.
- This is the right time for a confession. I am the very thing that I am criticizing. I get carried away in the euphoria.
- The Bandana was E-Sir’s crown, the magic sword, a grunt’s Excalibur.
- Bandana Ya E-Sir is cringeworthy. It comes from a good place, they probably have noble intentions, but you know what they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It’s all a little disturbing, like seeing your favourite cat on drugs at the vet, legs wobbly, eyes drooping, the old gliding elegance weirdly askew.
- I repeat. Young music gets very old. But E-Sir will forever be timeless.
- “..why do you really wanna punch Issa in the jaw
I wanna know I really wanna know like
And then I wanna flow i wanna flow like
Gimme my dough. I really want my dough like..”
- Bandana Ya E-Sir: If you haven’t listened to it, don’t. It’s what E-Sir would want.
- On second thought, maybe you go ahead.