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Where is the gospel music since onset of Covid-19 pandemic?

By Jasmine Atieno
Friday, September 11th, 2020
Chris Zanoti.
In summary

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Kenyan music industry has been viewed to have gone ‘MIA’. Jasmine Atieno went out to find out what gospel artistes have been up to during the period.

The Covid-19 crisis has been one that brought the whole world to its knees, so to speak.

With worship places locked down, a majority of Christians openly claimed this was an intimidation towards God’s power and authority.

Some people too—who seemed opposed to the Christian ministry—even openly challenged the Christian spiritual leaders for not being able to “heal” the novel coronavirus, as hundreds of those infected succumbed to it.

Well, during the period, many gospel artistes were affected in diverse ways, with some finding the going so hard while others still found grace to keep praising God for his glory. Singer Mbuvi shares that the Covid-19 pandemic period has been one of the most productive periods ever in his 20 years of experience in the gospel music industry. As much as some of his plans were thrown into disarray, there is a lot more that has come to fruition too.

He tells Spice: “This period has taught me that you can always do something different. I had plans that were destructed.

I was to do a few tours, but I was only able to do one. But between March and now, I have been able to record more than 10 songs, some which are already out.

My music label, Panache Plume, has also been able to record more than 10 new artistes.

We are giving the artistes very affordable offers, so that at least by the time the pandemic is over there would be no time that would have gone to waste, while they have a lot of content to put out and share with the world.”

Besides his music, the Wewe Mkuu hit singer hosts two TV shows, both of which were started during the pandemic period. Young gospel musician Joe Tingseh claims that while many people were affected by the pandemic, he was not affected in anyway.

“I can confidently say that I have not been affected. The gospel cannot be affected because we are the people of God.

The churches being locked only affected the non-believers who don’t understand the true meaning of the Church.

The church became whole because more than ever, the crisis taught people to depend on God.

And I have to say God has opened even more doors for me during this season. I got more airplay than before, not just locally, but even internationally.

I am currently working on an album, which should be out soon,” says Tingseh.

Fame, clout and money

According to Custodian Music chief executive officer and artiste Jolline Katama, this pandemic proved to separate the real gospel musicians from the fake—who had joined the ministry for clout, fame or money.

“The industry seems silent because most of the opportunities that people were chasing after, got stuck.

No Groove Awards, so no need for the trendy music. In fact, when people started shaming the gospel leaders, most of such artistes ran away.

They only use the bible for their music content. This has only proved that most of these people are not driven towards the true ministry.

As Custodian Music, we are for purpose over validation. This is how we are driven to tune in with God. We definitely need to pull up our socks,” she says.

During the period, Jolline released one song she had recorded in February titled Faith Is All I Have, unaware that the world would soon face one of its most trying times. She is currently rooting for prayer camps in Kilifi county.

Nairobi based artiste Barnabas, shares that in fact it has been a wonderful season for him and there is not much to complain about.

Being a student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and with the institutions closure, it gave him the time to do so much more for his music career.

“I bought a keyboard, which I have been learning to play since May and I am getting better at it every day.

I am also learning to play the guitar and I have gotten so much better at them.

I am sure by next year, I should be able to do live performances. In addition to this, I have been working with Waruks Production and I have recorded 10 songs and an album, and we are now just strategising on how to put this music out.

I have gotten better at my songwriting skills and vocals, and I have taken the time through research to study the music business. So, yeah, next year I’ll be back with a bang,” says Barnabas.

Top gospel musician Gloria Muliro also shares that it has been a reaping season in disguise for her. She tells Spice she cannot complain about having to deal with the cancellation of events and live performances because she has been very active on her social media platforms.

“I have done even more in this season than I had expected; first by supporting in kind so many widows in the western Kenya region.

I also released a song in March called Look to Jesus, and then we did a challenge to it, which brought together young people from all over the country. The winning three teams won cash prizes,” she says.

She adds: “I currently have a new song out, Nakubaliana, which is doing so well, and we are currently doing the ‘Nakubaliana Praise Team’ challenge, which aims to bring together all praise teams from across Kenya.

The winning church will win a piano and cash prize. I am hoping to get support to do even more for them.

And since I am in the village, I have also been doing farming. So, yes, God has been faithful to me,” shares Gloria.

Upendo Ule Ule hitmaker and Pessafy App brand ambassador Alice Kamande says despite being affected by church closures and a lot of concerts being cancelled, the social media space has been a valuable platform. 

“Pessafy App was founded in May and it is an e-shop (market place) for guys to buy and sell stuff.

This has been keeping me busy during this period, but aside from that, I also have done a lot of music recording.

I have a song that should be released any time now. I have also engaged myself into new projects and also being in fashion and design industry, which has also been very affected, I am learning how to move away from the normal. While at it, we are just trying to figure out what next,” says Alice.

Badly hit

However, there are other artistes whose very livelihood were strongly hit by the pandemic. Nairobi-based musician Chris Zanoti is one of them.

“Yes there have been challenges and I can say that only the strongest of us have stood strong in the faith.

With the outbreak of gengetone wave, most of the fake gospel artistes quickly jumped ship,” he says.

He adds, “I have been affected yes, because my side hustle is catering, which was adversely affected due to the closure of eateries.

And this was my source of income that I depended on to fund my music, as incoming revenue dipped.

But things have again started opening up and slowly getting better. I have a single that I’ve been working on since January, and it should be out around September 25.”

Musician Simon Msafiri aka Ndesah intimates that with his jewellery business losing income, things have not been exactly easy, but not everything has been lost.

He says: “I make handmade accessories and it’s the money I get from this venture that I use to finance my music.

So, this time most projects have been hard to handle. But this has not affected the ministry as such because I have been using the online platforms to push that; nothing can stop the ministry.

I have been working on an album that I am planning to release this month.”

While being a full time minister always was a joy for top coastal gospel artiste John Issa, this pandemic has made him realise that indeed it’s also important to have a side hustle to supplement their income.

“The past four months, especially, have not been easy because there have been no shows, adding to the closure of churches.

As much as there are royalties you know that is not something to even depend on. So, I had to start my own business, as a side hustle.

As an artiste this has been a good time to compose myself; more importantly, to reflect and reconnect more with God because I never really had this much time before.

I have a new song that is set to be released before the end of this month,” Issa shares.

Whether the industry players will pick up from where it was pre-pandemic seems to be a matter of wait and see, with seemingly a majority of gospel musicians gone silent since March.

With the economy slowly opening up, the eyes will be cast on the gospel music scene to see how it picks up the pieces.

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