Fred and I Photo belongs to KSB

Nairobi Moments

Some moments are nearly perfect. Resting with my housemates on our rooftop, seven stories high in Waithaka, watching the orange sun set and taking way too many silhouette selfies with Kamau, is one of them. Being in Nairobi as a whole is incredible.

The sun sets to the right of Ngong Hills, behind some trees and above a collage of sun-faded blue and reddish roofs. Birds fly in and out of sight while Sia plays from the speaker. I blink dust from my eyes as I hop around the roof and settle in a corner next to my friend Leon.

Some moments are so full of freedom. Dancing with fellow musicians on a Sunday evening in Westie while my favorite artist, Tetu Shani, croons over his acoustic guitar is one of them. Being in Nairobi, the sun lighting up the sky every day and warming my skin, does my spirit good.

My housemates and I dance in the kitchen, practicing Kenyan moves. We dance in the beige living room as the pop music continues. We dance on the roof sometimes too. I decided before I came here that I would be free.

Some moments are made of happiness. Blasting “Usipime Mwanaume” by Naiboi and bumping “Earthquake” by Family Force Five while playing a competitive card game with Kairo and Kamau and spontaneously dancing is one of them. Being in Nairobi, I’ve laughed more than I have in ages.

That’s true.

Some moments give a person unexpected energy. A day of pillow fighting for two hours at home before hiking off the path in Ngong Hills, eating tomato flavored crisps at the summit of the third hill, and returning in the dusk, is one of them. Being in Nairobi, I’ve seen countless stars and heard precious stories from people who make life light.

I’ve grown stronger, thanks to Kamau’s physical training and encouragement. My housemate Fred and I do planks and squats, and then Kamau squats me. Rugby season is coming up, after all.

Some moments are the backdrop of memories. Hearing the frustratingly endless barking from our neighbor’s dog business, squeezing into the back of a matatu on the way to Kawangware, taking in the aroma of onions and masala from Leon and Kamau’s cooking, hanging laundry on our windy roof while Kairo squeezes water on my burning feet because I didn’t wear shoes again, squishing between housemates on the couch to watch YouTube, these are some of them. Being in Nairobi, I’ve been doing a healthy amount of hugging, and I think that’s part of why I love it so much too.

In our house, it’s not surprising to find toe nail clippers everywhere and combs nowhere or to discovering a laptop above the fridge and the salt in my bedroom. But with so many of us here, we don’t have to stress.

This trip is one of those rare moments where life is almost perfect, where one could take a photo of the sunset and still feel the cooling air later because the people and times were so precious.

Just give me sunshine, hugs, good friends, some music to dance to, and a side of chips (fries), and I’ll be fine. Life doesn’t have to be that complicated.

Waithaka sunset PC: KSB

A Waithaka sunset. PC: KSB

 

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https://www.amazon.com/Marcus-Miller/e/B000APXTVW

Slain by modern jazz album ‘Laid Black’

Jazz is a genre usually associated with Christmas and the first half of the 1900s, created by black Americans and loved by all – at least in the past. Though its days in the sun have waned, Marcus Miller is one contemporary artist who demonstrates the continuing power of jazz music.

On my flight from Paris to Nairobi, I plugged in the Air France earbuds to the plane’s free music collection and chose some familiar jazz tunes. Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole crooned through their albums as I soared over Europe. Though I say I love jazz, my repertoire is honestly pretty minimal, just the aforementioned classics, Sinatra, Doris Day, and such.

Wanting to change that, I tapped on Marcus Miller’s 2018 “Laid Black” album, one I had never heard, and was immediately swept away.

https://serious.org.uk/events/marcus-miller-rfh-2019

Photo from serious.org.uk

How often does a song or album make one drop everything and work to keep composure? On a monthly basis, yearly? Marcus Miller’s “Laid Black” evokes this reaction throughout the album.

Track one, “Trip Trap,” carried me to summer parks with big bands playing. I would be thrilled to hear this song on a Sunday evening at City Park in Denver.

