Review by Ogova Ondego and Phylis Luganda
Published October 3, 2007
Alfred Mtawali has just released a fourth music album. As is his habit, this one is also overtly evangelistic. But unlike before, this one features a full band performing Christian music in the Rhumba, Benga, Bango and traditional African styles. OGOVA ONDEGO and PHYLIS LUGANDA review Vunja Ngome za Shetani
Vunja Ngome Za Shetani (Break Satan’s Strong Holds), that runs the gamut of rhumba, benga, bango and traditional genres, is the fourth music album by Alfred Mtawali whose earlier works include Bwana Yesu (1997), Jeshi (2000) and Kifo Hakina Huruma (2003).
Vunja Ngome za Shetani, released in 2007, has one Giryama song “Muchimbire Shethani” that is also found on the Jeshi album. However Mchimbire Shethani has been replaced by Nzambe Nangai on the audio CD.
Mtawali, an avid guitar and keyboard player who also plays a few African musical instruments and whose greatest asset is his voice, first met with Akoth in 1996 when he was recording his songs Vumilia album and quickly incorporated her for the tape’s launch in Kilifi. Today, the duo is not just a couple but continue to compose, record and perform songs together. They have recorded albums in Dholuo, Kiswahili and Giriama. They say they want to do more music in Kigiryama as not many people know about this kind of music. Mtawali, who has worked with Bible Translation and Literacy since 1992 and has just completed the Kigiryama translation project that he has been working on with Steven Njomo, still finds time to perform despite his busy schedule at work.
The title song, Vunja Ngome za Shetani (Break Satan’s Fortresses), urges Christians to depend on God in order to overcome evil.
Like the first song, the second one, Bwana Wangu (My Lord), encourages humanity to rely on God to overcome the world and vagaries of life.
The third song, Nitamuona Bwana (I’ll see the Lord), is about the joy humanity will experience upon the return of Jesus Christ for the faithful.
Those who are discouraged and heavy-laden are promised deliverance by God in the Njooni Kwangu (Come to me). Asante Yesu (Thank You, Jesus) praises Jesus Christ and pledges loyalty to him.
Muchimbire Shethani, the sixth song, urges people to run away from Satan and his tricks for the Day of Judgment are near. Only by seeking help from Jesus Christ, the only way, can they escape the wrath of God.
Repetition has been used well in the performance allowing listeners to quickly learn the songs to sing along. Also the singers appear to be enjoying the songs from their facial expressions and dancing. The songs are not just entertaining but also encouraging and educative about the spiritual life.
Unlike the earlier works “Bwana Yesu, Jeshi, and Kifo Hakina Huruma” that were all produced on audio tape, this one is on both CD and VCD to keep up with the advancement in technology. Also, unlike in the previous works, multi-lingual vocalist and member of the Daystar University-based Afrizo Band, Hellen Akoth, keeps in the background on this one. Playing the keyboard, Akoth only gets animated on Muchimbire Shethani song on which she is the lead vocalist.
Mtawali says this recording has given his music a much needed breakthrough as the VCD-on which he says he spent an estimated Sh100000 (about US$1500)-is selling well both locally and internationally. It is selling in 250 stores across Australia and New Zealand, he says. In fact, Mtawali says he intends to have Bwana Yesu, Jeshi and Kifo Hakina Huruma on VCD as well. Vunja Ngome za Shetani is also on audio tape that cost about US$750 to produce.
Though it is commendable to both hear and see the performers on the Vunja Ngome za Shetani VCD, the value of this recording would have been enhanced if some appealing choreography, costumes, props and varying settings were employed on it.
The length of songs, too, could have been shortened for effect, i.e. leave the listener yearning for more. To keep the interest high, the songs could start fast and end fast instead of starting slowly and playing for at least six minutes before getting to the danceable climax as happens on the 13-minute Bwana Wangu (My Lord).
“As for the length of the songs,” Mtawali says, “we deliberately made them long just as Franco [the late Congolese maestro, Luambo Luanzo Makiadi] did. African songs don’t end; you stop when you get tired.”
As usual, standard Kiswahili has been used on this recording, something that is likely to connect with most users of Kiswahili.
Muchimbire Shethani, the song delivered in Kigiryama, stands out, with the versatile and multi-lingual performer Akoth in the lead role as vocalist. This appears to be an authentic song delivered authentically, complete with traditional costumes men with bare chests save for a shawl around their waists and women with khangas around their waists setting of makuti-thatched buildings and ocean in the background.The song has the allure of the traditional
African celebratory mood, the one that pulls everyone to join in the singing and the dancing without inhibition instead of watching the performance passively as happens in most modern music.
On the whole, this overtly evangelistic album with lots of Lingala music influence is as good communication on godly values as any can be.
Mtawali says proceeds from one of his albums is given to charity. “Sales from this album supports the work of Bible translation in Kenya besides helping facilitate medical camps run by Australian doctors in Kenya every two years.”
Vunja Ngome za Shetani is distributed in Oceania by the Queensland-based Wycliffe Bible Translators whose director is Mark Bradshaw (firstname.lastname@example.org).