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What passes as gospel music in Kenya is nothing close to gospel

By Charles Juma | May 7th 2015 | 3 min read

Perhaps you have Bahati’s mama or Willy Paul’s lala salama as your mobile phone ringtone and when the songs are sang, your eyes fill with mist when you remember your sins. You have heard the songs been referred as the greatest gospel songs in Kenya in recent times.

Hold your horses:

Let us start with definition: A gospel song is a highly emotional evangelical vocal music with referencing lyrics of a Christian nature. With Gospel being teachings and belief related to the life and times of Jesus Christ on Earth. That is why gospel music falls in the genre of sacred music thus relating to or used in religious worship dedicated to a deity or religious purpose.

Listening to Bahati’s song Mama or Willy Paul’s lala salama you get the feeling that our disc jockeys have not known that what they are playing are not sacred, neither are they gospel  songs. They just play them under gospel especially during Sunday shows as entertainment products for the marketplace and the aesthetic feelings that come with them. Otherwise, it would be like playing Verckys’ and Veve‘s song Ndona  in a funeral!

But the lyrics of the songs place them into a different category far from sacred gospel: Odes or Dirges, defined as a lyric poem, usually expressing exalted emotion in a complex scheme of rhyme and meter and   music, an instrumental piece or setting for a song, composed as a lament for somebody who has died respectively. And precisely so, Bahati’s Mama and Willy Paul‘s lala salama are songs about dead people one is a mother and the other a father.

If so then we should also be  listening to Kanda Bongo Man’s - Yesu Christu, Mbilia Bel's - Nadina, DR. Niko Nico Kassanda- Mokili ya zambe or Tabu Ley Rochereau: Muzina on Citizen's Kubamba, KTN's  Tukuza or NTV’S Cross Over. Closer home we have D.O Masiani’s song of the sins of Adam in the Garden of Eden, not to be confused with Mary Atieno’s  Adamu na Eva (Adam & Eve).

One of the greatest Odes to have been composed by an African artist is Testament Ya Boule (Testament of late Boule- tribute to an Aunt who raised him) by Lutumba Simaro, Franco & le T.P. O.K. Jazz  (soloist -Maladge De Lugendo. This is where most of the songs you hear in our stations would rightly fall and be played in context.

Joining Simaro  is such  great composition of odes and Dirges are  Lucky Dube -Rember me of a lost father, Benga maestros Migori Superstars also known as Kasongo famed with Angelo Jawer, (Angelo the singer), Tho Omaro (The death of Omaro); their dirge lyrics are complete with Bible verses read out by one Jabez Owuor. Lawrence Awino (Awino Lawi) gave us Rapar Oyona (Remembrance of Oyona the drummer) yet they don’t feature under our gospel songs because correctly so they are Odes and Dirges, so are mama and Lala salama!

When you throw in Willy Paul’s Tam Tam featuring Size 8 and you are all on a whole new genre of a love song passing as gospel. Even his latest’s single mapenzi doesn’t fall in neither gospel nor sacred genres!

At all times, I will always go with among others Caroline Omwaya of Jerusalem dala maler, Carol Wanjiru of Riria ndona thina, Angela Chibalonza, Mary Atieno, and Emali Town choir as true gospel singers.

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