Dennis Mwendwa alias Rotadee is the new kid on the block. With more than five gospel tracks to his name, including “Zamu Yangu”, which is currently enjoying good airplay, his music career is off to a blazing start. The final-year Information Science student at Moi University talks about what fires him up, his contributions to the local scene and his aspirations.
The origin of my name Rotadee is an acronym where “rota” is the short form of rotary or motion, which signifies my vision of preaching the gospel through music. “Dee” stands for my first name Dennis.
Besides music I’m very passionate about print and broadcast journalism. Juggling my academic work with music is not so hard since I attend evening classes which allows me to focus on my music during the day.
I made my debut into the industry in 2014, an overambitious young man fresh from high school, hoping to get large-scale airplay on all major radio and TV stations and instantly win awards. This prompted me to move from a small village in Machakos County to Nairobi in pursuit of my dreams. My expectations and ambitions were quashed when I was fleeced of all my money by some con producers. It was a struggle getting airplay for my debut track. I later took a break to re-evaluate and understand why I was getting into gospel music.
The return was not easy. I fell into depression as I sought to reconfigure my bearing in music. This led to partial paralysis of my face, a condition called facial nerve palsy.
All my music endeavours grew numb for a whole year. I felt I would never burst back into the scene. In 2015, I was able to retrace my way back to music, wiser, more mature and with realistic ambitions. Since then I have grown stronger by the day. My dreams are now falling into place and there is hope to realise even the greatest ones.
My latest track “Reality” is a wakeup call to all people across the world that God is not a myth or just a tale in the Bible. He’s a reality now as He was in the times of Moses. God is real and loving, and cares about your need.
The Word of God is what inspires my music; His promises to mankind and my own life experiences. I use each of my songs as avenues to give hope and inspire people who could be going through similar circumstances. It’s gratifying whenever people across my networks acknowledge the message in my music.
Hope is the overriding message of my music, with the primary objective to temper the tragedies and horrors happening to mankind: from loss of lives, destruction of property, broken marriages, failing relationships and political instability. I give people a reason to smile amidst all the turmoil. Gospel is incomplete until it gives hope to the broken-hearted.
Some of the notable personalities I have worked with in the industry include Vicky Pon Dis, one of the leading music producers in East and Central Africa. He is the brain behind most of my songs. I’ve also done background vocals for Daddy Owen. So far, I haven’t done any music collaborations, but such projects are in the offing.
Humility, consistency and branding are some of the key lessons I have learnt from these artistes.
The biggest challenge for gospel artistes in Kenya is close scrutiny and the expectations to maintain very high moral standards without failure. They are not treated like other Christians who may fall into temptation. Artistes are bashed for employing the urban style for gospel music which is said to be profane. Modern gospel artistes are accused of losing moral focus, which, to me, is harsh.
Remaining true to the word despite the challenges of youth is a tricky balance for any young Christian. I, therefore, read the word of God which keeps me in check. The spirit of God in the Word changes the way you think, your perception and broadens your knowledge in Him. My mentors Pastor Morris and Pauline Gacheru of JCC Thika Road have also been very instrumental in my Christianity journey.
I predominantly perform in high schools and colleges every weekend under a mentorship programme that I began a few months ago dubbed ‘The Power in Me’. The aim is to take the gospel to schools and to empower students to understand their worth and capabilities. I have performed at the annual Groove Party and other bookings within the year. I occasionally receive invitations to perform in churches too.
My greatest inspiration in gospel music is Kirk Franklin. There’s such amazing purity in his spirit and a robust message of grace, hope and life in all his songs. He was once asked why he had delayed in releasing a new song and he answered, “I wait to hear from God,” and that too is the very reason I sing: when He speaks to me.
The role Kenyan gospel artistes play in promoting cohesion and unity among Kenyans cannot be overstated. There is, however, a lot that remains to be done to attain absolute harmony. Concerts organised by the gospel music fraternity bring together throngs of people from all walks of life under one roof to worship God. These people forget their tribes, colour, and political affiliations, and converge as one family. Everyone has a role to play to realise a more cohesive country.
STAYING THE COURSE
I am yet to entirely live off my music. Besides music, I run a videography and photography company called SBC Creations. We film weddings, documentaries and music videos.
Spreading the gospel comes first then money follows. The Bible is clear thus: seek first the kingdom of God and the rest shall be added unto you. This verse is very practical to me.
Some of the setbacks I have had to contend with include the disappointment of releasing a song only for it to perform dismally. Staying the course and being consistent is difficult. The fan base is like a congregation that is always hungry for powerful and fresh sermons. The undertakings involved in music production are quite costly. A huge investment is required to assemble a team that believes in your vision, which calls for sacrifices. The understanding of why God called me into gospel music, however, keeps me going.
Relationships are a sensitive subject. Some fans will usually admire you for selfish reasons. I have learnt to handle all issues about my private life through Christ. I have someone special to me, but I prefer to keep the cards close to my chest until God’s chosen time.
I strictly don’t listen to secular music because there is nothing in it for me. I listen only to positive music that builds my inner being. Whatever you feed on will ultimately impact your Christian life.
I don’t think secular music is faring better than gospel music in Kenya. Gospel music enjoys more audience across the country in whichever genre it comes in. Even more young people are also joining the bandwagon, considering gospel music carries life with it and has become more urbanised and trendier. That partly explains why former top secular artistes including Wahu, Amani, Collo, Lady Bee and Size 8 have reconfigured their compass.
My challenge to fellow gospel artistes is that as ambassadors of Christ, we should not write music from our own intuition or feelings, but from what God wants us to communicate to the world. We should, therefore, abandon empty lyrics for true gospel teachings that witness Christ, testifies him and ministers to the audience.
I aspire to reach out to all nations through Christ-inspired music and to mentor young and talented gospel singers, a project that is already underway.