It’s been a while since I put up something on this space, and I believe if I do so, it better be worth it, I will labor to this end. Lately the conversation of Kenya’s Gospel music industry has been going on in heated debates. The argument has been quite heated that even the likes of media personalities like Caroline Mutoko have taken the initiative to define for us in saying that Gospel music is the goose bumps you get after listening to a song. In this new series of blog posts; Go Spell The Gospel, I will focus greatly on the Kenyan Urban Gospel Music industry as one who has been following closely and yet as one who does not know everything but seeks to have the truth of what Gospel really means out there in the airwaves. I will begin this series with the narrative of Urban Gospel Music, noting the major landmarks in the journey to where it is right now, then I will jump into the current debate that is going on in social circles today.
The debate has been stirred up by the production of so called hits like TW, Nyonyo, Kuliko Jana and Mungu Pekee being regarded as Gospel Music. Brothers in the faith have grown to disagree falling on different sides of opinions and even unbelieving people have developed various opinions on these matters. This kind of debate did not exist back in the day when the urban Gospel Music came into the scene, in the days of Gospel Fathers, Jog-C, Rufftone, Porcupine, Henrie Mutuku, DnG, SK-Blue where they were just up-coming artistes not given to much fame. However the fame that gospel music has risen to today has brought the rise of celebrity artists like Willy Paul, Bahati, Size 8, Hope Kid and even Papa Dennis. This new breed of artistes both mentioned and unmentioned have been the center of controversy. On this space I will make an attempt to narrate the history of Gospel Music in Kenya and why we are here today. Karibu msomaji, (insert the tone of your favorite Swahili News anchor.)
I am not an old person but as young boy in primary school I was a fan of gospel music for two reasons; being a church boy I had need to identify myself with some sort of music in my social circles and I did not find my identity in secular music for a while nor in old school choirs, so urban Gospel music sort me out, the second reason is that I aspired to be a Gospel musician and the likes of SK-Blue and DnG (at that time ‘born again’) really inspired me. I watched and still watching the growth of this industry. My side of the narrative will not feature every artist who I acknowledge made great contributions but will seek to feature key artistes that help explain the longer version of the narrative.
The Gospel Music industry came to limelight with the likes of Rufftone releasing his first hit track Mwikulu in 2,000 and Gospel Fathers releasing their first album in 2004 and few others launching their journey within this period, it was really a growing new industry that was seeking to both lay a foundation or a platform for a supportive audience and also to be accepted in churches as Christian music, these two tasks were not easy and cost many people great sacrifices. Producers like Innovator and Mike Sakata really established these guys in producing tracks for them. However one thing worth noting is that there was very little music video production for these songs. I remember The Beat being hosted by Dj Pinye rarely played Gospel Music because there were very few videos produced and if any, most of them were of poor quality for that matter. Arthur K launched a show on NTV; The Storm but most of the videos they played were foreign or recordings of live performances for artists and maybe a few of those who had the mulla to record videos. One of those stage recordings was Davy’s debut Nisaidie that guy was a talented rapper I wonder where he went. Only way later like in 2005-2010 did the likes of Daddy Owen, Cubanotics, Eagles, Fatmod, Dunco, Mr. Boo, Kiki, SK-Blue, Jog-C and Gospel Fathers were able to do music videos. I remember going to a concert being told of a guy passing by that he was an artist but no one recognized them since we knew their song by listening to them on radio but we had no idea of how their faces looked like, that was my story with Jog-C and Porqupine. Rufftone however was lucky to have a done a video by 2002 and Ambassador of the Inkane fame.
Here is my point in all these many stories, Gospel Music was not flashy if anything it was a hustle. Artistes would walk to a concert and walk back home, and no one could recognize their faces. There was no Safaricom to sponsor concerts and big events being organized by Mo Sounds, K-Crew was not yet fully birthed to give them a platform, MCSK only came to the picture in 2005 and still did not deliver much at its initial stages, there was no skiza tunes for people to buy their ring-back tones nor internet download softwares where they could easily sell their music, there were very few churches that would host a concert and those that would, often couldn’t pay artistes and to make the matters worse very few people could buy their music if they were lucky enough to produce it. The Gospel Music Industry did not start as a cash cow industry as it is seen today. They struggled and toiled ask any of them and you’ll hear their story. I know a friend of mine who gave up on music, who as a teacher had been able to produce one Gospel track with Mike Sakata but was unable to pursue that path any further than his first single, his song Zunguka was a great hit despite.
Gospel Music by then did not gain much of the media attention unless when it was Kirk Franklin or Chevelle Franklin who was in town, (please note that the two are not related, such a co-incidence.) The first Gospel artiste to gain much media publicity was DnG. He was a good rapper and had a great testimony to share, I remember reading his interview on the Buzz in 2006, he was really on top of his game especially after winning the Kora Awards and flew to South Africa for the ceremony. This was a big deal. I actually met him twice in December 2005 and he was proud of his achievements. The spotlight fell on him again after he was spotted on camera drinking barely two years later, this brought him down as a Gospel artiste. Bamboo too had gone down the same lane before him having converted to Christianity after releasing a hit debut Compe, he turned in a new leaf did a collabo with Rufftone and single solo but not so long afterward the paparazzis caught up with him drinking and in a compromising position. These occurrences only made Gospel artistes a disgrace. Jog-C and Gospel Fathers did a major project at around the same time DnG was involved in scandals, it was dubbed Zaidi ya Mziki a hit album that lead them to a long series of shows both locally and internationally. The music was great and they did one or two videos that occasionally aired on popular music shows, however this was not a deal breaker. Gospel Music still did not become the talk of town. Gospel musicians were still working hard their way up to have their music out there. Here’s the main point if you’re frantically looking for it, Gospel music in its early days was not a showbiz deal, not at all, not by any chance.