Chepalungu: Home of musical champions
From the late Chelele, late Kipchamba, and Sweetstar, among many others, Chepalungu constituency has established itself as the home of Kalenjin secular music artists. Almost every village in the sub-county, nestled in Bomet County, has an active musician, earning it the title of the Cradle of Kalenjin Secular Music.
The late Raphael Kipchambai Araap Tapoituk shed light on the hidden talent in Chepalungu by producing hits that continue to dominate the airwaves. Chepalungu constituency can boast of having more than 200 musicians, contributing to about 75% of artists in Kalenjin land.
This thriving music culture has helped the constituency shed the hardship label that had been associated with it, as it was categorized as a semi-arid region.
We meet Alex Kirui, popularly known as Kechwo, on his way to the studio. Despite his parents’ wishes for him to focus on his studies, Alex couldn’t resist the strong urge to pursue a singing career. He says, “Here in Chepalungu, there are many artists because many of them are paid for doing that work, and behind the music, you should have your own hustle too.”
Against his parents’ wishes, who wanted him to prioritize his education, Alex followed his passion for music. He recalls, “I started writing and I sent it to him (Kipchamba), and he told me to let him approach your father to pay for the studio. By then, I was young and couldn’t pay for the studio. My father told me I had to finish school first. Later, I hustled and got the money.”
Cornelius Kirui, also known as Avi Donstar, comments on the non-productive nature of their area but highlights how they learned from artists like Kipchamba and emulated them.
The late Raphael Kipchambai, known as Kipchamba, is celebrated as the father of Kalenjin music, and he opened the floodgates of music in Chepalungu, turning it into a cultural phenomenon, with more than 800 titles under his name. In the Kipsigis community, singing has been passed down through generations, and veteran artists actively promote young talents.
Paul Subembe, a veteran artist, remarks, “This artistry is in the blood. A person like me just found myself. When I was young, my brother had a piano.”
In a time before YouTube, the internet, or TikTok, music was simply enjoyed by the community. Subembe acknowledges that it hasn’t been easy but has no regrets, having traveled far and wide thanks to music. He reflects, “If you sing songs, you will find YouTube, and you don’t know who put it.”
Wesly Kiplangat, who has been producing songs for the last 15 years, talks about the evolution of music technology. He mentions, “For a while, we used to use the guitar, but these days, there are software, so I can program. The work has become easier.”
Despite the advent of new music technology, many believed that Chepalungu might lose its title as the home of music talents, but that hasn’t been the case.