No Valentines, Please, We Are Malaikalettes

The decision to hold Malaika Festival 2015 on Saturday, February 14 may, on the surface, appear benign and a complementary, submissive act of support for Valentines Day-that great, Western-inspired cyclic force of true and false Love celebrated in many parts of the World on February 14 each year.

Usually, save for the Festival’s 7-year hiatus in Nairobi between 2004 and 2010 (the first Nairobi Malaika indoor event was held in Feb, 2002), the organisers of the now ‘devolved’ Festival have had the option of celebrating Malaika Festival Day in honor of Fadhili William of  ‘Malaika ’ song fame either strictly on 11th of every February, irrespective of the day of the week, to mark his death anniversary. The better if it fell on a Saturday, or Sunday, as it would create more excitement and definetely attract  more Party-goers and enthusiasts.

However, at a consultative, planning forum held in Nairobi in 2004 to prepare the Malaika Festival Gig where it all started, a well-wisher, noting its proximity to Valentines had naughtily but, light-heartedly opined and, prophesied that the Festival should in future strive to ‘drown out’ Valentines Day,  whose irresistible commercial appeal appeared to drown out the true romantic sense and purpose of the moment.

The Forum’s agenda then was, among other things, to identify a suitable day to mark Fadhili’ William’s 3rd anniversary. Fadhili William, in whose honor Malaika Festival is predicated, passed away in Nairobi on Sunday, February 11, 2001 after an illustrious music career spanning over 50 years. That year, the Organizers picked on the supervening Saturday, February 14, 2004, which coincided with Valentines!

In reality, however, the seemingly innocuous prophesy would only   be practically fulfilled, if the Festival were regularly held in 2004, 2009, 2015, 2026 or in 2032, i.e, after  intervals of  5,6, 11 and 7 years, respectively, when Valentines Day would fall squarely on Saturdays in the  years in question.

Fast forward to Saturday, February 14, 2015 when Madam Hope Mruttu, wife of Taita Taveta Governor Engineer John Mtuta Mruttu, acting out her role  as the Festival’s Chief Guest, observed,  that “…Curiously, Fadhili William, who sang throughout his life for lovers and promoted the language and message of peace, met his death when the World Lovers’ Day-Valentines, was just around the corner…”.

But, unknown to the Chief Guest, the lethal prophesy still lay inchoate beneath the Festival’s warm  and affable surface, ready to strangle the local romantic gains ever made over the decades through  observance of Valentines Day, which celebrates Love only once-a-year, instead of, all year round!

Incidentally, according to Ms Swati Sharma who whose article “Why there’s a War on Valentines Day in India”  appearing as a blog in the Washington Post of February 12, 2015, some social and religious groups in India like the Hindu Mahasaba, have been openly and violently opposed to Valentines Day which they see as “… a Western import (which)…conflicts with indian traditions and in particular with Hindu values.”

Closer to home, the Tanzanian Valentines industry, hardly comparable to its Kenyan counterpart, is best summed up by a resident of Arusha who once teasingly informed his Kenyan friend that “…we (Tanzamians) are in love throughout the year, unlike you Kenyans who only wait for Valentines Day to express affection!”

Enter Miss Mary Ndunda, the youthful and pretty Taita  pageant who, earlier in August 2014, came perilously close to clinching the ‘Miss Kenya Taita Taveta Beauty Peargeant’ held at Voi Wildlife Lodge and whose near-collapse was averted by Hon. Joyce Wanjallah Lay-the Women Representative in the Kenya National Assembly- in what was billed as ‘a Rescue Package’ due to the Taita Taveta County Government’s reticence.

Donning a bold, red-coloured ‘Miss Malaika’ sash across her waist, Miss Ndunda led a bevy of other modelers into the Malaika Festival 2015 Night at Galaxy Resort Voi, after briefly careening across Voi Stadium earlier in the day to cheer and witness the finals of the two-week ‘Malaika Football Tournament’ held as part of the  commemorative activities. Miss Ndunda’s companions too wore sashes of their own emblazoned with the words ‘Malaikalette’ across their gutful torsos.

Although ‘Malaika’ the  song is the  story of a man full of ambition and deep love for a beauty whose dowry he cannot afford due to dire financial strain, the lover’s lamentations, nevertheless, spread out the song’s exuberance, melody and good cheer throughout the year whenever it plays in and out of romantic season.

Judging from the standing ovations and enthusiasm with which ‘Miss Malaika’ and ‘Malaikalettes’ were met at both Voi Stadium and, at Galaxy Resort Voi, the naughty prophesy may well nigh be fulfilled in the fullness of time, what with the home-grown Malaika Festival set to grow big in future to  challenge Valentines Day as the only forum full of all cultural expressions, including Love, local delicacies, drinks and dances that ought to be promoted and preserved as part of our  Taita Taveta or, Kenyan heritage, without necessarily having to roll back, reduce or, even shun Valentines Day the Indian way. Long Live Romance, and Long Live Malaikalettes!


Duncan Mwanyumba,

Voi City, Friday, March 14, 2015

Duncan Mwanyumba is a practicing Advocate of the High Court of Kenya currently based in Voi City, former Coast Province of Kenya, and a cultural enthusiast

[This article originally appeared in Voi City Entertainment and]