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Why Tanzanian gospel music is popular in Kenya

 A collage of Tanzanian Gospel artistes.

Gospel singers differentiate themselves from their secular counterparts by composing music guided by Biblical teachings.

This adherence to religious principles necessitates that these artists lead lives in accordance with these teachings, enabling them to create educational and clean content for their followers.

As a result, Christian songs often enjoy a longer shelf life compared to other genres of music. This longevity, in turn, allows gospel singers to earn substantial sums of money through performances at sponsored concerts, public or private functions, as well as through advertising on billboards, television, and radio.

Many gospel artists have embraced digital platforms, including YouTube channels, which provide their followers with convenient access to their performances.

By capitalizing on these avenues, gospel singers have achieved significant financial success. Some successful Kenyan gospel singers have even taken inspiration from their Tanzanian counterparts, adopting certain aspects of their work.

This influence is noticeable in the Kenyan gospel beats, which seem to draw from Tanzanian gospel rhythms.

Kenya boasts a large pool of influential gospel singers who have gained prominence through their distinct contributions to the genre. Esteemed figures such as Esther Wahome ("Kuna Dawa"), Anastasia Mukabwa ("Kiatu Kivue"), Gloria Muliro, Mary Atieno ("Adamu na Eva"), Geraldine Odour, Daddy Owen, Mercy Masika, Eunice Njeri, Sarah K, Jemima Thiong'o, Guardian Angel, and Reuben Kigame, among others, have all made significant impact in the gospel music scene.

Television and radio stations have played a crucial role in amplifying the presence of these gospel singers, propelling them to receive awards and accolades for their exceptional contributions to the industry.

Anastasia Mukabwa, for instance, collaborated with Tanzanian gospel singer Rose Muhando in the hit song "Kiatu Kivue," which showcased their combined talents and musical prowess.

“After Muhando realized Kiatu Kivue was a hit song, she requested a performance with me because of its prominence and the popularity of the song,” Mukabwa told The Standard.

Rose Muhando, born in 1963 in Dar-Es-Salaam, is renowned for her song "Utamu wa Yesu," which was released in 2012. Muhando, an artist who began singing at a young age in local churches and various venues, has garnered considerable recognition for her musical talent.

 Rose Muhando [File, Standard]

Regarding the attraction of Kenyan gospel singers to their Tanzanian counterparts, Anastasia Mukabwa stated that it is complex to evaluate gospel musicians or their work.

“Once any song is rich in content, it’ll be loved by all Christians across the region,” she said.

Irene Otieno, a devoted Anglican, expressed her perspective on Tanzanian gospel music, stating that it often contains a wealth of biblical teachings.

She noted that these songs are sung in fluent and melodious Kiswahili lyrics and are also characterized by idiomatic expressions that are not as prominent in Kenyan gospel music.

Otieno believes that the incorporation of real-life experiences and profound biblical teachings in Tanzanian songs contributes to their likability and resonance among listeners.  

However, veteran Esther Wahome of the Kuna Dawa fame differs.

She said their Tanzanians counterparts are the ones who replicate what they (Kenyan singers) do.

“If they are better than us, then why do they (Tanzanian singers) rush to Nairobi to record and sell their products here? They do so because of our better and superior content,” said Wahome.

 Esther Wahome performing at Uhuru Park in 2017. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

She said maybe Kenya’s upcoming gospel singers are the ones aping the Tanzanians.

Christina Shusho, a Tanzanian gospel singer, gained immense popularity among Kenyan fans and artists.

Her songs such as "Kuabudiwa," "Nipe Macho," and "Unikumbuke" have resonated with audiences. Shusho, who sings fluently in Kikuyu, collaborated with Kikuyu gospel singer Samuel Irungu in the song "Tuine Ruimbo."

The fact that Shusho sings in fluent Kikuyu reflects her appreciation for the Kenyan style and signifies her connection with the Kenyan audience.

Pastor Martha Mwangi of Grace Empowerment Church in Nakuru City also shared her perspective, stating that Tanzanian gospel singers exhibit a strong focus on their compositions, singing style, and rich biblical teachings in their music.

“They (Tanzanian singers) are not in competition with anyone when singing and are more focused and committed in their work,” said Pastor Mwangi.

In the past, Shusho was quoted in a section of the press describing some Kenyan singers as business-minded and church hoppers who are not keen to diligently serve the Evangelism Ministry.

 Christina Shusho [File, Standard]

Bahati Bukuku, a Tanzanian singer, has also significantly influenced the African continent with her uplifting praise and worship songs.

With her melodious voice and encouraging lyrics, she has garnered numerous awards. Some of her well-known songs include "Umewazidi Wote," "Mzee Tupa Tupa," "Kesho Fumbo," and "Dunia Haina Huruma."

Modern-day bands like Essence of Worship and AIC Changombe have also enjoyed considerable success in the country, with the former having visited Kenya on numerous occasions to minister.

Their strong YouTube presence coupled with high-quality productions have made them the go-to bands for uplifting worship and energetic praise songs that have now gained prominence in Kenyan churches.

Tanzanian Catholic churches are also a mainstay as far as melodious music is concerned and St Cecilia Arusha is behind some of the most-loved hit songs like 'Mshipi', 'Nani ni Nani', 'Bwana alikuwa tegemeo' and 'Wosia'.

In recent months, St Kizito Makuburi has taken over with songs such as 'Apewe Sifa', 'Wewe ni Mungu', 'Mimina' and 'Naomba Baraka'.

They were also one of the choirs at the Bomas of Kenya during the 2022 General Election.

 St.Kizito Makuburi during a studio session. [Instagram]

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