Legendary St Stephen's choir has nurtured big names in music


A section of St Stephen's Church choir during a sunday worship service. [Courtesy]

As the history of St. Stephen's Jogoo Road church has evolved from a wood and mabati affair in 1923 along Jackson Road (Parliament Road) to what it is today, so has the choir.

The choir has grown from having only an organ player to becoming a bubbling team of 150 members. Initially, it began as a church organ entertainment instrument played by Sister Martin from the Church Army College to attract the congregants. Later, Graham Hyslop took over the same role.

However, it wasn't until Prof. George Zenoga Zake was recruited that locals started participating actively in the choir.

Zenoga bore the dream of the church by establishing the St. Stephen's ACK Jogoo Road choir.

The choir gained prominence when Prof. Zake, along with five other formidable musicians, composed the Kenyan national anthem by blending the Anglican liturgy with the Sukuma tune.

During the independence celebrations, the church choir (St. Stephen's) had the opportunity to perform the National Anthem under the guidance of Prof. Zake, Peter Kibukosya, and Prof. Washington Omondi.

Two years later, Darius Mbela, who served as the government Secretary of State, assumed leadership and played a vital role in assembling a pool of talented musicians, including George Masumbuko, Chris Sikukuu, Jeff Mwamrizi, Jacob Matuku, and Wycliffe Aura.

The team continued to fuse Anglican Church, African tunes, and dance to create worship music. The choir recorded its first albums in 1976 and 1977, which caught the attention of the first President, Jomo Kenyatta.

A section of members of St Stephen's church choir Jogoo Road. [Courtesy]

After Mzee Kenyatta's passing in 1978, the choir took center stage in the following days with songs that captured the grief of the nation. St. Stephen's choir became a part of past Presidents' entertainment menus. For many years, prominent political figures including Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Charles Rubia, and Tom Mboya, found their way to St. Stephen's church.

The choir has also participated in the Kenya Music Festival, the National Council of Churches Festival, and Kenya Christian Choirs Association Festivals.

Additionally, they have been involved in the Kenya Anglican Youth Organization, International Hymn Festival, and One Song Festival. At one point, they received the Guinness Stout award for outstanding musical excellence.

Furthermore, the choir has ventured onto the international stage, taking part in the International Church Music Festival held in the UK, Switzerland, and Italy.

During the Eucharistic Congress in 1985, when Pope John Paul visited Kenya, and also during the All Africa Games, the choir played a leading role in providing entertainment. St Stephen’s Cathedral is also where gospel artist Mary Atieno, acapella group Kayamba Africa and Muungano National Choir emerged and sprung to life.