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Mary Atieno’s career going strong 30 years later

By David Odongo | June 25th 2012

By David Odongo

On Monday morning, Mary Atieno’s phone rang incessantly. News had filtered out that the celebrated singer was dead and social networks were abuzz with the news.

“Even my father called to ask if it was true that I had passed on,” says Atieno.

But this is not the first time Atieno has brushed with death. In 1978, at the age of 17, she was diagnosed with a heart disease. Although she was generally a strong and active child, several tests showed she would not live into adulthood.

No problem

When doctors became sceptical about her chances of surviving the ailment, Atieno sought refuge in Jesus.

“I turned to prayers. I knew God created me and it was only him who could heal me,” says Atieno, Kenya’s celebrated gospel artiste.

“I prayed. I promised God that if I got healed, I would serve Him for the rest of my life. He answered my prayers. When I went for another test, there was no problem at all with my heart. Subsequent tests have shown my heart is healthy,” she says.

The then teenager got saved and started singing. In two years, she had released her first album despite many challenges including her blindness.

Thirty years have passed since then and Atieno is still going strong, inspiring millions through her songs.

Her latest album, Njooni Tumsifu, confirmed to her many fans that her magnificent voice still rings as clear as it did when they first heard it.

“I have finished writing ten songs and I am about to get into the studio anytime. Two songs are in Luo, seven in Kiswahili and one in English,” she says.

This is indeed good news for many music lovers as it means Atieno’s album will hit the market before Christmas.

“I will also shoot the videos simultaneously for a DVD version of the album.”

Unlike many artistes of similar genre, who have risen only to quickly fade away, Atieno has been able to maintain a constant if not increasing trans-generational appeal and presence, her songs seeming to possess such qualities that have endeared her to the hearts and souls of many.

Atieno nostalgically recalls her first song to play on radio.

“The only station available was Voice of Kenya. I was so elated when in 1980, they played my song, Namshukuru Yesu Kwa Wokovu,” says Atieno who is also a secondary school teacher at Buru Buru Girl’s High School in Nairobi.

Digital revolution

With 12 albums under her belt, Atieno has seen many artistes come and go, but greatest of all, she has also witnessed the digital revolution.

“Technology has made things easier and faster. The artistes recording today have more advanced technology. I have also exploited technology to sell my music as well as reach out to many fans,” says Atieno although she bemoans the fact that with technology, music piracy has hit alarming rates.

Atieno reveals that she wouldn’t have been a great artiste had it not been for the late choirmaster Isaiah Simeka.

“He taught me all about music. My talent had to be guided and he was there for me,” says Atieno who has three children Melody, Harmony and Precious.

“I draw strength from God, and my family. My husband Pastor Alex Ominde is my rock,” she says of her family.  Together with her husband, Atieno is a pastor at Sanctuary of Hope Worship Centre in Nairobi

Atieno has no time for self pity and calls upon other physically challenged persons to do their best in every field since God has given talent to everyone.

“Never be discouraged, always grab life and live to your fullest. Anytime you are feeling low, read Job 11:16-18.”

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