RIP: Njambi Koikai and her last show

The first person to employ Njambi Koikai was journalist-turned-politician Sabina Chege.

This happened partly because of a scream. Who ever thought a scream could earn one a radio job? A young Njambi, alias Fyah Mummah Jahmby Koikai, was then an intern at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC). She was in a Metro FM studio with legendary broadcaster Bill Odidi one morning, waiting to host Jamaican reggae artiste Turbulence (Sheldon Campbell). Turbulence entered the studio, and Njambi was facing the other way, she did not immediately see him. When she did, star-struck, she screamed. “The boss, Sabina Chege, asked, ‘Who is that screaming on air?,” Njambi said in a 2021 interview.

Bill Odidi said that Njambi had approached him the day before, asking if she could join him in studio when Turbulence came. She wanted his autograph.“I told her, ‘if you really like having that much, instead of just getting an autograph, I will give you an opportunity to come on the show and ask him some questions.’ She was excited. The next day, she was there very early,” Mr Odidi said.

“The moment Turbulence entered the studio, Njambi was screaming like crazy. I couldn’t believe this is the same girl I had seen earlier: easy and nice, so innocent. Turbulence initially thought there was a problem because she was too excited to meet him. We had a terrific show, but she was barely able to ask any questions because she was just excited and she would scream,” he added.

Her shouts had caught the attention of Ms Chege and the story began unfolding. When Njambi was summoned to Ms Chege’s office, she feared she would be dismissed because of the scream, and return to Daystar University, where she was studying. This would have been the end of her internship at the national broadcaster. But it was not. Speaking to Lifestyle Nominated MP Ms Chege, who was then the controller of 18 radio KBC stations, said the last thing on her mind was to dismiss Njambi. On the contrary, Njambi’s energy piqued her interest. “I was seated in my office and I heard a very vibrant girl. I was very impressed because, you know, with reggae, we didn’t have a lot of female presenters,” she said. “I asked Bill to tell her to come to my office, and when I interviewed her, she was very high-spirited. She was a go-getter. I asked her when she could join Bill and become co-presenters. She performed very, very well and that’s how I hired her at Metro FM,” added Ms Chege.

Njambi’s love affair with reggae found a bigger stage; radio.

Mr Odidi said Njambi’s finesse as a reggae MC began with the shows that Metro FM did across Kenya. “She was a very big attraction because she was a lady and she connected nicely with male crowds. That’s how her roots as an MC started. And she went on to build her own brand,” he said. A ghetto girl born in Nairobi’s Kawangware, a low-income neighbourhood with poor roads and no electricity connection, Njambi was introduced to reggae by her uncle. The ‘Bora Bora Hotel’ area of Kawangware, she used to say, is her only home (or ‘ocha’ in her description of it) as that is where her grandfather is buried and where her grandmother was born. “A younger brother of my mother was a Rasta, and also a genius. He is now a mechanical engineer, but used to love reggae a lot. He would come with Culture tapes. I knew Culture before I knew Bob Marley. He would come with the tapes and listen to them.

Then he would tell me, ‘Can you sing like that one?’” Njambi told Abel Mutua in a 2021 YouTube episode.

Culture is a Jamaican group of reggae artistes started in 1976 known for songs like “International Herb”, “Humble African”, “Peace Love and Harmony”, among others. She might not have known it then, but her uncle ushered her into a career as a reggae emcee. She had no idea she would one day become like King Lion Sounds, Shashamane and other reggae entertainers she grew up idolising. She would end up being among the top reggae emcees. That she could also sing gave her an edge in the industry. At Metro FM, she attracted a legion of fans. A cult following, even. She said in one interview that she had heard numerous confessions of people saying they stole moments while in school to listen to her on their FM receivers. One of the fans would later become an associate of hers. He is a sports consultant called Bramwel Karamoja. “Everyone who loved reggae loved Njambi,” Bramwel told Nation Lifestyle.

Karamoja has organised several football tournaments that are paired with entertainment shows

Last show

He organised the last open-air concert where Njambi performed, which was at Kinoru Stadium in Meru on March 31.

