Bruce Odhiambo: Uhuru’s close friend who rose from the slums to top music producer


The late Bruce Odhiambo. Photo/COURTESY
The late Bruce Odhiambo. Photo/COURTESY

To most people, Bruce Odhiambo was Brother B, a talented music producer, artiste and a renowned events organiser.

To others, he was the towering man who stood guard at the Youth Fund as a staggering Ksh.180 million was embezzled.

Away from the intrigues and the drama that tailed his life, Bruce or Brother B was larger than life and had hundreds of friends who swear they never had met anyone better.

His home — that was fondly and aptly named Camp David — along the leafy Brookside Gardens in Westlands, was always busy.

He treated his friends and business associates to scrumptious lunches and drinks at his house.

On one wall of his house, a tall mahogany cabinet stood on which rare whiskies, wines and cognacs were displayed.

Brother B, a teetotaler, loved to hang in the company of friends at his house as they sampled his exotic array of tipple.

He was quite the entertainer. On and off the stage.

When he was in a good mood, he would regale his friends with enthralling stories of his youth, the women in his life, booze and how he met President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Bruce grew up in Jericho. A skid-row in Nairobi’s Eastlands.  He went to Jogoo Road Primary School and thereafter joined Eastleigh High School.

His life as he would fondly say, changed when his mum switched him from the sprawling Eastleigh High School to the famous St Mary’s School.

There, he was a fish out of water. He had come from a school in the slums, eating one meal a day, to a school where kids would fly to class in the morning from Naivasha and leave with their chauffeurs at dusk.

Every morning, he would miss the first lesson as he tried to beat the morning traffic while hopping from matatu to matatu. And still, having to trek the remaining distance to school.

Among his many schoolmates who went on to join Kenya’s elite society was President Uhuru Kenyatta who was a class ahead of him.

And David Kibaki, the son of the then Vice President Mwai Kibaki who, as the story goes, gave Bruce his first motorbike therefore ending his perpetual transport woes.

It was at St Mary’s that Bruce stuck a lasting friendship with Uhuru Kenyatta that would much later see him get appointed as the chairman of the beleaguered Youth Enterprise Development Fund.

But Bruce’s rise to the top took a while and in retrospect, his tedious journey became his ultimate undoing.

After school, Bruce started doing menial wiring jobs for his deejay friend and later became a deejay himself,  a stint at which he learnt to play the guitar.

So skilled was he that he joined the successful Sauti Sound band that went on to drop chart-topping hits such as Mama Lea Mtoto, Coconut, Karibuni Kenya and Jambo Bwana (Hakuna Matata).

His dexterity with the guitar took him to South Africa, Europe and the United States and later locally where  he played for benga and rumba greats like Joseph Kamaru and Ochieng’ Kabaselleh.

In Mombasa, where he honed his skills as a producer and a musician, Bruce says he slept only two hours in a day while juggling between an electronics shop and being a ship chandler.

His slipshod living would later take a toll on his health and in his lifetime, he underwent at least three heart surgeries and lived on medication half his life.

All of these were caused by his strict work ethic that saw him endure endless sleepless hours and a gruelling work routine.

In musical circles, he will be remembered by the likes of Sauti Sol, Eric Wainaina, Amos and Josh, Les Wanyika among others  as the man who paved their musical journey at his legendary Johari Clef studio.

In the politics scene, he will be remembered by his close friend, President Uhuru Kenyatta whom he campaigned for in 2002 and in 2013, and in whose election he played a pivotal role that saw the Jubilee Party emerge as the splashiest digital starlet of the last few years.

Bruce was, in fact, part of the team that came up with the “I believe” slogan that the President’s party (TNA) went by and for organising the glitzy launch of the Jubilee manifesto at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre.

In addition, he also worked with the First Lady Margaret Kenyatta in realising the dream of the hugely successful Beyond Zero campaign.

A bachelor till death, Bruce espoused singlehood all his life and was very averse to getting into a marital union just for the sake of it.

And that’s how he ended up with a now-12 year old boy whom he sired with a woman he had randomly met in the streets.

Bruce also leaves behind a 28-year old daughter whom he sired from a past casual fling in Mombasa; he never knew her until much later in her life.

A formidable music icon with a chequered past and one of the most colourful lives of any man in Kenya’s public scene, Bruce bows out of the scene as stoically as he came in.

Amid the scandals, rumours and the clandestine dalliances with women, Bruce, just like his American namesake Bruce Springsteen, remains a Boss, a rock star, a towering legend, a music doyen and an inscrutable force in the face of the nation.

Rest in Peace Brother B!

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Story By Tonny Ndungu
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