Kenya: How Harry Richie made ‘Vaida’ and why it doesn’t mean what you think

By Omondi Were Jnr
Posted on Friday, 7 October 2022 07:50, updated on Thursday, 1 December 2022 17:45

Kenya hit songsmith Harry Richie
Kenya hit songsmith Harry Richie [clip from his single Vaida, rights reserved]

The Kenyan songwriter Harry Richie tells The Africa Report about the genesis of the hit single 'Vaida', why it does not mean what people think, how it has helped bring Luhya sounds to the world, and how Kenyan artists need to insist on getting paid ...

Sometime last month, Harry Richie was in the studio to record a nine-track album; the fourth since he began his musical career over a decade ago.

When he was done, he still had some bit of studio time left to spare, so the producer challenged him with a different beat – a sound of the isikuti genre that they call ‘Al Qaeda’ (no relation to the Islamic extremist militants), which that he wasn’t exactly used to, but decided to jump on anyway.

As soon as he heard the beat, a melody progressively beckoned, and he started rhyming and writing the words down. Eventually, he came up with something that went a bit like this;

[‘Vaida. omwana inyanya / Omwana mabhere / Omwana indumbu

Yanza mundu ara okhukata / Mundu ara okhupanga / Mundu ara okhubwabwa

Numisa khupa esimu / Unange khue bhindu.’]

This loosely translates to:

[‘Vaida, tomato baby / Milky baby / Fine legs baby

Let no one lie to you / Let no one hoodwink you / Let no one show you their nakedness

If you miss me, call me on the phone / I’ll come and give you things.’]

Those lines make up the biggest song in the country at the moment. This is how it all came about.

Who is ‘Vaida’?

People have naturally assumed that Richie is singing about a Luhya girl he’s courting named ‘Vaida’, but this apparently cannot be further from the truth.

In an exclusive interview with The Africa Report, Richie revealed that ‘Vaida’ is actually a dedication to his daughter who goes by the same name.

“This is the first time I’m revealing this. ‘Vaida’ is the name of my last born daughter. When she was born, I promised her that I would compose a song for her. My wife is from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and in their Shona language, ‘Vaida’ means ‘promise,” says Richie.

I sent him ‘Vaida’ to use at the wedding, and he forwarded it to another person and another. A few days later someone called me saying my song was trending [on] TikTok

“I wrote and recorded ‘Vaida’ about five months after my daughter was born. I wanted to tell her that whenever she needs me, whenever she feels like she’s at the very edge, she should just call me and I’ll give her anything she wants.”

However, he admits that his daughter is not the only reason he did the song. For a long time, he says, the Luhya community, which he belongs to, has been viewed as “unromantic.”

Richie tells The Africa Report that he wanted to demystify this notion about his tribesmen and – going by the song’s immense success, even across international borders – it seems to have worked.

According to him, ‘Vaida’ has even gone further and is now serving as a uniting factor for the Luhya community.

For once, he says, all the sub-tribes that make up Western Kenya – where Luhyas are more predominant – have rallied behind one of their own, and propelled him beyond the borders.

“I came to realise that we – Luhyas – don’t have any romantic song[s]. When you go to seek a woman’s hand in marriage, you need to request, so I wanted to bring out some of the sweet [words] you can use to woo a woman,” he says.

“I didn’t expect it to blow up because I know we – Luhyas – don’t embrace our own thing, but for the first time, all Luhyas – from the Bukusu to the Maragoli to Wanyore and all the other sub tribes – have embraced this song, and now it has gone even beyond the national level, to the international stage.”

How exactly did it blow up?

Apparently, Richie had not planned on releasing the song just yet. He has been a gospel musician for 13 years, so he was a tad cautious about how his fans would receive a love song.

This changed when a friend called him to perform at his wedding, but he was unable to do so because of a tight schedule. “[Instead] I sent him ‘Vaida’ to use at the wedding, and he forwarded it to another person and another. A few days later someone called me saying my song was trending [on] TikTok.”

Kenya’s TikTok queen Azziad Nasenya, also from the Luhya community, had stumbled on the song and loved it so much that she posted a video of herself dancing to it.

The video grew its own wings, amassing over 1 million views on the short-form video sharing app.

Since then, at least 43,000 videos have been posted with the tagline ’Vaida challenge’ on TikTok, generating over 25 million views.

Richie’s official video of the song is barely a week old and has already garnered over 500,000 views on YouTube, well on its way to a million within the month – according to his own projections.

TikTok factor

A silent revolution is taking place, albeit at a very fast pace, in the music industry at the moment, and TikTok is at the centre of it.

Any song that eventually becomes a hit seemingly takes off from TikTok, and Richie’s ‘Vaida’ is no exception, but is this a good thing, financially?

Bilha Ngaruiya, country manager at ONErpm, a digital distribution service platform, doesn’t seem to think so. According to her, fame without anything in the pocket is not a win.

“Artists should work with distributors to licence their songs to TikTok officially, [so they can] make something [out of it] when it’s used, but just blanket [fame] on TikTok is not exactly good news,” she says.

…the financial returns from just going viral on TikTok alone do not make sense

“The government needs to act on TikTok. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, because songs gain more views on YouTube after blowing up on TikTok. […] if we’re using TikTok as a platform to grow our numbers elsewhere and earn, then that’s alright, but the financial returns from just going viral on TikTok alone do not make sense.”

Richie acknowledges that by the time the song blew up he did not have any such arrangement, but he has since made some changes.

“My manager told me about TuneCore, which collects royalties for musicians worldwide. I registered, so now wherever my song is played, it detects and collects that revenue on my behalf,” he says.

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