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Granny opens recording studio for gospel artists

To dream is to be human. While some dreams come true early in our lives, others come late. Some never come at all for that is the way of the world. However, Mary Ngina Mungai’s long cherished teenage dream arrived at the sunset of her life.

Isaac Kaberere, a music producer, checking on some of the equipment in the studio. Photo by Wagema Mwangi

It found her as an 80-year old geriatric whose great beauty and youthful gaiety have faded to pave way for an old grandmotherly mien. Age has taken toil on her. She is getting wrinkly and a recent hip-replacement operation has relegated her into spending most of her time indoors. Occasionally, she toddles around her quiet compound with the aid of a metallic rollator.

Despite the cocktail of bodily aches brought by vagaries of old age, Ms. Mungai, popularly known as Shosh to her friends, cannot sit still. Her whole being projects a rare excitement that mirrors that of a teenage girl in the sixties who dreamt of owning a music recording studio. Her hands keep rubbing together in repressed excitement. The rheumy eyes behind the thick glasses are glinting with delight. On the afternoon of a cloudy Saturday, the ancient dream finally came true.

‘It took a long time to come but it finally came. My childhood dream is now fulfilled,” she says of Somelody Studio; a gospel-music recording studio that was opened on Saturday at Birikani area in Voi sub-county.

Somelody is a loose attempt for a portmanteau. It is derived from Solomon representing wisdom and melody symbolizing rhythm of the songs. The establishment of this studio in the outskirts of Voi town marks a major milestone for the octogenarian who is also a musician with a number of recorded Kikuyu songs.

Born in 1941, Shosh always had a passion for music. She dreamt of having a private studio where she could record her own songs whenever the musical muse paid her a visit. As with all childhood dreams, she was to discover that they are easier imagined than implemented. Hers was hampered by absence of accessible and affordable studios. Overtime, she pursued other careers including working as an auxiliary nurse at MP Shah in 1966 to 1973.

Her desire for singing faltered but went on smoldering quietly deep in that special zone where the abandoned dreams go to seek solace. Responsibilities of adulthood including marriage and parental responsibilities further threatened to completely smother her dream.

Guitarists testing guitars during the opening of the studio on Saturday. Photo by Wagema Mwangi

It was not until she was well past 60 years that she retrieved the recording dream and resuscitated the tunes and melodies that had lain dormant in her.

She says she used to travel to Nairobi to record her music. At her age, it was an assignment that she found difficult and challenging.

“It was expensive and quite a challenge for someone of my age but I was determined to sing,” she says.

Even as she made the trips to the city, the idea of having a studio where she could easily record her music with minimum hassle became more urgent. At this time however, the significance of the studio had changed its original course.

It had grown beyond her personal desire to record songs into a desire to reach out to gifted youth and help them grow their musical talents through affordable and accessible recording studios.

She says that in the early years, recording music was a nightmare for upcoming singers. She says her music career as a teenager was frustrated by lack of equipment and opportunities to showcase her skills. This is one of the historical disadvantages facing the youth that she wants to correct.  The studio will give to the youth what was denied to her many decades ago.

“In my youth I wanted to sing but I could not. Now, I want to give the young people who want to get into gospel music the opportunity that I didn’t have,” says shosh.

However, recording in her studio comes with a condition. Somelody studio will only be used to record gospel music. She explains that other forms of contemporary secular music have enough studios elsewhere to get good recording deals.

“I made a personal commitment to God. I promised to use my studio for His work. This is why we will be recording gospel music,” she adds.

The renowned producer Isaac Kaberere says the new studio has state-of-the-art equipment that can record and produce music that meets international standards. He says that the local gospel musicians will get affordable rates to record in the studio.

He says that such an initiative is a huge boost towards promoting and encouraging talent growth in rural areas unlike in the past where musicians were forced to travel to major cities to find recording studios.

“This is the best way to promote local gospel music talents. Young people can come and record their songs without the inconveniences,” he said.

By Wagema Mwangi

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