The Kenyan national anthem was composed in 1963 in preparation for Kenya’s Independence celebrations. The task began in May, with the formation of an advisory committee that comprised of George Senoga-Zake, Richard Koskey, Graham Hyslop, Rev. Thomas Kalume, Peter Kibukosya and Samuel Waruhiu.
The anthem was to be in both English and Kiswahili and was meant to stir up a sense of patriotism and be no more than 3 verses. With the task defined, an anthem commission comprising of George Senoga-Zake, Peter Kibukosya, Washington Omondi, Graham Hyslop and Thomas Kalume was formed to come up with several anthems for consideration.
After several weeks, the commission presented its work to the advisory committee. Many traditional tunes were considered but they short listed 3 tunes from which a Pokomo lullaby was selected. The Pokomo lullaby went as follows;
Bee mdondo, bee, Bee mdondo bee
Akudobee ni gani?
Huenda hukawabige watu wa makoneah
Mwenzi uyawa, ni nani?
After which the commission came up with the theme words in both Kiswahili and English, and also agreed that the opening stanza be prayerful. And with that they composed the first version of the national anthem.
The 3 verses were then presented to Prime Minister Kenyatta and the Council of Ministers in August 1963. The anthem was sung in unison in Kiswahili and English by a double quartet with the Police Band playing.
The tune was accepted but the commission was instructed to revise the second verse and also add a fourth one on devotion and readiness to defend Kenya. It was also suggested that more drumming be added to make it sound African.
The commission later met at St Paul’s Theological College where Thomas Kalume was based and finalized the national anthem. It was after this that they started training choirs in readiness for the recording.
The All Saints Cathedral choir was selected to record the English version while the Railway Training School choir recorded the Kiswahili version.
The choirs were then asked to perform the anthem at Kenyatta’s residence in Gatundu on the 4th of September. In addition to the choirs, two gentlemen, Mr. Gerishon Manane and a Mr. Peter Colmore had also separately composed anthems to be presented to the Prime Minister.
After the auditions, the Prime Minister requested that the commission’s and Mr. Manane’s anthems to be combined into one. After discussions by members of the cabinet who were present, it was decided that the anthems be put before a crowd of locals who were present for the occasion. To which they unanimously chose the commission’s anthem and thus bringing the search for an anthem to a close.
On September 10th, the commission met with members of the cabinet and later that month, the Kiswahili and English anthems were recorded. The English version was sung by a combined choir from Alliance High School, Alliance Girls High School and All Saints Cathedral, while the Kiswahili version was done by the Railways Training School choir.
*Adapted from Folk Music Of Kenya by George Senoga-Zake ©Uzima Press