Benga songstress Princess Jully, born Lillian Auma Aoka, of the Dunia Mbaya hit is today weather-beaten. She lives in abject poverty, her once glowing face, full body, attractive figure, high heel shoes and bright, free flowing dresses gone.
Sitting on a three-legged stool in tattered leso, an oversized t-shirt and old plastic stitched shoes, her skinny physique is a pointer to the hard times that have ravaged the once celebrated musician. In her heydays, she lived in Nairobi’s Jamhuri and South C estates. Life has come a full circle for the queen of Benga who staged various shows across East Africa, besides touring Europe’s Norway, Netherlands, Italy and Switzerland between 2001 and 2007.
We find her pondering her next move with a mug of white sugarless porridge outside her two-roomed, mud-walled hut. Without a toilet or bathroom, it is a trot to the bush when nature calls. A pained smile lights up her haggard and sunken face, revealing a flash of fast fading beauty.
“It’s good to see you!” she says, hugging me like a long-lost friend.
Fondly referred to as Alili Nyagina by some of her fans, Princess Jully, who is approaching her 50s with countless songs to her name, no longer sings. She worries about her next meal.
“I have lost close to 30 kilos ever since I relocated back home from the city in 2012 due to many challenges,” she explains, offering me a cup of porridge and boiled maize.
But how did the Benga star who once resided in a two-bedroom house in Jamhuri for three years and a five-bedroom house for a decade in South C, where she paid rents of between 25,000 and Sh30,000 per month, end up in a mud hut near Bondo Nyironge village in Migori?
Princess Jully blames fellow musicians, friends and family for abandoning her when her pockets ran dry.
“People forget those who helped them in their times of need. When I had money, everybody wanted to be around me; including friends and strangers. Now that I am penniless, nobody wants to be associated with me. None of them has even bothered to call and enquire about my well-being,” she complained.
Jully now works as a casual labourer in various gold mines in Osiri, Makalda, Komito and Kokumo, Migori County. She commutes twice to reach her destination.
“There are times when I walk for close to 20 kilometres to the work site where I toil for my daily bread. I buy unprocessed stones and mine two to three grammes of gold, which I sell for between Sh200 and Sh300. It is better to get that small amount of money to buy food and clothes than staying idle as I wait to die. “There are times when I end up with nothing and go hungry for days. Apart from the little help I get from my son Makajully, who is a sales worker and part time university student, I survive on a daily basis,” she says.
The singer says she moved from paradise to hell when her husband, Benga superstar Prince Jully of Jolly Boys Band, passed on in 1997. She said she could not manage her band or fight pirates who reap from artistes’ sweat.
“When my husband was alive, he supported my music. He produced most of my songs. I even learnt from him how to produce my own music. Life was too good. My band and I used to tour places including Mombasa, Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam and many other destinations. However, when he passed on, things changed completely,” she says.
At the height of her singing career, she worked with then upcoming Ohangla musicians Osogo Winyo and Onyango Alemo while running a music shop on Nairobi’s River Road.
In the 2002 hit smash Unbwogable, Princes Jully was among the leaders Gidigidi Majimaji said were unbwogable and unbeatable. But life, it seems, has ‘beaten’ Princes Jully.
Below is the Dunia Mbaya Hit song
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