Kambua Manundu Mathu arrives for our interview looking resplendent in an ankara skirt and equally striking headband tied around her short, red afro. As with most people on TV, she is much smaller in person. Curious stares follow her as she walks up to me across the café beaming that all-too-familiar smile. That smile that thousands have long since come to associate with Kubamba, the TV gospel show.
Kambua’s TV debut on the show came 2010, although she initially started off hosting another show, Rauka. It has now been five years and the songstress has become a household name.
Kambua’s other role on TV was as the host of a programme, Walk in Divine Health, by Tabibu Cures International Limited, an alternative health and wellness centre, which was run by her father Professor Manundu up to the time of his death in April 2014. Kambua has continued to host the show and appears in print advertisements for the outfit. In the absence of her father, she has, inevitably become the face of Tabibu Cures.
Having come to the limelight as a musician, Kambua says she never actually set out to be on TV.
“I met this producer at an event that I was attending as an artist and she asked if I was interested in doing a TV show. I was very intimidated at the auditions because there were a lot of very beautiful and intelligent ladies, some of whom had already been on TV while I was still a fairly new face. They called me back that afternoon and told me I had gotten the job and could start the next Sunday!” she says.
Not a hobby
Kambua studied music at Ambrose University in Canada then came back to Kenya after her graduation in 2009. She had recorded some music before leaving the country but had been away for quite some time.While her song “Nishikilie” was getting a bit of airplay, fans didn’t know the person behind it. She then set her sights on establishing herself and her music in the industry which was no mean feat.
“People are reluctant to give you a chance when they have no idea who you are. To them you’re just another pretty face with big dreams,” she muses. “You really have to prove yourself. I had to show that this wasn’t just a hobby and that I had really put a lot of thought into it and it was what God had called me to do.”
“I have since undertaken numerous projects. One favourite is Saluti with Daddy Owen - who is a really gifted musician- and other female artists. Esther Wahome is one of the first people who ever gave me a break in the industry here. I remember trying to get interviews and she was doing a TV show at the time. I would approach other shows and they would be like, ‘Who is she?
Tell her to leave her music and we’ll listen to it.’ But Esther...she just told me they would be shooting on a particular day and invited me to the show. So I went on ‘Shangilia’ and it just opened up a whole new world for me, and I greatly honour and admire Esther,” she says.
Is there a chance that she could have chosen to become a secular musician? Kambua reveals that when she first went off to college, she hadn’t actually defined that. “I did a bit of singing in Canada where I used to represent my college doing repertoire from classical and jazz music.
I really enjoyed it but I felt that for me, music needs to be more than people just being entertained and that’s where I started the journey of questioning and deciding that I wanted to do Gospel. I was set on that by the time I moved back here. I’ve also grown up in a Christian home and so I was just getting back to the basics of what I had grown up knowing. I felt that my faith is what keeps me grounded and without that you don’t get Kambua.”
Speaking of family, Kambua is the second born in her family with two brothers. Her mother, Evangelist Lois Manundu, pastors a church in Mlolongo.
Kambua is open about the loss of her father. “What I can say about the journey of grief is that no one prepares you for it but it also gets better with time. When it first happened, there are those who told me it would get better...I didn’t want to hear it or believe it.
Losing someone is very painful in a way I can’t quite articulate and I thank God that there are people who’ve walked with me and my family. I thank God for a strong mother. It’s probably been toughest on her but I see her keep pushing on and that encourages me as well,” she says.
One day at a time
“I miss my dad. The magnitude of that hasn’t changed and probably never will, but when I think of him, I don’t feel the pain I used to feel. Grief is a process and it’s different for everybody. We should allow those around us to grieve in the best way they know how - within reasonable boundaries because it can lead to things like depression and we need to look out for that. I just thank God that he’s allowed me to take it one day at a time.”
Kambua is now married to pastor and businessman, Jackson Mathu. It’s been almost three years since the two exchanged vows at the Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club in 2012. The singer is however very tight-lipped about her husband. I do, however, glean that they planned not to have children early in their marriage because they intended to spend time getting to know one another first. Given that she loves children, are there any plans to have her own in the near future? She only laughs and tells me that all will happen in Gods timing.
Being a Christian woman in the public eye must come with a lot of scrutiny and pressure. She has quite the conspicuous g-clef tattoo on her arm, and one which she does not hide. Of course there has been backlash.
“I learnt a long time ago that you can never live up to people’s expectations and it totally liberated me. I tell people that I am Kambua, a Christian woman, but I am not perfect and I am in need of grace just like everyone else. It will happen - I will fall and I will have weak moments, but it shouldn’t be something that would cause somebody else to lose their faith in God. I am only a vessel, I am not God,” she says.
With close to 200,000 fans on Facebook, her popularity on social media is evident. This has translated into receiving good traction for her blog, Reflections of an African girl. The monthly posts are surprisingly very open, well thought out and written, and laden with spirit and inspiration.
“I’m an introvert and I internalise a lot of things so when I have an avenue to express what I feel and what I’m going through, I take it. I grew up journaling but I would throw these out after a while. I felt my writing needed to be more than that.
I felt God wanted me to share it but I was very resistant for a long time. I write about things that I’m going through without coating them, and I didn’t want to be vulnerable in that way. I’m amazed at what happens when you surrender yourself to God directing your steps. I realised that my struggles aren’t mine alone and sometimes you articulate things that others are going through as well and that encouraged me to keep writing.”
She further explains that writing a book is the grand plan, but the time isn’t right yet. You see, Kambua feels there are things she still needs to experience before she can have a book worthy of sitting on a shelf.
Music being her first love, she is looking to get into more of that this year.
Kambua hopes to release the video of a song she has recorded with American singer Anthony Faulkner. She has also recorded a tribute song to her late dad and is gearing to shoot the video. In addition to that, she’s also getting into production and hopes to release her 10 track album, her third, later this year.
From career highlights like winning the Groove Female Artist of the Year 2009 award to curtain raising for Cece Winans in 2010 and William McDowell last year, Kambua reveals that she’s now at a good point in her life. She has evolved from when she first released “Nishikilie” and has since learnt that she can be as free spirited as she allows herself to be.
She states, “I’m just diving in and loving the woman that I’m becoming and I hope that it can also inspire other women to be their authentic selves without feeling like they need to apologise. If you’re a square among circles, it’s okay. I’m not trying to fit in anymore. Life’s too short to blend in and I’m just trying to be the best that God intended for me to be.”