If the initial track transported me, the next one slayed me. Selah Sue features in Miller’s unique rendition of “Que Sera Sera” that caused my mouth to form a shocked and grateful sort of smile while my eyes opened in amazement and teared at the edges.

It is the kind of song I would want to replay with my eyes closed a few times and then dance to once I had picked myself up off the floor. In fact, I did replay the song and the entire album. Oh. Le. Le. What a piece of beauty.

Track three, “7-Ts,” begins with a Miller’s skilled bass line before artist Trombone Shorty enters. “Sublimity ‘Bunny’s Dream’,” the next on the album, continues with Marcus Miller’s brassy melodies in a mellow tune with light drum brushes.

Next up, “Untamed” starts with keys like that of a trap song, running do-mi-re-so-mi-fa, adds a bass melody, and continues to a steady beat with some filler brass. It takes the album from the big band era into 2018 and ends with piano.

A person can jive to the next track, “No Limit,” in which Miller continues to favor his bass. His use of brass harks back to West African music’s influence on African Americans and the music they have created over the centuries, and particularly in jazz.

 

On track seven he uses a guitar melody to tap into a melancholy chord. You will want to slow dance with your lover to “Somebody to Love” as Miller’s soft vocals come in over the piano. The song stirred a beautiful sort of sadness within me as I flew over Greece a world away from my own “someone.”

Miller’s album continues with the more upbeat “Keep ‘Em Running,” which mixes jazz with some old school rap and a hint of scatting. The man is astounding.

As a preacher’s kid, I was interested in the ninth and final track by this name. The song, running 7 minutes and 43 seconds, is the longest on the album. It begins with a capella “ooos” before building in instruments. Saxophones cross over each other, wailing for the spotlight in the sixth minute before voices hum to a close on this primarily instrumental album.

 

I’m shook. Tracks two and seven captured me in particular, and the big band sounds crossing with other genres throughout the album remind the listener that jazz is still a part of contemporary black history and thus contemporary American history. Miller’s integration of styles over jazz eras is simply incredible, and the entire album leaves me amazed and wanting more.

Thank you, Marcus Miller, for creating such a beautiful and powerful work of art, one with the ability to bring together both couples and communities. Thank you for your excellence and for adding beauty to our lives.

 

