Gabriel, who was among the few surviving veteran musicians of the 1960s and 70s, died after a short illness at the Busia District Hospital. In 1974, he became the first Kenyan musician ever to be awarded an International Golden Disc for the sales of his hit single, Lunchtime.
his counterpart Charles Makawita confirmed that the 79-year-old Gabriel had died from breathing complications after being admitted at the hospital on Tuesday.
“His widow Alice Adeya called me last evening to the hospital when she realised his condition had deteriorated,” said Charles . The two musicians were childhood friends who both hail from Nyabeda Village in Uholo, Ugunja, Siaya County.
Radio broadcaster James Onyango Joel, who also hails from Ugunja, told Nation.co.ke he learnt of the musician’s death through the widow as well.
“Omolo was one of the best composers whose music will be remembered for its enticing social commentaries,” Onyango said.
Until the time of his death, Gabriel was among the few surviving greats of the Swahili music generation of the 1960s until the 90s.
Born in 1939, Omolo was raised in the railway quarters of Muthurwa and later in Makongeni, Nairobi. He learnt how to play the guitar while at St Peter Claver Primary School, where he also sang in the choir. His career took off in the 1960s when he joined the iconic Equator Sound Band where he played alongside Daudi Kabaka, Fadhili William, Zambian legend Nashil Pichen Kazembe and Peter Tsoti .
The band was formed in 1960 by veteran producer Charles Worrod who also managed the Equator Sounds Studio.
Notably, it was Gabriel who played the bass guitar on the famous “Pole Musa” a composition by Tsotsi.
Besides performing with the Equator sound Band, Gabriel also performed with the Eagles band Blue Shades and later Apollo Komesha band.
A remix version of his “Lunchtime” (originally released in 1970) was l done almost 30 years later by the late Poxi Presha and Kenyan-based Congolese singer Paddy Makani.
In September 1974, Gabriel became the first Kenyan musician to be awarded an International Golden Disc for the sales of his single, “Lunchtime”.
Veteran producer and band manager Tabu Osusa, who oversaw the release of “Lunchtime”, said: “We have lost of the Kenyas’ best singers.”
Gabriel’s follow-up singles like “Keep Change” and “Mr Kupe” retained the social commentary, but could not attain the same heights of success as “Lunchtime”.
In later years, Omolo tried his hand at various businesses, including running a taxi venture and operating a music store in Mombasa.
He was also employed as a driver with the United Nations in Nairobi from 1989 to 1995.
His accomplishments have, however, gone unnoticed by most Kenyans, save for a performance at the first Mashujaa Day celebrations in 2010 and a Head of State Commendation (HSC) a year later.
Gabriel Omolo spent his time at his home in Ugunja, Siaya County, writing songs and playing his guitar.