In the quiet corners of Rabai subcounty, beneath the ageing coconut trees, resides a man whose life is a symphony of both hardship and resilience.
Munga Kareri, at 71, might have lost his eyesight in his youth, but he found a vision in the hauntingly beautiful notes of the traditional Mijikenda flute, Kivoti.
Every dawn, as the sun painted the sky in hues of orange and pink, Kareri emerged with his faithful Kivoti in hand.
In the midst of his darkness, he blew his sorrows away, and in return, the flute whispered melodies that echoed his spirit.
His wife, a pillar of support, prepared breakfast as Kareri’s tunes floated through their humble home, a testament to his dedication and unwavering spirit.
However, Kareri’s music wasn’t confined to the walls of his home.
He became a familiar figure on the waiting bays of the Likoni ferry crossing channel, enchanting the passersby with his soul-stirring tunes.
Despite his blindness, he carved his way into the hearts of the people, his melodies weaving a story of hope amidst struggle.
His music became his livelihood, as kind strangers offered tokens of appreciation, recognizing the extraordinary talent hidden within his darkness.
What makes Kareri’s story even more remarkable is his association with the iconic ‘Kenya tune.’
This enchanting melody, the opening theme of Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, became his legacy. Crafted in the 60s, the tune was a result of Kareri’s passion for the Kivoti, a love he inherited from his cousin Dzombo Lewa. Under Lewa’s guidance, Kareri honed his skills until he perfected the art, playing with a finesse that left onlookers in awe.
“I started playing kivoti when I was a young boy in the 60s. Since then, it has been part of my life, without this instrument I can’t eat. My daily bread comes from this kivoti,” he said.
His journey took an unexpected turn when Lewa, recognizing his prodigious talent, took him to Kilifi, where the ‘Kenya tune’ was recorded.
Despite his visual impairment, Kareri’s musical genius shone brightly, and the tune found its way to Nairobi, becoming an integral part of the national broadcaster’s identity.
Baya Munga an uncle to Kareri said despite Kareri learning the skill from Lewa, he perfected it more than Lewa.
“He had a lot of interest in the flute and was always bothering his cousin to teach him. Lewa showed him how to play it and he played it so well that everyone envied him,” he said.
Munga said many people still do not believe Kareri is a beggar in the streets of the Coast region yet he made one of the most popular tunes in Kenya.
Kareri recalls that when he started playing the flute, Lewa took him to Kilifi where the tune was recorded.
After some time he developed a boil in his left eye and lost the eye. The right eye also suffered the same fate.
He is now totally blind.
“Although he does not see, he does everything by himself. He goes to Mombasa to beg and can also tend to crops in the farm,” added Munga.
Apart from playing the Kivoti, Kareri also plays drums in Chela dance, a traditional dance of the Rabai people.
He plays four drums at ago.
Kareri hopes that his life will one day shine just like his tune.
“That tune is borrowed from the Chela. It has no particular meaning but adds flavour to the dance. When I hear it on radio it reminds me of my youth,” he said.
He is married with no child.