Very little was known about him until the 2010 new constitution promulgation event at Uhuru Park. Among the very many songs that were played that morning, one song seemed to have united all Kenyans. Kenyans were excited to even see the not so smiling First Lady then the Late Mama Lucy Kibaki dancing to the tune.
Roger Whittaker, the international star, was born and raised in Nairobi Kenya on March 22 1936 to immigrants from Staffordshire, England. His father, Edward Whittaker, owned a grocery store, for which his mother, Viola Whittaker, kept the books; she later worked as a teacher.
He took up the guitar at the age of seven and learned to sing songs in Swahili, but did not think of music as a career until much later. In 1956, he entered the University of Cape Town, South Africa as a medical student, but flunked out in his second year and returned to Nairobi, where he taught primary school and performed in nightclubs. In September 1959, he moved to the U.K. and began attending Bangor University in Wales, where he studied science with the intention of furthering his teaching career.
The music of East Africa left a mark on Roger’s childhood. “In over 30 years of singing and playing musical sounds – the wonderful drumming, and those marvelous, infectious rhythms – have played a great part in everything I have ever written and sung.” In school, he was an avid member of the school choir and gained top grades. “In the last three years of my formal education, I managed to work hard enough to get top grades in all my school exams and I had great hopes later of studying to become a teacher or a doctor,” he says.
In 1982, Roger was persuaded to make a movie in his native Kenya. It was an ambitious project, and for six weeks the film cameras followed him throughout the East African country as Roger related the story of Kenya’s history -the British colonial development and the rediscovery of his homeland – through his own unique words and music. The result, Roger Whittaker in Kenya, was screened in Britain by BBC Television in the autumn of 1983, followed by a worldwide transmission.
On 1st April 1989, Whittaker’s parents (still living in Kenya) were subjected to a brutal attack by a gang of four men in which his mother was tortured for eight hours and his father was murdered. His mother moved back to England after the incident. The father was buried in Kenya.
But any mention of his father’s death must deal with the manner of it. “I had to go there to sort it out. Initially, I didn’t know he had been murdered. I just went over thinking he had died. When I got there, a lifelong friend of mine said, ‘We lied to you to save you 10 hours of agony. I’m afraid he didn’t die, he was murdered.’ That started four weeks of hell.”
The perpetrators were never found. “Remember, you are dealing with a very under-funded police force, a very lawless society, people with guns who shouldn’t have them. All that northern area is very dangerous, with rogue elements carrying arms around.”
He took his mother, then aged 84, back to live with him and his family in England. She died in 1996. When asked how he coped with this, he is all spit and polish.
“What can you do? Life goes on and you have to get on with it,” he says, adding that he believes that you are either busy living or busy dying. And so he has continued living, with very definite priorities.
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