Munga Kareri, the player of the KBC Kivoti tune

kareriMunga Kareri playing his kivoti

When the sun announces its arrival over the aging coconut trees in Rabai sub-county, Munga Kareri, 71 rises with his kivoti in hand.

While his wife is preparing for him breakfast, Kareri starts blowing his sorrows through his Kivoti.

Kivoti, a traditional flute in the Mijikenda community is his only consolation and income earner.

Many people have seen him on the waiting bays at the Likoni ferry crossing channel, entertaining people with his kivoti as they give him anything that has monetary value.

This is how Kareri, now blind, makes his living.

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Kareri is the man behind the famous opening kivoti tune on Kenya Broadcasting Corporation that is played every morning before the station starts its programmes.

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He named the tune ‘Kenya tune’ because it was the first tume to play every day in the Kenya National Broadcaster.

Despite the tune being used by the national broadcaster for decades, Kareri has not received even a dime in royalties.

The septuagenarian who hails from Kaoyeni village in Rabai Sub-county, Kilifi says he felt ecstatic every time the tune was played on VOK and later KBC.

“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

He was introduced to playing the traditional flute by his first cousin Dzombo Lewa.

Baya Munga an uncle to Kareri said that 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 when the tune was recorded.

“I do not know the exact place because I was taken there by Lewa. I did not know why we were recording it but the next time I heard it was on the radio. I was so happy and it gave me the morale to continue playing the flute,” he said

It is Lewa who took the recorded tune to Nairobi.

Kareri is the firstborn in a family of four children. He was born in Rabai. He lost his eyes when he was young after suffering from measles.

“During that time people depended on herbal medicine for treatment. His mother was advised to put tobacco in Kareri’s eyes as a treatment for measles. Instead of squeezing the juice of fresh green tobacco, she put the tobacco snuff on Kareri’s eyes. This affected him a lot and he started losing his eyesight,” said Munga

After some time he developed a boil in his left eye and he 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 he 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 in radio it reminds me of my youth,” he said.

He is married with no children.

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