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The Unsung virtuoso behind Kenya’s Taarab Sensation

As the sun sets over the East African coast, Taarab music’s wonderful combination of Swahili poetry, Arabic melodies, and Indian influences fills the air with stories of love and history.

From Mombasa’s marketplaces to Zanzibar’s beaches, its timeless charm enthralls listeners, crossing borders and honouring the region’s rich cultural history.

Among the legendary figures of Taarab music is Asha Abdow, famously known as ‘Malika’.

However, behind the scenes, there was a prolific writer who penned many of her hit songs known as Omar Shariff, alias Shariff Badmash, a poetry genius whose contributions to Kenya’s music industry have gone largely unnoticed despite his deep influence.

Born in 1948 amidst the calming waves of Mombasa Island, Badmash began his path into poetry and singing at the age of 18, motivated by his passion for writing. He started on a literary path without any prior training from any person.

“God gave me this skill as a gift,” Badmash reflected on the roots of his artistic activities, saying, “I’ve been writing a lot of poems and songs since I was a kid, but I mostly write poems.”

While his name may not appear on the covers of newspapers, Badmash’s impact can be felt throughout Taarab’s tunes, notably through his work with the great singer Malika who shifted to Europe in the early 1990s.

Behind Malika’s heart-warming performances lie the poetic verses meticulously crafted by Badmash, whose lyrical genius has shaped nine albums each consisting of 12 songs of Taarab.

From the melodies of ‘Vidonge’ to  ‘Kinyozi Namnyolewa’ and ‘Ningeulalia Mto’ Badmash’s writing has enchanted and inspired generations of listeners, leaving an eternal mark on Kenya’s musical heritage.

Despite his essential contributions, Badmash stays persistent in his dedication to writing, noting that his passion for poetry goes beyond financial gains.

“I used to create songs for enjoyment and to entertain people. I used to produce songs and share them for free without expecting anything in return,” Badmash said.

Beyond his collaborations with Malika, Badmash’s generous mindset extends to his involvement in writing nasheed for Madrassas (Muslim schools) around Mombasa, including Tahdhib, Shamsia, Hudaa, and Khayrat while currently working with Shamsia further showcasing his dedication to spreading joy through his writing.

Reflecting on his incredible path, Badmash encourages youngsters to study poetry as a source of income.

He emphasized poetry’s potential to not only bring financial stability but also to gain reputation and respect.

His remark captures the transforming nature of poetry, presenting it as a powerful weapon for self-expression and societal impact.

Badmash’s message not only encourages but also empowers the next generation, to recognize the significant influence of their creative activities.

Badmash demonstrates the enduring legacy of talent motivated by a deeper sense of purpose through his passion for his craft and the indelible impact he leaves on listeners’ hearts and minds.

In a culture obsessed with transient fame and money, Badmash is exemplary, pushing us to rethink our priorities and embrace the life-changing impact of honesty and sincerity in our creative endeavours.

By Abdulrahman Allui

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