Ayub Ogada, 1956-2019

We were saddened to learn of the death of singer and musician Ayub Ogada at the age of 63. He is regarded as one of the greatest Kenyan artists of all time, and one of the finest exponents of his primary instrument, the Nyatiti.

Ayub was born in 1956 in Mombassa as Job Seda, a descendant of the proud Luo people of western Kenya. As a musician, he experimented with many styles, including popular rock music, but ultimately found his true voice in bringing the traditional music of his people to a global audience using the lyre-like Nyatiti as his sole accompaniment— an instrument associated with the Kisumu region where he lived.

He had a long association with Real World Records and WOMAD, beginning with his first appearance at WOMAD Festival 1988 in Cornwall after being discovered busking in the London Underground. He took part in the famous Real World Recording Week in 1991, and released his first album En Mana Kuoyo for the label in 1993. He toured extensively with WOMAD in the USA, and performed as part of Peter Gabriel’s Secret World tour in the early 1990s.

In a statement released last night, Peter Gabriel said:

“I was very upset to learn of Ayub Ogada’s death tonight. His was a prodigious talent and when he was on he could mesmerise anyone and everyone within his range with his sensitive and melodic Nyatiti playing, accompanying that legendary gentle and hypnotic voice.

“In the early days of WOMAD and Real World Records many people weren’t interested  to listen to music from other cultures and whenever I was trying to convince them I would play Ayub singing ‘Kothbiro’ and invariably win them round.

“It was always a pleasure making music with him and getting to feel that warm sensitive and musical intelligence at work. We will all miss him greatly.”

Ayub’s most famous song is Kothbiro. Over the years, the song has received widespread recognition through its popularity on film and TV soundtracks. It featured in The Constant Gardener (2006), NBC’s The Philanthropist,  the Rio 2016 Olympics Opening Ceremony, and a Guinness advertising campaign throughout Africa.

Fellow Kenyan musicians have been paying their respects to Ayub on social media, including Blinky BillSuzanna Owiyo and Patricia Kihoro:

Our thoughts are with Ayub’s family and friends during this difficult time. 

Explore Ayub Ogada’s artist page for further information on his musical legacy.

Ayub Ogada, born 1956, died 1 February 2019.

A classic album

  • En Mana Kuoyo

    Ayub Ogada

    Released 17 May 1993

    Kenyan singer-songwriter Ayub Ogada was a busker on London’s Northern Line when he came to Real World’s attention in the late 80s. And this 1993 set – his only record for the label – proved that it was a meeting of minds, with his disarmingly simple arrangements allowed to hang there unadorned, making a lasting impression.

By Online Editor

Main image: Ayub Ogada. Photo credit: Andrew Caitlin.

Published on Sat, 02 February 19

Further reading

Track of the Day: ‘Kothbiro’ by Ayub Ogada

One of the most popular songs in our catalogue, this song has been sampled by US rapper Kanye West.

The Real World Recording Week

Music journalist Johnny Black chronicles the famous Real World Recording Week 1991.