The songbird in uniform who charmed three presidents

Agnes Mwanyigha was and still is more than just her looks. She sang like an enchanted bird. Her voice saw her gain favour with three Kenyan presidents.

“I can tell you that music can take you anywhere, even to the highest office. All you need is discipline and you are doing it out of passion,” Mwanyigha said.

“I joined the police band in 1972. President Jomo Kenyatta, whom I served under for four years before he passed on, had requested that in the police band there should also be women. At the time, his excellency also had women in the police escort who accompanied the First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta. So the women who were brought from the NYS and some who had just joined, I was one of the ladies interviewed.

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“In 1982 after my husband was promoted to an inspector and put in charge of all police bands, I, as the leader of band 3, was tasked with the leading my band to perform in different places, such as high-end hotels, show grounds and other events. Initially, we covered other musicians’ songs, but as we grew, we started composing our own songs,” Mwanyigha said.

Her experience as a choir member of Martin Luther Primary School in Jericho helped her a lot in garnering the coveted spot of joining the police band.

Back then, the band was the most sought-after for their spectacular and seamless performances. They were the rock stars of their era.

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NO STAGE FRIGHT

Mwanyigha says she did not experience butterflies in her stomach during her first public performance for President Jomo Kenyatta.

“I did not get the chance to entertain him, but what happened was when he insisted he wanted the band, we were quickly recruited. I remember the day we were first called upon, we all stood up and played the national anthem for him. We were all ladies in the band. At the time there was another band recruited to entertain the president.”

But as the years went by, they caught the eyes of the big bosses, and her band was given the green light to entertain the second President Daniel Toroitch Arap Moi on all the major national occasions.

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“I’m proud to have met the retired President Arap Moi, who appreciated my good music, and our commissioners were very happy. They used to come and encourage us, saying we should not fear, we can make it. We worked hard and our performances always brought the president to his feet and he would even join us on stage. And because of our hard work, I can tell you there was no constable in our group. We were all promoted.”

Mwanyigha gained the street moniker Songbird in Uniform. She said being in the band was not a walk in the park; they practised day and night. They were booked solid every weekend and were considered the crème de la crème of the entertainment industry back then.

They were the cool kids and had access to all the new music that was released. They were given the cassettes to listen, memorise and perform to perfection. Popular radio DJs from Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) John Abongo Jr and Nick Ndichu always gave them the latest songs as soon as they hit the airwaves.

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“If the music was new and hot, you had to play it. The audience knew what it wanted and they requested for it. So we had to be on top of our game at all times. All our performances brought the house down, with everyone hitting the dance floor,” Mwanyigha reminisced.

Her performance saw her go up the ranks.

“The best moment was when I got promoted to Inspector of Police. My mum used to live in Greenfields. Nilienda huko, I could not wait, I wanted to show her my new uniform. I was so happy I could not sleep. I did not believe I was the one. It felt good. I’m the only lady in the police band who rose to the highest rank and I pray many more get the opportunity and get elevated as well.”

Mwanyigha and the band were the most expensive ticket in town. And they only performed at high-end venues and rubbed shoulders with the who is who.

RAISING HER KIDS

So how did she balance this heavy schedule and bringing up her kids — Mark and Sheila Mwanyigha — after her husband, Gideon Mwanyigha, passed on.

“At the time, Sheila was in Pangani Girls and Mark was in Moi Forces Academy. I would take them with me for wedding gigs, most of which were held at the Ngong Race Course, Jockey Club, because a wedding without the Kenya Police Band was not a wedding. We would work on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It was treated as an outing of some sort. Both of them have the music gene. When they were in primary school, their dad was a very top and accomplished musician, your generation probably doesn’t know him. He could sing like Elvis Presley. At the time, most of the commercials were done by the dad, so they worked together with the children a lot in various commercials.”

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On Mother’s Day, Sheila, who is a former TV and radio host, posted a mother-daughter photo on her social media that got tongues wagging. Many did not believe that the woman standing next to Sheila was her mother.

“I am very close with Sheila and we always read the comments online,” Mwanyigha said, smiling. “Being in the police force, we learn so much and that is how I maintain my weight to date. I still run and exercise because I want to look good in my uniform and remain healthy. If you neglect your body, by the time you retire, the doctors will be waiting for your pension.”

Currently, Mwanyigha, who is a private security consultant, has released an album titled Back to My Roots, which has songs that praise our leaders. The album contains four patriotic songs, namely, Harambee Moto Moto, Happy Birthday Baba Moi, Pongezi Baba Moi and Raisi Uhuru na Wakenya, under the banner of her band, Kenya ni Taifa National Band.

“The songs are patriotic and the aim is to bring everyone on board, both the young and old generation music consumers. I also want to encourage patriotic music because in years to come, there is a generation that won’t know what these presidents did.”

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In the album, she has showered praises on President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose father set in motion the events that saw the genesis of Mwanyigha’s music career and eventual rise in the ranks.

She also sings about Dedan Kimathi, Mama Sarah Obama, US President Barack Obama, the Kapenguria 6, Deputy President William Ruto and his wife Rachel, Cord co-principal Raila Odinga and his wife Ida, and First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, among others.

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