Karamoja said that Njambi made a special request for the show—to perform alongside a band. “She said that she had always wanted to do a show in a stadium filled to capacity. Since it was a football tournament, I told her the people of Meru would definitely turn up for both the football and then the entertainment. ‘So if you’re looking at performing for a filled-up stadium, then Kinoru will be your best bet,’ I told her. She told me that she wanted to do something extra; something that she had never done — which was to perform with a band. Normally during her performances, she does emceeing and then she has a DJ who is known as Selector Technix, who is always on the decks. So, she told me that she wanted to come with the band and I told her it was fine,” said Karamoja.

She rehearsed well and on the material day, Karamoja noted, Njambi gave a memorable show.

“Anyone who was in Meru for the Meru Football Challenge will remember Njambi. She gave a performance that will leave a lasting memory. She gave a one-hour non-stop performance with the band. The band left and then she again gave another 30-minute performance with her deejay,” Karamoja told Lifestyle. This year, he added, Njambi wanted to organise a series of concerts to celebrate 20 years in the entertainment industry. “She wanted to do a ‘Jahmby at 20’ kind of thing. So, she asked me for ideas. She wanted to do it countrywide starting with Kisumu, Kakamega, Mombasa, then probably the last show in Nairobi,” said Karamoja.

“I told her that for such an event, I would prefer for her to just do it like a free event so that everyone attends, and then probably we look for sponsors to come and take care of all the other costs — which she agreed to.”

20 years in reggae

Following her demise on Monday night, that plan that was to be executed in August will now be a memory.

Her 20th year in the reggae business is also the year she exits the stage permanently — to start a new relationship with Jah. Reggae fans will likely identify with the chorus of one of the popular songs in the genre about dying, done by Sean Paul: “Say when mi look up inna mi life it’s plain to see/ That it’s never gonna be the same/ Take another step on towards my destiny/ But the memories remain.” Being a football fan (she was a footballer in her younger days), Njambi recently held a football tournament in Nairobi’s Kawangware.“It was very successful, packed to capacity, and it’s something that she wanted to do again. So, apart from her prowess in the music industry, she was also a firm believer in powering the community through football tournaments,” said Karamoja. As she made reggae fans fall in love with their favourite genre over and over again, something was weighing her down.

This painful, unseen disease that stemmed from her uterus; endometriosis.

This is a condition where tissue that should only be confined to a woman’s uterus appears outside the uterus and sometimes spreads to other organs, which causes pain during periods and can also cause infertility. It made its presence felt on the very first day Njambi had her menses when she was a teenager in secondary school. “It came with a lot of pain and sweating,” she once said. Her mother and grandmother could not understand what she was going through, thinking it was normal period-related cramps. Kenya has few endometriosis specialists, which led to the delay in diagnosis and the spread of the disease to Stage 4. Njambi said it took about 16 more years before the disease could be properly diagnosed. “Gynaecologists were taught that endometriosis is not an African woman’s disease; that it was a Caucasian woman’s disease. So, that means that if, as an African woman, you went to seek help from a gynaecologist those days, endometriosis was not something they would discuss.

They would try to treat you for something else while you have endometriosis.

And many people were affected,” said Njambi in a past interview. She believed that endometriosis has always been in society as there have been women unable to bear children before, only that it was always masked inside terms such as being bewitched or cursed. According to the World Health Organisation, endometriosis affects roughly 10 percent of reproductive-age women and girls globally. As a teenager battling an undiagnosed condition, the pain and the identity crisis saw her expelled five times in secondary school. “I went to seven high schools; I was expelled five times,” she told Capital FM in a past interview. Her final secondary school was St Christopher’s International School in Karen, Nairobi. At 38 years old, Njambi, an advocate of endometriosis and celebrated reggae MC drew her last breath. “The loss of Njambi, a trailblazer, will inspire more to come up. She was an all-rounder, and I think she’s done her part on this earth. And her story is going to inspire many other people. There will be many other Njambis. She’s set an example for people to see,” said Mr Odidi.

“And she also demystified reggae, illustrating that reggae is not just for a certain type of people.”

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