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Songs are a means through which artists commune with their audience not only for entertainment purposes but also when they intend to engage them intellectually on matters that are of concern socially, morally, spiritually and economically. Songs are composed for a variety of reasons and, in the event of conflicts, the language used in the songs can either propel the already tense atmosphere to irreparable heights or pacify the souls of the warring groups and instill a sense of sanity in them. This study examined war metaphors used in the Dholuo songs ‘Njao Par ng’ato,’ sung by the late Benga maestro D.O. Misiani and ‘Migingo dhi’ by Ohangla sensation Onyi Papa Jey and the Gi͂ku͂yu͂ songs ‘Mwaka wa hiti’ sung by the popular artist John De’ Mathew and ‘Uhuru wa Ngina’ sung by Kamande wa Kioi with the aim of deciphering the concealed meanings in the war metaphors found in these songs, the effects that they have on their audience and the perceptions created in them by these musicians. The choice of the two ethnic communities is based on the fact that over the years there has been rivalry with regard to matters politics between them and apart from the fact that they usually pull in different directions politically, they also view each other with suspicion and contempt. This study wants to argue that the fight against ethnic animosity can only be won if the ‘mouth pieces’ used to disseminate information to the general public understand the significance of peaceful co-existence and in turn use their messages to preach the gospel of cohesion and integration as enshrined in the Kenyan Constitution. This study seeks to address the following objectives: to identify and explain the war metaphors used in the selected Dholuo and Gĩkũyũ popular songs and to explain the vital relations that account for the comprehension of war metaphors in Dholuo and Gĩkũyũ popular songs. The study used the Conceptual Metaphor Theory by Lakoff and Johnson (1980) to analyze the conceptual metaphors of war. The study found out that vital relations play an instrumental role in the meaning construction process. In addition, Analogy is the most pervasive vital relation in the conceptual metaphors of war in Dholuo and Gĩkũyũ popular songs. Moreover, some of the metaphors used by musicians to relay their messages if not censored may have serious ramifications on the relationships among people of different ethnic communities. It was also noted that musicians use war metaphors not only to amplify the political climate that is normally tense especially during the electioneering period but also to endear themselves to their audience and remain musically relevant. Data was analyzed qualitatively and the study employed a descriptive design in which the researchers explained the conceptual metaphors of war used in the popular songs of two ethnic communities in Kenya. The songs revealed deep-seated animosity that has existed between the Luo and the Gĩkũyũ from the time Kenya gained her independence in 1963. Through purposive sampling, a sample of eight songs (two songs by D.O.Misiani, two by Onyi Papa Jey, two by Kamande wa Kioi and the other two by John De Mathew) were chosen not only because they were rich in conceptual metaphors of war but also because in them the musicians showed their attitudes towards each other’s ethnic group. The Conceptual Metaphor Theory (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980) was influential in the comprehension of the cognitive processes and how they influence the way we think, act and express ourselves.
Key words: Conceptual metaphor theory, metaphor, popular song, ethnicity, Kenya