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Which way for Kenya’s gospel music industry?

By Grace Wachira
Friday, January 15th, 2021
Juliani.
In summary

Kenya’s gospel scene has been on the down low, especially since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country. Save for the notable solo and praise and worship virtual concerts that went down last year, 2020’s gospel scene was seemingly in the cold. But what could 2021 hold for this sector? Grace Wachira sought to talk to a few industry players.

The year 2021 started with a ‘bang’. Riddled with pun, netizens went hard noting that they did not ask for a 2021 song citing the events that occurred the previous year when one Justina Syokau sang that the year would be “our” year.

Nonetheless, the energetic singer did not hold back when she penned her jams for the New Year titled Twendi Twendi Wani (Mwaka Wa Restoration), which has since its release on December 29, 2020, has garnered close to 500,000 views on YouTube.

One of the gospel fraternity’s stakeholders is event planner and K24 TV’s Switch show producer Gertrude Ndavi.

She tells Spice that the in-attendance gigs were some of the major features that made the gospel scenes dull in the past year. 

“But even in the thick of things, despite the lack of money, we realised as an industry that we could do much more even online and that trend will not stop anytime soon.

Our artistes will release more music as some did last year and I can tell you, lessons about time and financial management have been learnt,” she says.

She, however, opines that going back to basics would get the gospel perspective back on track.

“Even so, the greatest shifts we will observe is how our artistes will draw the line between ministry and showbiz,” says Gertrude.

Shifting focus

The writing on the wall is bold and clear; the gospel scene needs a mighty turn-around, back to its former glory.

Nonsizi Agnes.

According to rapper-cum-pastor and TV presenter Anthony Mwangi aka Mr T, the slackness in the country’s gospel ministry and music industry wasn’t brought about by the ravaging coronavirus. In fact, he says, the sector took a pause way back in 2018.

“We cannot continue to lie to ourselves. We are not doing well as an industry.

Before we even get into our music quality, what kind of lives are we leading?

How have we stooped so low to even celebrate children before marriage? Then what doctrines are we propagating? Secular artistes are walking down the aisle yet we?” he posed.

He cites that among some of the reasons that have caused the industry to take a slump is the fact that artistes shifted focus.

“It’s about the fame and money now. Our so-called gospel artistes are about status and opportunities that they can bag.

It is no longer about spreading God’s love or even hope, and that has caused even our audience to take a breather from supporting us.

“If 2020 taught us anything, it is that there was sieving just like the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:15.

Now we know those that are doing it for the ministry or for the fame and money,” says Mr T.

Singer-songwriter and performing gospel artiste Moji Shortbabaa has been consistent in churning out music through last year. He admits that 2020 was obviously a different year that forced many people to change tact.

“We did not end the year on the usual high as compared to previous years. We had lots of virtual concerts and on television and that was what we had to do, given the pandemic and as even as the curtains came down on the year, we cannot ignore the new music that was released over the period.

We had artistes release a lot of new music and that’s a great tell-tale sign that this year things may look up,” says the Dance Ya Kanisa hitmaker.

That not withstanding, Moji is quick to point out that a majority of the Kenyan audience choses quality over quantity.

“It doesn’t matter the genre or the song’s Beats Per Minute; as long as the message uplifts and encourages, it will be received.

Grounded music has to come from a good place and by a good place, I mean the word of God,” he says.

Moji intimates that by the mere fact that God is in (music), attention will be drawn. “He will draw people to Himself and artistes will not need to work so hard for the numbers or fame,” he adds.

Need for redemption

Reiterating Mr T’s sentiments is music commentator and artiste, talent and brand manager at Terazo New Media, Agnes Nonsizi.

She points out that the standards in the gospel industry have plummeted in a rate that requires a lot of effort from the industry, or ministry players to redeem.

“No one is willing to come out and address firmly the current state yet, but the standards have fallen so much.

Gospel music in Kenya is no longer what it used to be, say 10 or so years ago. It has been compromised and the purpose has changed.

When we see our ministers of the gospel lead questionable lifestyles without hiding, and running away from correction, it tells us something is really wrong,” she says.

Having managed quite a number of talents, Nonsizi says there is a thin line between gospel music as a ministry and as a moneymaking career.

She says: “If an artiste decides to go the ministry way, let them go the whole mile, but if they decide to monetise it, they should do so for the long haul as well. What they need to do is to maintain professionalism when at it.”

However, Nonsizi adds, audiences should also understand that artistes still need to foot their bills and should therefore meet them halfway.

“There was a time gospel music was big. It was much bigger than the secular music, but now, the industries are incomparable.

Again, let’s not admonish the artistes for making an effort to earn from the music.

They have needs too that require finances, and many of them did actually chose to pursue the music as a career,” she tells Spice.

Even then, she notes that with the right inspiration and mentorship, it is possible to get the industry back on the track.

“A few of our artistes are still getting it right and those are the ones that may be our hope this year. They have not lost the essence of gospel music.

If you observe, a lot of the streamed music this period has been foreign, particularly from Tanzania,” she observes.

Beyond the boarders

The kind of music our brothers across the boarders have been churning out seems to be well packaged and loaded with the God’s word.

“If you are craving for mutura and you are given samosa, even though the content is meat, you will still go for your samosa in the long run, and that is what is happening now.

There is hunger for well-done quality, uplifting, Christ-centric music and that is the direction our industry should take.

The relevance ship has long sailed, and it’s time for the ministry; showbiz should now take a seat,” says Mr T.

On the brighter side though, rap maestro Juliani, who this week is set to release his latest album Masterpiece, is hopeful that after the Covid-19 pandemic, there will be many live concerts and shows.

“If the numbers we observed during the virtual concerts are anything to go by, excellent concerts with proper live music is the direction we are headed.

There will be no in-between and mediocre music genres thatI chose not to delve into will fade away; that is what consumers are yearning for; great live music,” says Juliani in conclusion.

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