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Why Kikuyu praise and worship songs dominate Meru church services

By Phares Mutembei | November 21st 2021
Reverend Patrick Kirimi, the Parish Minister at PCEA Magumoni in Chuka, Tharaka Nithi County. [Phares Mutembei, Standard]

Grace Kananu, 19, loves Christian worship and so she hardly misses the Sunday service at the PCEA church near Meru town. She loves to listen and sing along, too.

But Kananu, a first-year university student, says she is discontented because even though worshippers are locals, all the hymns and worship songs are in Kikuyu.

“Since I started going to church 15 years ago, I realised almost all the songs were in Kikuyu. I thought it was only at our church where the hymns and praise songs were dominated by Kikuyu tracks, so I went to another church, but found the case was the same there,” she says.

She says although she has nothing against Kikuyu, she was shocked to find the various churches she has attended performing their music in Kikuyu, with few local songs.

“I actually love Kikuyu gospel songs because they are so deep. But I was expecting that the churches being in Meru, we would be having some done in local dialects like Imenti, Igembe or Tharaka,” she said.

It was Meru Governor, Kiraitu Murungi, who said what has been on the lips of many residents for ages, that everywhere you go, Meru people are singing their music in Kikuyu language instead of their own.

“Sometimes as Ameru we feel embarrassed when we go to visit our neighbourhoods and find our women groups singing in Gikuyu, yet they are Meru. We have our songs.

"It is not a must you sing in Kikuyu yet you are Meru. Kikuyu do not sing our songs, why are we singing theirs?” Kiraitu posed when he and Deputy Governor Titus Ntuchiu inspected a cultural centre.

Kiraitu said the Meru should not ‘borrow’ others’ languages because God also understands Meru.

“Let us pray and sing our gospel songs in Kimeru,” he said.

Even though Kiraitu was speaking on a light note, his views are held by many local churchgoers, singers and leaders.

Rev Patrick Kirimi, the Parish Minister at PCEA Magumoni, who has also composed some songs in Chuka dialect, said though Kikuyu gospel songs had dominated for a long, that was changing with time.

“I compose songs in Kichuka although I am not a musician. I compose and coach others in Kichuka songs, especially traditional sacred songs,” said Rev Kirimi, adding that Kikuyu songs were reducing.

He said: “We are getting out of it slowly. For instance, PCEA of Chuka community is writing Gichuka Bible. These days we use the Gichuka liturgy Book. With time even songs will be purely in Meru language.”

KAN Church Bishop, Kiambi Atheru, said the type of song being sang in the church depends on a number of factors such as church denomination, Spirit's leading, and the degree of a song's edification regardless of the tribe it originates from.

“At KAN Church - Nchiru, we sing Kimeru, Kikuyu, Kiswahili and even Kamba and Luo songs. It depends on the free choice of a denomination and how a song inclines itself to that denomination. For instance, some classical Pentecostal churches use the 'kiroho' (spiritual) songbook because of its many 'pentecostalised' songs,” said Dr Atheru.

Sarah Mwini, a local artiste, said: “The Meru are not proud of their language more so the Kimeru accent. They assume Kikuyu is easier. I have done one of my albums in Kimeru, others are in the national language. But nowadays the Meru have woken up and they are well represented, especially in our local stations.”

David Romano, a gospel artiste popularly known as ‘Promise’, says 60 per cent of his songs are in Kimeru, the rest in Kiswahili.

Romano reckoned all churches countrywide sing praise songs in all languages, including Kimeru. He said what is needed is support for Meru artistes to reach the standards of Kikuyu artistes whose songs are popular.

“We have a rich culture to sell,” he said. 

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