By Ogova Ondego
Published May 27, 2016
We have caught up with science teacher and gospel musician Geraldine Akinyi Oduor, six years after she won a Groove Award for gospel music. We capture her thoughts on music, commerce, technology, and spirituality ahead of the 11th Groove Awards with Safaricom gala ceremony on June 1, 2016.
ArtMatters.Info last wrote about you in 2010; what have you been up to since then?
I am grateful to ArtMatters.Info for the opportunity to share my views on its platform. This far the Lord has been so faithful and true to His word. I have so far seen His love, grace and mercy in my ministry and do confidently say that I am not the lady I was six years ago. The Lord has kept me in the faith.
How many more albums have you recorded and released since then?
In 2010 I only had two albums consisting of 10 songs each; a total of 20 songs. I have recorded three more albums, bringing the number to five albums and 50 songs; each album consists 10 songs. The challenges I have so far gone through in life and in the Christian ministry have made me stronger and better focused.
What challenges are these you have gone through in life and in ministry, and how have they made you stronger and better focused?
The challenges are many. There’s lots of pressure from both within or without. People’s expectations of one sometimes are also too high. At times you may feel so vulnerable. This makes one to rely more on God’s grace; not personal abilities. The more one goes up, the more one is likely to get so engrossed in ministry that one neglects the basics of salvation like prayer or one’s original local assembly.
The gala ceremony of Groove Awards with Safaricom shall be held on June 1, 2016; what do you see as the place and role of initiatives such as Groove Awards in Kenya?
Groove Awards has helped expose and bring up many new, young, up-and-coming talents on the gospel music scene. It has also offered a platform for national awards in the gospel scene which hadn’t been there before.
You once won a prize in Groove Awards for Gospel music; when was this?
I won a Groove Award for Nyanza Counties in 2010.
But you surely are a Nairobi, not Nyanza, artist; how did you come to be considered a Nyanza region musician?
The Award was Nyanza-based. I may not know much because the voting was done from all over the country. My music is 80% done in Kiswahili and not in mother tongue. God however used it for good and gave me a good startup in Nyanza where I don’t reside but trace my roots from.
How much prize money did you get?
Around that time there wasn’t any monetary attachment to the awards or any tangible reward save for the glass trophy which I keep as a reminder of the same.
What did that win mean for you?
It was a humbling and exciting experience at the same time since it was my first ever award. I thank God and the people who voted for me. I would however advise this generation and fellow musicians not to dwell so much on awards as that’s not our ultimate goal and prize, much as in whatever we do in life, it’s good to be recognised and appreciated. Let the Awards never bring rifts, enmity and strife among artists. We gospel musicians are all equal and complement one another in ministry. It doesn’t mean that if you are awarded then you are better than the rest. After all, awards come and go, but the gospel of Christ continues.
Are you suggesting that gospel awards cause ‘rifts, enmity and strife’ among gospel musicians? How is that?
Rifts or enmity depend on the spiritual maturity of the artists. That’s why I advocate for gospel musicians to start ministry from the grassroots in their local church. In such church groups, people are trained to mature up in the ministry such that by the time one comes to the national limelight, such squabbles, scandals and rifts would be greatly reduced, if not avoided. It also helps musicians to be directly accountable to spiritual authority or pastor. This helps in instilling in us morals as well as providing checks and balances.
How many more times were you nominated for Groove Awards, and in which categories?
I was nominated for three consecutive years. I however wasn’t too keen on the same any more.
Why weren’t you keen on winning again after your victory in 2010?
Just over the years, we learn and outgrow certain things. The Bible says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and its righteousness and all these other things shall be added unto you.” It’s a bit risky for the ministry side of gospel music to focus your attention on gospel awards. Much as it isn’t evil either, the ultimate prize-giver is Christ after we have won the race. If the awards come, let them come and find you labouring in the Lord’s vineyard!
You haven’t featured again among nominees over the past two or three years; why is that?
I haven’t featured in the past few years, yes; I thank God for that. There’s a time for everything. The main aim of the award is to expose emerging talent. Right now I mentor hundreds of young people in the industry at so many levels who are very promising and must also get a chance to grow. It would be ridiculous to keep hustling for votes with the same people who look up to you for advice and refer to you as ‘mum’.
Which albums have you recorded and released since then?
By 2009 I had the albums ‘Damu Ya Yesu’ and ‘Mungu Wa Biblia’. Towards the end of 2011 I released an album titled ‘Neno Lako’ in which I featured Dan Shilla and Christina Shusho of Tanzania. Around the same time I also did a 10-track album in Dholuo (Luo language) called ‘Dongo Dongo’. In late 2015 I again started working on my latest album, ‘Alfa na Omega’, off which I have so far done three videos: ‘Hakuna kama Wewe’, ‘Watosha’ and ‘Roho Mtakatifu’. I have featured Mireille Basirwa, a Congolese-born, Belgium-based singer, in the videos.
Have you featured Basirwa in all the three videos?
I have featured the worshiper in the song “Roho Mtakatifu” that talks about the Holy Spirit. I have also featured another Congolese musician, MassMasylia, in another song, “Unaweza”.
