Piracy in Kenya drives songbird into gold mining

Music of the here and now often reflects an obsession with what is hot, new and young. However, from budding artists bursting onto the scene to established artists who have been around for decades, today’s music artist is faced with many challenges, among them piracy. Kenya’s Benga songstress Lilian Auma, 45, alias Princess Jully (or Alily nyar Jogina) is its latest victim. She has resorted to prospecting for gold in Migori County after piracy drove her out of the music business. 

Princess Jully with some of her awards. Photo: www.sde.co.ke
Princess Jully with some of her awards. Photo: www.sde.co.ke

After the death of her singer husband Prince Jully in 1997, she moved to Nairobi to do business and produce music. She released 'Dunia Mbaya' in 1998, which propelled her music career at a time the country had declared HIV-Aids a national disaster. Through the song, she greatly told the stories of the HIV scourge and advised people to avoid the deadly disease by all means. During her formative years she often released new music frequently. Her 19th album Aneno Lek was released in March 2007. She also set up her own production house, Jully Productions, to promote emerging artists. In 2010 she released another album, Joluo Migingo to Dhi, its title referring to the disputed Migingo Island between Kenya and neighbouring Uganda. 

Speaking to The Star newspaper recently, Princess Jully said she prospered and even opened a distribution shop on Mfangano Street in Nairobi, through which she distributed music across Kenya and across the border into Tanzania. "Business was booming," remembered Jully.

But lately the singer has fallen on hard times and has resorted to prospecting for gold in Migori county after piracy drove her out of business. She said she moved from her Sh30 000-a-month rental house in South C, Nairobi, to her rural home in Bondo Nyironge, Suna West subcounty. The artiste now lives in a mud house she built on her own and does not have to pay rent. The once high-flying artist now travels more than 50km to Komito goldmines in Rongo subcounty to earn just KES 300 (about $3) a day. "Most people get shocked when they find me in mines and can't believe it is really me," Jully told the press in Migori recently.

Other artists, having learnt of her plight, have offered to give her a lifeline to her musical career. Led by Suzanna Owiyo, who once performed with Jully in the group Divas of The Nile, alongside Jaguar, another musician who now sits on the board of the National Authority for Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA), the artists have offered to give her a sound system, among other things.

Her son, musician Makajully, took to social media to show support. "Mama wanted to make the world a better place. She invested in hundreds of people, paid school fees and housed orphans," he said. "I am proud to be the son of such a great woman." 

Despite the drastic career change, Princess Jully is not giving up on singing just yet. “My dream is to redefine the Luo traditional music by bringing back the traditional instruments. I plan to record a song on terrorism attacks in the country and send a message to al-Shabaab to end radicalisation," Jully told the Kenyan newspaper of her future plans.

Learn more about about Princess Jully's current plight in the news report below. 



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