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This melody was woven into the fabric of a generation. They danced under starlit skies and sang with hearts full of joy, captivated by the rhythm of a song that seemed to understand their dreams. This tune wasn’t just music to their ears; it was the soundtrack of their youth, echoing through their moments of love and celebration.

As the years rolled on, this magical symphony found its way into the lives of their children. It played in the background of their playtime adventures, instilling a sense of wonder and freedom. This music—rich in rhythm and warm with memories—served not just as a backdrop but as a powerful teacher. It gently crafted the pathways in their young minds, shaping their abilities to speak, move, and think, nurturing the seeds of future potential.

Then, as these children grew and found paths of their own, the song endured, evolving into a cherished guest at their most cherished celebrations. It was there when they exchanged vows, blew out birthday candles, and gathered to celebrate milestones. This ballad, once a marker of their parents’ love, now underscored their own moments of joy and connection—a legacy passed through melodies, binding two generations in harmony and love.


In the heart of the 1960s, as the winds of change swept across Africa, a continent bloomed with the vibrant colors of independence. Each nation sang its own anthem of freedom, and from these jubilant choruses emerged voices that would shape a generation. Among these, the soulful echoes of Fadhili William rang out in Kenya, intertwining with the nation’s burgeoning spirit.

On a day etched in memory—Kenya’s first Independence Day—the air was electric with celebration. Soldiers, resplendent in their uniforms, marched to the rhythmic beats of military bands. They paraded not just as defenders of the nation but as proud bearers of a rich heritage—a heritage vibrantly alive with music and pride. Amid these celebrations, one tune resonated deeper, stirring the hearts of all who heard it: “Malaika,” a love ballad so pure, it seemed to embody the very soul of the nation.

“Nakupenda, malaika,” they sang—’I love you, my angel.’ These words, set to melody by Fadhili William, became more than a song; they were a declaration of love, of hope, a hymn for the free.

Fadhili’s journey to this moment was as serendipitous as it was destined. Once a young boy with dreams divergent, he had pondered a life in uniform, even applying to the Kiganjo Police Training College. Fate, however, had charted a different course. At fifteen, his mother presented him with a gift that would alter the course of his life—a box guitar. The strum of its strings ignited a fire within him, and soon, the music consumed him entirely. With a resolve as fierce as the freedom fighters of his homeland, Fadhili abandoned the conventional path of schooling to forge his legacy in melodies.

His discography grew, each song a testament to his talent. “Taxi Driver,” “Ewe Wangu,” “Mama Sowera,” “Pole Musa,”—each track laid the stones on his path to greatness. Yet, it was “Malaika” that crowned his efforts, soaring beyond the borders of Kenya to grace the world stage.

In Fadhili William’s story, we find the rhythm of an era, the pulse of a continent reborn, and the melody of a love that transcends time. His music—his gift to the world—remains immortal, a cherished jewel in the crown of African heritage.

As the vibrant notes of “Malaika” resonated around the globe, from the sultry voice of Miriam Makeba to the dynamic performances of Harry Belafonte and Boney M, and the folksy harmonies of The Brothers Four, the song ascended into a worldwide anthem. Each rendition, a tribute to its haunting melody and soul-stirring lyrics, seemed to affirm that Fadhili William’s fortunes were secured, his legacy cemented in the annals of music history.

Yet, the reality for Fadhili was starkly different from the fame and adulation his creation enjoyed. The poignant words from his own song, “Pesa zasumbua roho yangu” — “Money matters trouble my heart” — became a bitter echo of his own financial struggles. Despite the global success, Fadhili found himself in a relentless pursuit for due royalties, an odyssey that even took him to the distant shores of the United States. In New Jersey, away from the limelight, he served as a petrol station attendant, a far cry from the glamorous world where his music played.

The royalties trickled in, but they were mere droplets in the vast ocean of his needs. Like his peers Daudi Kabaka and Fundi Konde, Fadhili faced the harsh dissonance between the richness of his musical contributions and the poverty of his rewards. How could a man whose work reached and enriched millions, whose melodies bridged cultures, end his days in financial obscurity?

This disheartening reality is not just Fadhili’s but a reflection of a broader, more systemic issue. Africa’s lush cultural tapestry has long influenced global arts, yet the continent’s creators have seldom reaped the economic benefits. Their cultural exports, vibrant and sought after, have been undervalued and their creators under-compensated. This pattern of exploitation stretches across decades, a recurring motif of cultural appropriation and economic neglect.

Fadhili’s plight raises pressing questions about fairness and equity in the creative industry. Was he, like many before and after him, a victim of skewed power dynamics, exploitative contracts, and outdated policies? The irony of his situation is stark—his song “Malaika” continues to thrive, covered by artists who enjoy the fruits of his genius, while he struggled for basic necessities.

As we look forward to a future where the creative economy might dominate up to ten percent of the global GDP by 2030, Fadhili’s story is a poignant reminder of the need for systemic change. It highlights the necessity for a compassionate approach to the business of creativity—a call for fairness that honors not just the art but the artist.

Decades may have passed since Fadhili’s departure, his name meaning ‘compassion’, yet the lessons from his life and the echoes of “Malaika” remain ever relevant. They remind us of the enduring need for justice and equity in the ever-evolving tapestry of global culture. Fadhili’s music, his struggles, and his hopes continue to inspire a call for a more compassionate and fair treatment of artists around the world.

Copyright ©2024 by David Waweru. Photo credit:

David Waweru

Author David Waweru

Writer, entrepreneur, trainer and consultant. Founder of Booktalk Africa and Will to Win Global. Member of the UNESCO Expert Facility on the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Director at the Sports, Arts and Culture Sector Board, Kenya Private Sector Alliance.

More posts by David Waweru

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