Gospel musician Kevin Bahati recently presented a new catch for his Eastlands Most Beloved (EMB) record label, Rebecca Soki Kalwenze. Thomas Matiko caught up with the Kenyan-based Congolese musician to find out more about her struggle to burst into the local gospel music scene and what she intends to bring to the EMB stable
Many people have only learnt about you after your unveiling, has your musical journey just began?
Not really. I started doing music as a little girl back home in Congo. My dad is a pastor and he got me enrolled in the church choir. That’s how I started singing. Basically, I would say I have been singing all my life, regardless of the places I have been to.
So how did you end up in Kenya?
I came here in 2006, being a part of a missionary team from Congo that came to start a church in Nairobi. I was the head of the choir team.
However, I was only here for a year and a half, then went back to Congo to finish my studies, before returning to Kenya in 2011 with the full intention of focusing my energies in starting my career as a gospel artiste. Too bad, it didn’t turn out so well as I had expected.
2011 to date isn’t such a long time to get people to finally notice your work?
It has been a hustle my brother, a seven-year struggle, to break into the gospel industry. But I am grateful that at last I get to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
I can attest to that, if the response I have received for my first single under EMB “Baraka Zangu” is anything to go by. God’s timing is surely the best.
What was the seven years’ struggle like, being a foreigner trying to break into the Kenyan market?
Doing music is not a walk in the park, any artiste will tell you that. Whereas I was dedicated to the course, I lacked the finances and the correct people to push me through. I did a couple of collabos here that would have put me on the map, but, like I said, a lack of proper management team stalled my advancement. At some point I got signed to labels that only exploited me, they would distribute my music via different apps or sell it as ring back tones but I wouldn’t get a dime. They’d also organise shows that I ended up not getting paid for, as they took everything. But what made it even worse was when I was poisoned.
Did you say, poisoned? Why would someone do that to you?
Yes, you got me right, some people who pretended to be my friends spiked my milk and that’s how I ended up consuming the poison. For a whole year I couldn’t speak, I lost the ability to talk and all I could do was to just whisper. This was the breaking point of my struggle in music. I decided to quit and go back home.
Wait a minute, why would your friends poison you?
I have never known why, but I think they felt I posed a threat and that someday I would eventually burst into the limelight. Clearly, they weren’t happy about it. These ‘friends’ are my fellow musicians from Congo and together we had been struggling to make careers in Kenya.
During the period of our hustle, I travelled to Dubai for a mission that I had been invited to. I was going to spend some time there and so I left the key to my house in Nairobi with one of my trusted friends.
I had warned her about inviting these other fake friends to my residence, but for some reason they were able to convince her that they never meant any harm. So they kept visiting my place.
When they learnt of my intended return in September 2016, that’s when they paid a visit as usual and spiked my milk.
When I drunk it, I collapsed. Interestingly, they even visited me at home while I was in bad health, I guess they just came to check if I was actually dying.
So what followed?
I remained on treatment for the whole year without telling my parents because I did not want them panicking, bearing in mind I was kilometers away from home. But after exhausting my savings, that’s when I decided to return home in 2017, swearing to never come back to Kenya.
But that did not happen?
It didn’t. At home I kept praying to God to never make me return to Kenya. I said, if it’s serving Him, I can do that even in Congo. I wasn’t ready to spend a single cent from my hustle to come back.
But again I prayed hard that if I was to return to Kenya, then God should provide a stranger who would pay my air ticket back and offer support until I would find my footing again. And true to His word, that’s how Bahati came for me.
You mean BahatI travelled to Congo to fetch you?
No, he didn’t. But during that time, while back home, I fully recovered and started singing again in church. Throughout this time, Bahati had been looking for me in Kenya; he had just started the EMB Records.
We had met before in various gospel functions like Groove Awards and he had told me how he was a great fan of my works, despite me being not in the limelight.
So, when he couldn’t find me in Kenya he sent me a text on Whatsapp to make contact. He wanted me to come back but I remained reluctant, and he kept insisting. At the last point he offered to pay for my air ticket and and promised to look after me for a while. That’s how I made my return.
So what’s the pact between you and EMB?
Hehehe! I will not go into details, but I am grateful of the terms. I will get to record music under the label, they will do the pushing of the content, get gigs for me, among other things. Besides, currently EMB is taking care of my rent bills for a given time and once that time is up, I will soldier on, haha!
“Baraka Zangu” has been massive what next?
I am so grateful and I look forward to doing more. However, I can’t promise much for now because it’s like I am starting to build my foundation all over again, but time will tell.
Lastly, a few influencers in the gospel industry have compared you to the late Angelina Chibalonza. What do you make of this?
Since the time I arrived in Kenya, I have been told that very often. It’s a positive compliment for me and I have a feeling it could be God talking through people. I look forward to emulating her because she clearly blessed so many souls with her music.