With my music mentor, Mary Atieno, I have done two songs. One is a Kiswahili worship song called “Utukuzwe”. She and I co-wrote the song. I was keen to learn from her how she writes songs, her skills having amazed me over the years. Her songs are Bible-based and scripturally-sound.
The other song we did, “Hono”, is in both Dholuo and Kiswahili. It talks about the miraculous God we serve. The song starts in Dholuo in the first two verses but is summed up in Kiswahili towards the end.
I have also done yet another song with Dan Shilla Ngosso, the one with whom I did another song, “Msaada Wangu”, in my earlier album. Like “Msaada Wangu”, I also wrote “Alfa na Omega”, and only featured Dan Shilla Ngosso in the singing.
Has your manner of work changed in any way over the past six years?
I have had more responsibilities but God’s grace so far has been sufficient. The ministry has grown with its demands too. I travel more often for missions and it’s been humbling to witness what the Lord is doing in the lives of people.
What is the status of Gospel music in Kenya now?
Quite a lot has changed. The Lord has raised many more people. The era of doing albums is almost gone as most people now prefer to do single songs and videos. Many more people rely on the internet to download songs as opposed to buying of full music albums as was the case before. Many more people are also struggling to up their game in terms of doing high quality productions.
Say something about this new way of music business: music streaming, ring tones, etc. How many Kenyans are using it? Have you, also, adopted it?
The online music streaming business is yet to pick up and benefit the Kenyan musician but we are hoping to reap from it soon. The music is uploaded online mostly by registered companies. Whoever wants to download does so at a cost then the companies are supposed to pay the musician a certain percentage of the income. It’s however been quite a challenge for the musician to ascertain the exact amount of income one is entitled to as most of these companies don’t avail the statistics/figures of the downloads.
We also have ringtones and ring back tones which is sales through mobile phones. This has also been slowed lately by the squabbles between the Music Copyrights Society of Kenya and the content providers. The artists are yet to benefit fully. We are hoping that all will be well soon.
What sort of music videos are artists in Kenya making?
The videos have gone a notch higher in terms of quality to be able to keep up with the growing technology.
The bottom line for me, even as I struggle to keep up with the quality of productions, is to keep true to the message of the gospel I have sang over the years.
Mary Atieno has taught me that songs sang under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit will touch lives for many generations to come. That the MESSAGE in the song is of the essence; it precedes everything else.
Are artists in Kenya as competitive as their counterparts in, say, Nigeria and South Africa?
The Kenyan artists are trying. Gospel music is about the gospel message which must be inspired by the Holy Spirit depending on the needs of people as God deems fit. It would therefore not be fair to start comparing ourselves so much with other. The gospel of Christ remains one. The method of delivering it may differ from nation to nation, all to God’s glory.
But music is surely much more than just the gospel; it is an industry; a big business?
There’s the business side of the music industry and the ministry side of it for those doing gospel music. It’s important to balance between the business and ministry sides.
Gospel musicians can be paid for performances but that shouldn’t be the ultimate aim because gospel is about spreading good news. If it was about money all the way, then some of us wouldn’t have heard of the good news or received salvation. This is because we didn’t have any money at all to have been capable of paying a musician. So many people have testified of giving their lives to the Lord through our songs. The balancing act between message and commerce should be done wisely.
Would you say mass media–radio, television, newspapers, websites, blogs–are interested in, and are supportive of, Gospel music in Kenya?
Yes and No. For those who remain true to the word and call of Christ, God has a way of advertising whatever little effort they are making. A day’s encounter with God’s favour in terms of marketing and publicity is worth more than millions of shillings invested in media coverage. God inspires the gospel and delivers it across at the most appropriate time.
What challenges do Gospel musicians in Kenya face?
The challenges are so many ranging from lack of funds, piracy to jostling for space in the mainstream media. It’s becoming extremely difficult for young talents to breakthrough due to the high cost of quality production.
What solutions would you suggest for such challenges?
If it’s in the gospel music ministry God has called you to, He’ll make a way for your work to get to the target audience. Be wary of quick fixes and faster rise to fame. Wait on God to uplift you for when He does, nobody can bring you down. Young people need to be taught that ministry begins in the local church, not the broadcast studio. Sing and be a blessing in the local church choir/worship team. The government should also put measures in place to curb piracy so that musicians can get a good return for their labour.
What are you focusing on now?
More than just singing, I want to live to inspire somebody. I desire to impact the lives of people and make a lasting investment in terms of bringing change through spiritual nourishhment. Fame comes and goes. But people whose lives are changed are for eternity. My ultimate aim is to see the fulfillment of the dream God gave me: ushering people into His presence through worship.
Where are you likely to be in, say, two-to-five years from now?
I see myself establishing a foundation where young people or those struggling with life can get help. Many people, from what I read in my inbox daily, want to come out of the mess that is homosexuality, lesbianism, sexual immorality and the stigma of HIV & Aids. I want to teach this generation to submit to the principles of God’s word in its simplicity.