Grateful, nervous, overwhelmed, surprised. These are just a few of the emotions that swept through Joyce Omondi when her name was called out as the winner of “Video of the Year” category for her song “Conqueror” at this year’s Groove Awards.
“It was so surreal. I was like, seriously? God you are full of surprises!” Many fans had sent her messages and told her she would walk away from the award ceremony with a win, and she’s sure many prayed for her, too, even though she hadn’t asked them to.
As a newcomer to the gospel music scene, Joyce was understandably worried how she would fare in that category. Aside from being the new kid on the block, the category was full of gospel music heavyweights such as Daddy Owen, Dennoh, DK Kwenye Beat, Anto Neo Soul, M.O.G, Mercy Masika and Kris Eh Baba.
To her, it was such an honour to have her name on the same list as these big wigs such that she fumbled a couple of times while thanking her supporters after receiving the award – and mentioned her brothers twice!
Before 2010, performing as an artiste or putting out an album had never been her desire. Joyce, however, used to sing in church with a group of ladies with whom she would get invited to events, but recording and being an “artiste” was never part of it. She says “it just happened.”
And in 2010 she wrote her first song, Conqueror. “There was one song that took me three years to write, and I travelled with it to three continents,” she explains. “But the song was so bad it didn’t even end up in the album!”
After Conqueror, the songs just kept coming and before long she had enough songs for an album which she also aptly titled “Conqueror”. With the ability to write came the yearning to find a good producer who would help produce her video for the song.
She settled on JBlessing, and because of his exemplary work on her first video, she subsequently worked with him on Kweli as well. “He’s a very good producer, he’s very talented.”
Joyce’s musical journey began way back in church when she was six-years-old. Her father figured she wanted to be a musician and a pianist, so he got her a piano and when she turned six, her parents encouraged her to try out piano lessons.
Music, she insists, is a definite part of her and how she expresses herself, and not something she embarked on just because the gospel industry is thriving. She simply enjoy singing.
With a double major in Economics and International Studies focused on Africa, a fast rising career in the gospel industry and a co-host on the gospel show Rauka, all this, she says is a calling from God. So how did she end up on Rauka?
Mo Sound Entertainment, the guys behind Groove Awards, was the first to approach her at the beginning of 2011. They had stumbled upon her playing the piano in church and they were really impressed. “They wanted me to play a piece at the nominations but later on requested that I sing, too.”
However, they later asked her to host the nomination show. Joyce thought they were just pulling her leg, but they were serious and she ended up hosting the event alongside R Kay’s son.
As soon as the show was done she was approached by both Citizen and NTV. A few months later she was called for auditions by NTV then later Citizen TV for a guest appearance. Later she got the call confirming she had gotten the job. “I was nervous because I had no training in media studies. In my head, the media was for people who like to talk,” she adds with a chuckle.
“It’s been a wonderful experience because I’ve always wanted to make some sort of difference in people’s lives, and a show like Rauka is a very spiritual show, and it really allows you to do that. I’ve grown and learnt a lot and now I really enjoy being in the media, I would definitely pursue it if I have a chance.”
Joyce, who co-hosts the show with Njugush, says they always have fun on the set, more so because it is not scripted and they actually do enjoy themselves.
And because she does most of the praying and bible verses, she’s been frequently asked if she is a pastor and is fondly referred to as “aunty” Joyce by the kids who enjoy participating and watching the show.
To Joyce, Rauka is not just a show but a ministry as well because she strives to positively influence her audience, give them hope to go on and hold on in time of need. The audience pour out their hearts in the messages they send and this she takes very seriously as a calling. Leadership, she says, is a responsibility and not a position.
“It’s not about Joyce Omondi or how I look or talk; it’s about me being a vessel, asking God to use me to bless people,” she adds.
As talented as she is, one would think that Joyce takes music lessons to refine her already amazing voice, but nothing of the sort. She is a worship leader so that helps in building her skills outside of her music. Even though she doesn’t take lessons, she believes there is value to them especially if a singer struggles with pitch and tone.
“If your ability is a gift, it is easier to pursue it. On the other hand, if your motive behind having a music career is for the money and fame, you will struggle.”
In any profession, whether teaching or dancing, Joyce believes that one has to keep working on it and take it seriously.
“That’s why people go back to school and work on their skills not expecting things to just be easy, and that’s part of why the gospel industry has grown, people are into maturing their gift and being professional about it. To keep up with the times and the tide you need to work on your gift,” she stresses.
The gospel industry has definitely grown, from the videos that artistes and producers deliver to their audience, to how deliberate they are in the quality of their videos, and the sound.
“I think it’s pretty amazing. I think Kenya has to be one of the few countries where gospel music is the king over the other industries,” Joyce observes.
Her number one goal in life is to be a person of virtue and a blessing to others, to live for others whether on television, radio, or in the background. Her life may seem and sound like a smooth ride, but it is not. “Life ni ya kupanda na kushuka, as they say so I try to find the positive in everything, a reason to smile.”
Trying to carve a niche in the beginning was a challenge. Conqueror took her a year to complete, and it had many issues like funding and getting the album out. There was a point the audio and video weren’t working so she had to start everything from scratch.
Finding the right producer who could buy into her vision and give her what she wanted was also a challenge. She has had to learn a lot of patience and trusting that things not in her control are in God’s hands.
“I knew the sound I wanted for it, so I wasn’t going to pick just any beat. For a first song Conqueror was a big risk because first it’s in English and it has a Western beat. I don’t like to do things like everybody else.”
Joyce’s songs are all from personal experiences, specifically Conqueror. The song relates to her father who was injured during the 1998 bomb blast, his visits in and out of the hospital and how they got through that difficult period as a family.
Her father also features in the video for the song Kweli. Her album explores different genres like reggae, neo soul, smooth jazz, Western and worship.
But even with the success coming her way, Joyce still has unfinished business.
“I wish I could tap dance, now I am trying to think if I’m that much of a talented person,” she quips. That is one of the few things that most people don’t know about her.
Joyce also speaks fluent Spanish which she learnt while living in Barcelona during a semester in college. Joyce plans to go back to school and do her Masters in International Development.
And if she could use music and the media to influence socio-economic development, that would be one less item to tick off her list of goals.