He arrives at our meeting venue a few minutes late but is quick to apologise for keeping me waiting. He is relieved when I show him the book that I had been reading to pass time. He asks to check the blurb, telling me he loves reading. He has an eclectic taste and usually reads 15 to 20 books a year.
He reads in phases and is currently into historical fiction based on the lives of real historical figures. He has read books on Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and others. When I recommend one based on the life of Thomas Cromwell, he adds the title to his growing list of books to be read, currently at 30.
“I have a list for everything,” he tells me as he types in the book title on his phone. I notice a waitstaff stealing glances at us.
Either Kanjii doesn’t notice or isn’t fazed by it. When I ask him how he ensures fame doesn’t get to his head, he says that he has always had the sense that he hasn’t achieved anything yet. That way, he manages to stay sane and grounded.
“I have this idea that God created me with a specific purpose in mind — I believe this for everyone — and the ultimate fulfillment of our lives is bringing God glory and so there is no end to that. There is no saying I’ve brought God all the glory now I can sit back. So if someone says I am famous or have accomplished so much, I don’t see it that way,” he says.
He recently came across a poster of his first-ever concert at All Saints Cathedral. On it, he had written his vision, a grand dream of building a music performance centre and creating music that was coming out of Africa and had an impact on the rest of the world.
“It was amazing seeing my 19-year-old self, what and how I was thinking and realising that I have done some of the things I set out to do, like creating worship music out of Africa.”
When he first started out, he underestimated how hard it was going to be. But then again, he says, no one usually knows - whether you’re starting a new business or a career.
“It’s like anything in life. It takes tonnes of effort and dedication to work on your craft and take it to the highest level possible.
“Acceptance is not guaranteed — just because you do something awesome does not mean that people will love it. When I was first starting out, a career as a musician was an unbeaten path.
“I had two or three people who were ahead of me who I thought I could emulate. These were people like Eric Wainaina and Pete Odera who were blazing a trail, trying to create a career out of music.”
Not to say it is not difficult now. While the internet has made it easier for artistes to reach their audience, for instance, it has also brought piracy with it.
“I have a mentor who tells me that ministry is pain-management and what he means is that your success with ministry is directly proportional to your ability to withstand that pain.
“But I think that is true about music and life in general, that the people with the most pain threshold have the highest chance of success and that has been something I have held close throughout my music journey.
“I figured out pretty early that I love music and that love was going to be with me all my life. So, at least at the core, sticking to my love of music has never wavered despite the challenges in the industry. I’m happy making music and touching the people that I touch,” he says.
Set us on fire
Set Us on Fire, his 10th album and second live worship album will be available early next month. It was recorded live in California because “to record a worship album with the true global representation we sought a space that was not only the melting pot of cultures but also one that in many ways represented the heart and soul of the media and entertainment space,” Kanjii says.
“I always try to have a clear idea on what I want to do and what God wants me to do for every project I embark on.
“I have been inspired for many years with this idea of Africa to the world and I have tried to express it in so many different ways.
“This album is my most daring expression of that. I think the rest of the church is missing out on what Africa has to offer and this album is my contribution to that, basically saying we can create world-class music that can be used by the global church.”
If you know your Bible well, then you’re familiar with the day of the Pentecost, when the followers of Jesus were gathered in one place and the Holy Spirit came down and everyone seemed to have been set on fire. That was the idea behind the album.
Kanjii explains: “It is calling on God to come down and enable us to change the world around us. There are so many things we see in the world today that need to be changed, from corruption to diseases, poverty, social inequality and so on. The prayer throughout the recording was to create a moment for the Holy Spirit to move and create combustion of God’s love to go out and change people’s lives.”
On family and marriage
Ten albums later, Kanjii cites his family as his greatest accomplishment. “I have a wonderful marriage and great children who are already engaging with the idea of purpose and living extraordinary lives and that for me is something I am extremely proud of.”
He always advises people who are looking to get married to find someone who inspires them to be better. His wife has empowered him to be the best version of himself. He is more patient and a better listener…
“Or so I think,” he says with a laugh. “You have to ask my wife. But I am a better person than I would have been without my wife and children. They keep me in check because I always try to show the best example of a life that is fully dedicated to God, which is fully engaged in living a meaningful life.”
One of the secrets to their happy marriage is good communication. Kanjii and his wife were in a long-distance relationship for two and a half years of the four years they dated before tying the knot.
All they had back then to communicate and express their feelings was email. “It made us really careful with what we said, always making sure you’re writing what you really mean and paying extra attention that you’re getting what the other person is saying. This has helped our communication,” he says.
He also advises taking walks together. When they want to discuss weighty issues, they go for a walk and have a ritual of taking walks every week or a couple of times a month.
While it can be intimidating for a man to have face to face conversations with their wives, he says, he feels that walks offer an opportunity to talk in a less intimidating way.
“It allows us to connect without the intensity of a face-to-face arrangement that men fear.”
Forty one years old now, Kanjii says one lessons life has taught him is being content with who and where he is.
“As I grow older, I have achieved a level of awareness and clarity on who I am and I am comfortable doing what I want to do, and have no problem not doing things I don’t want to.”