Tuesday, February 14, 2012



The Late Whitney Houston

By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
February 14, 2012

Whitney Houston is dead. Her sudden demise though was long in coming, caught all who knew her by surprise and devastating shock.

As we mourn Whitney, let us all remember other great singers before her; the likes of  Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, Isaac Hayes, Barry White, Curtis Mayfield, Teddy Pendergrass, Brenda Fassie, Lucky Dube and Luambo Lwango Makiadi from our continent.

Though Whitney was much younger than Black Moses, Barry White and others before her, she obviously claimed her place among the great entertainers of the ‘80s and ‘90s and those of us who were of age and either dating or marrying at that time, her love songs hit us like a thunderbolt whenever we tuned on our radios or went clubbing from time to time.

The singer’s patriotic rendition of the American National Anthem dabbed Star Spangled Banner gave her a standing ovation from the American Armed Forces and the entire American people. This was in 1991 in honor of the Gulf War veterans returning home. This same song reached the top 20 US Hot 100 the same year. For diehard Africanists like me, it was difficult to ignore the significance of Whitney at this function considering that the war hero who led the Gulf War was none other than another black American called Colin Powell.

For us living in Kenya at the time, and frequent revelers at night spots such as Eclipse, Visions or Tamango in Nairobi, Whitney’s romantic and infectious voice was a call to the floor.

As my friend Clouds would tell you, the same addiction to Whitney’s romantic renditions were not confined to Nairobi alone. The same could be seen at Octopus and Casino nightclubs in Kisumu City just as the revelers revered her at Stardust in Malindi, Noons in Nyali or Bora Bora Night Club in Mombasa’s North Coast.

Her “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” released in 1990s was one of the seven consecutive Number One hits of Whitney Houston. The song was every clubhouse; every party must-have wherever one was all over the world. I remember touring Europe and North America at the time. Every club I went to, Whitney Houston held her ground with other greats of the time.

 For us in Nairobi;  in the company of party animals such as Bingwa, Madam Mao, Clouds, Bana Ngenge, Otoyo, Suki River, Kilometre 101 among others, “ I Wanna Dance with Somebody “ was a call to the dance floor  no matter  how many swallows one had partaken that evening. More importantly it was a crime to dance the song alone- or worse still , dance with one of the same sex as today’s youngsters  are fond of doing these days.

I Will Always Love You” was one of Whitney’s hits that was as romantic as it could get- especially for the lovebirds of the time- the kind of promise every young lover needed to hear from a sweetheart. The song was so sad and so sobering that one could detect that Houston was going through an intense soul searching- the kind of crisis every young person goes through from time to time.

Like most of her love songs, it was indeed captive and intoxicating. One easily got addicted to Houston’s real life depiction in her songs.

When she released another hit song “I Look To You as I Lay Down”, she appeared to be telling the story of her life and what she had gone through as a human being. In the song, she feels beaten and confesses that all her strength is gone, hence looking to her pillar, probably her mother to giver support. The song was so powerful; it almost sounded spiritual- implying that she was looking for strength from the Almighty on High. She asks the power above to shadow her after all her strength is gone.

This song was released in 2009 after leading a rocky marriage, dalliance with cocaine and marijuana that forced her into a hiatus for several years. It became her fourth and final Number One on the Billboard 200 Chart.

Whitney Houston’s 1995 hit known as “Exhale” was probably the first sign that she was having trouble with drugs. She was 32 then and the song was released on her birthday. In the song the lines such as” Sometime You Lie, Sometimes You Cry” are definitely the words of a troubled soul.

Back in 1987, Whitney released a dance hall hit funk number entitled “So Emotional”. This was the closest to the type of beats that Michael Jackson   and Freddie Jackson were famous for especially MJ’s “Beat It” or Freddie Jackson’s” Rock Me Tonite For Old Times Sake”.

When Whitney sang her “So Emotional”,  she had just turned 24, the best age to be emotional, reckless and rebellious. In her video shot that year, she was at her best, so energetic, and smartly dressed and her stage moves were definitely deadly.

Three years later, she performed and recorded her song “Miracle”. In the song, she again confesses her heart is full of much pain.

Five years earlier, her song, “Greatest Love of All” was a must-have for young men and women who were growing up in Kenya and most probably the rest of the world. She talked of never walking in anyone’s shadow, claiming to have found her love of all times inside her. She says she believes that children are the future despite the fact that she had not had her first and only baby girl Kristina.

Her 1999 protest song “It Is Not Right but It’s Okay”, she seems to be talking to men who go behind their women’s backs to cheat with other women. In this video, she is at her best, most fashionable, and decent on stage- no obscenities and definitely color-conscious. In the song, she promises that she would make it anyway without the cheating man. Was she singing about her rocky affair with her wife beater Bobby Brown?

In 1992, she recovered from her tribulations and released a hit song, “Run to You” where she begs to be held and protected from harm. She pleads that no one cares for her that’s why she is running to this imaginary man for protection.

Could this be what was in Whitney’s mind when she made that all important call to her mother just moments before she passed on in her hotel room? No one will ever know but one thing we know; we have yet again lost one of the greatest voices and one of the most beautiful stars of all times.