There is an old adage that says “a family that prays together, stays together”.
For the Mutonga family in Nairobi, though, you could say that it is music that glues them together.
On this day, it starts with a melodious hum from Hephzibah Shalom, the eldest child of Mr and Mrs Mutonga.
The hum is followed by fingers snapping, a foot gently tapping on the floor, before the family of eight bursts into song and dance that morphs into a near all-out impromptu concert.
We meet them at a hotel in Nairobi, where they have been invited to perform.
The spur-of-the-moment performance is done in English, then Kikuyu, before they switch to French and then Swahili.
They perform lively chorals titled "The twinkling stars", "Spotless" and "Trust in You", a rap song with a Jamaican vibe to it, as well as "Karumbeta", a Kikuyu praise song, and "Rafiki wa Ajabu", a Swahili Christian song.
The family lives for acapella harmony. And not even little Ephrayim, 8, the last-born, is left out.
Samuel Mutonga and his wife Rehab have been singing for 22 years. Initially, it was just a pastime, after they welcomed their first child, who was born two years into their marriage.
Away from the usual worship songs the devout Christian had learnt in church and elsewhere, Samuel began writing his own music.
“Soon my husband was waking up with songs on his lips and before I knew it he was composing his own music,” recalls Rehab, who credits her husband for nurturing their children’s musical talent.
The children – Hephzibah Shalom, 20, 16-year-old twins Jedediah Béni and Christinah, Esther Hadassah,11, Ruth Naomi, 10, and Israel, 8, can all speak and sing in French, which they learn in school.
Their parents cannot speak French, so they are left out of the French songs. “Our children found us singing and simply joined in as they grew older. Now it has become a family thing,” says Samuel.
He describes a typical gathering at his house: “There are no strict rules about our singing; we only practice seriously when rehearsing for a performance.”
Should you hear them, though, you would think their home is a recording studio because once any of them breaks into song, the entire family joins in.
They perform with no instruments. Asked about tone, vocal range and other aspects that go into music, he replies, “We do not go into those specifics, but the different voices seem to naturally fall into harmony as long as the choral texture is done well.”
The family has written over 50 songs, all of which they have performed, but are yet to record. The music, they say, has kept their family close-knit.
“At our home, instead of everybody sitting in a corner on their phone, we sing, dance or come up with new songs,” says Rehab, who hopes that the bond she sees in her children, thanks to the music, will endure for the rest of their lives.
“Because of this unique element of togetherness music brought to our family, we decided to start a ministry targeting the family unit. We now run a family Christian mission and go around teaching about family unity,” says Samuel, who observes that there is a worrying disconnect between parents and children nowadays, which has resulted in rebellion and indiscipline in children.
Do they wish that the children make a career off singing?
The octet had been performing at smaller gatherings until July 8, 2017, when they performed at Uhuru Park, Nairobi, during the thanksgiving ceremony by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission and Trans World Radio Kenya. They market their songs via social media.