Why Taarab sensation ‘Malika’ left Kenya for US at peak of her c*reer

Friday, April 19th, 2024 01:15 | By
Taarab singer Malaika

In the vibrant world of Taarab music, Malika is a household name known for her melodious voice and captivating performances.

Malika’s journey from humble beginnings to becoming a celebrated figure in East African music is second to none.

In a tell it all interview, Malika, born Asha Abdow in 1941 in Somalia, reveals for the first time why she relocated to the United States at the zenith of her music career.

It was in Kenya that fans gave her the stage name Malika, derived from Arabic meaning a queen, inspired by her mesmerising golden voice.

Malika’s musical talent blossomed from a young age; she honed her singing skills through passion and determination and was inspired by the melodies of Ali Mkali from Mombasa, whose songs echoed through her home. It was not until 1961 that she reached a broader audience through an opportunity offered by Radio Mogadishu when they introduced a new programme called ‘Idha ya Kiswahili’.

The station was on the lookout for a singer to enrich its airwaves and recognising Malika’s immense potential, they recruited her.

“At Radio Mogadishu, my talent found a platform to shine. Many were impressed with what I had to offer, but it was the people of Mombasa who truly embraced me,” reminisced Malika. However, the closure of Radio Mogadishu because of  civil war marked a turning point in Malika’s music journey.

Faced with uncertainty, she made a bold decision to relocate to Mombasa, where her music had already found a cherished place among the people. When she arrived in the coastal city, she immersed herself in the vibrant musical scenes. She started to perform at weddings, where her soul-stirring performances became a hallmark of celebrations.

“I felt truly at home in Mombasa, surrounded by people who appreciated and embraced my music. Performing at weddings allowed me to connect with audiences on a deeply personal level, spreading joy and creating memories that would last a lifetime,” said Malika.

Malika’s journey took a significant turn when she crossed paths with Omar Shariff, known as ‘Badmash’, who became instrumental in bringing her music to life.  Badmash, a gifted songwriter, penned many of Malika’s hit songs, catapulting her into stardom. “Badmash compositions of songs breathed life into my music and resonated deeply with audiences,” she said, adding that her newfound fame and hit song Vidonge opened doors to gigs in Dar es Salaam, Dubai, Kilifi and Lamu.

“I never anticipated the immense success of ‘Vidonge’. It became a nationwide sensation, resonating with audiences across Kenya. Even to this day, it continues to be cherished, as evidenced when Raila Odinga sang it in the 2022 election campaigns,” stated Malika.

After a decade of residency in Mombasa, Malika’s musical prowess was recognized when she clinched two prestigious trophies at a ceremony held in Nairobi. One trophy honoured her as the Best Musician, while the other celebrated her hit song, ‘Vidonge.’

Expressing her delight with the awards, Malika remarked; “Winning the two trophies brought me joy. The widespread coverage in newspapers showed the love and acceptance of my music by the people.”

Short-lived win

However, the achievement was short-lived. Just a month later, the organisers of the ceremony demanded the return of the trophies, citing Malika’s non-Kenyan citizenship.

“I was deeply hurt by the turn of events. Despite considering Kenya my home, the repossession of the trophies left me disappointed. My children, residing in US, urged me to join them and after this incident, I made the decision to leave,” Malika revealed. Through the assistance provided by the United Nations (UN), Malika found refuge in America, where she continues to reside to date.

She advised budding musicians to work hard and be disciplined in their music careers. She dissuades them from composing abusive songs but creates songs with a positive message.

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