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Country Kenya Genres acoustic traditional Festival Sauti za Busara 2015
Born in 1974 in Marsabit, north-eastern Kenya, Bonaya Doti began his music career after years as a community activist for social change. He hails from the Konso, an ethnic group assimilated by the larger Borana community. He sings in the Borana language, with its inimical afro-arabic Cushitic style. Whilst strongly resonant with the wider music of south-central Ethiopia, it has many antecedents from the Konso.
After independence in 1963, the Borana found themselves in a spiralling vortex of conflict between state security agents and so-called Shifta insurgents that sucked in much of the region. One conflict birthed another; in the decades following the Shifta war, cattle-rustling became a perennial feature on the landscape further exacerbated by inter-ethnic tensions, drought and widespread neglect of the entire region.
It is from this general background that Bonaya hails, and from where his deep commitment to community activism and peace-building emerged. But he was also shaped by a personal trauma from his adolescence. At the age of 14, shortly after finishing primary school, he was involved in a car accident which left him hospitalised in Nairobi. An operation on his leg was required, but could not be performed, as there was nobody to sign the consent form. His mother had passed away and his father had abandoned him. When he was finally discharged seven months later, he still could not walk unaided. He found his way back to his rural home, only to realise that his father had lost all interest in him. Left to fend for himself, he decided to move to Marsabit town, where he took up odd jobs - anything which would allow him to earn a little living. This is the background to his song "Ayyof Abbo", (Mother and Father), a son's agony about not being able to reward his parents.
In time his leg started regaining strength and he was able to secure better paid jobs, first as a waiter in a restaurant, then as construction worker and later as an employee in a bike repair workshop. He had earned himself a reputation as a hard working, honest and reliable person, which was rewarded by his employers through promotions and better pay.
Bonaya had discovered his love for music and singing at primary school. Now, with a stable income, he finally found the freedom to follow his passion. He would join musicians wherever he could, be it at weddings, traditional ceremonies or public functions. The older musicians got used to him hanging around and would sometimes invite him to sing with them. He soon started composing his own songs and performing whenever he found the chance. His talent was recognised by a local politician who decided to use music as a campaign tool. This worked well for a time. Significantly, it was the first time the young Bonaya was earning money from music. The opportunity was short-lived however, and only lasted as long as the election campaign. But through this experience Bonaya had discovered the power of music. He realised people would listen to him through his music.
Rather than just being another musician trying to ride a popular wave, Bonaya's emerging repertoire immersed itself in social issues: conflict and peace; HIV-AIDS, political corruption; youth unemployment. Uniquely, Bonaya rooted himself in the praise-singing traditions, injecting contemporary concerns into a cultural imaginary deeply familiar to his audience.
After the Kenya post-election violence in 2007/8, one of Bonaya?s songs calling for peace was picked up by a vernacular radio station and soon became popular in the region. After peace returned to Kenya, a friend walked up to him and said "Bonaya, I think you made your contribution".
Bonaya is accompanied by a young guitarist who plays in the typical afro-arabic style found in Ethiopia and Northern Kenya. His first ever professional recording was Nagai, included on Spotlight on Kenyan Music, Vol. 5: Focus on Northern Kenya (2010), recorded at the Ketebul Music Studios with support from Alliance Francaise Nairobi.