 

~~~

Cover image from https://www.amazon.com/Marcus-Miller/e/B000APXTVW

Snow in Colorado, PC: Brian Lindell

Do They Know It’s Christmastime?

Every December, people around the US finally allow themselves to listen to Christmas music, joining the few of us who believes in the extension of the beautiful season. Yet with the introduction of this wondrous genre to public radios comes the airing of one particularly degrading song.

Do They Know It’s Christmastime,” a well-meaning song written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure and sung by a variety of British artists in 1984 under the name BANDAID, redone several times by contemporary musicians on behalf of different causes, plays consistently on every variety Christmas station. While originally meant to address a famine in Ethiopia, it gives no further thought to the lives or beliefs of Ethiopians.

The song does not consider that maybe this country where Orthodox Christianity has existed for thousands of years, before the Anglophone world had heard the good news, does indeed know and celebrate Christmas. They follow this calendar and celebrate it on 07 January.

Perhaps if Geldof and Ure had taken time to speak with Ethiopians or the other Africans the song “covers” and ask the question in the song’s title, they could have written a better song that did not degrade so many humans while intending to help.

The original lyrics read,

…But say a prayer, pray for the other ones
At Christmas time, it’s hard, but when you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom
Well, tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you

Well, that’s grim. “Dread and fear,” “doom.” Thanks for highlighting the growing African economies in nations such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Libya, and Rwanda. Thanks for praising the countries that had gotten on their feet after colonists like Britain itself finally gave them independence a mere two decades before the release of this song. Thanks for giving a shout out to the music industries that were beginning to take hold in places like Kenya. Thanks so much.

And “thank God it’s them instead of you”? That strikes me as heartless. But let’s continue.

And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

You’re literally lumping what is now 55 different countries into one and saying the geography and situations are all the same. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, we have a lot of jungle, for example. And lakes. A massive river. An ocean port. Farms and corn and fruit trees. And mountains – with snow (though that’s the only place you’ll find it in DRC, which sits on the equator).

Also, why is snow a necessary indication of the holiday? Christmas originated as a celebration of King Jesus being born in what is now the West Bank, Palestine. Though snow plays a role in many Anglo-phonic songs about the holiday and indeed in my own life as someone originally from northeastern USA, it was not originally part of the picture.

Moreover, “they” do know it’s Christmastime. In Congo, a 95% Christian country, we don’t celebrate in the same commercialized way the US or probably Great Britain does. It is more minimal, in that we don’t tend to give gifts and don’t propagate the Santa story. But we do expect the holiday to come every December. We have our own Christmas songs that church choirs do. We go to church on the holiday to celebrate and hold all-night prayer vigils. So to answer the question once more, yes, “they” know it is Christmas.

In 1984, the songwriters were addressing the Ethiopian drought but then sweeping the rest of the continent under the mat of their ill-spoken words. You can’t do that. There’s too much diversity on the continent and even within the countries that compose it. And to only show the “dread” and “doom” of a place or places is not a healthy way to call people to your cause because it denies the humanity and life within those places.

Not to worry, though. Maybe this was just written…and sung by over 40 artists initially…and redone four times, most recently in 2014… simply because everyone was too cold and grumpy. Check out a solution for this below and consider some better ways to communicate your cause here. Finally, petition your local radio to stop playing versions of the BANDAID song and others like it. Peace.

 

PC: KSB

God is faithful: a year-end reminder

Every day is an opportunity to thank the Lord. For his faithfulness to stay with us and to keep his promises and guide us in our call; for his goodness to want our best and warn us of harm, to provide for us, and to bless us with sweet gifts; for family and a hospitable American and Congolese community of faith; and for his love that never leaves even when we stray, we bless the Lord.

2017 was yet another crazy year. I moved multiple times and had the opportunity to travel in and outside of the United States while undergoing significant transitions in life. One of these transitions was graduating college, a huge testament to God’s faithfulness. God saw me through all this and provided incredible old friends to stick with me from college through the distance as well as new ones to love me in my Denver home.

It was also a year of creation, as I began writing for the Denver VOICE in June and released several song collaborations, which you can listen to here:

My favorite blog posts of the year from this site fell in September.

The call God has given me to live in Congo (three years ago as of this coming MLK Day weekend!) and my deep desire to work with refugees remain the same. My goals in this direction do as well, and I hope to make significant progress in 2018. Despite discouraging, disorienting, and downright dreadful circumstances in the second half of this year, I can see God’s goodness. I remember his promises to me.

As the hymn below declares, I know God’s hand will bring me home, even to Congo, by his good grace. He has brought me to where I am now, and he will remain faithful.

 

*Updated on Jan. 02, 2018, to include “Gatherer,” which was released just before the new year.

PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

“Despacito” is taking over my life

Despacito.” I hear it on the radio, in the office halls, and through the walls at night before I sleep. “Despacito.”

Firstly, I would like to say that my old housemate Abby and I listened to the Fonsi hit while it was on the way to the top but before it became uber popular. Yes, we have good taste in music, thank you. We would cruise around town listening to the local Spanish variety station on our way to Aldi, and she would practice her Spanish by translating for me.

But folks, a few months have passed, and the song is on fire now.

In the five weeks since I moved to Denver, “Despacito” has played everywhere. The Bieber version played on the car radio on the way to prayer. Two days later I was visiting a family from church and the six year old started to sing it. Then my roommate and I had a dance party to the hit and a number of other Spanish-language songs.

Actually, my whole house knows “Despacito” well. One of my housemates loves the song, and half the house hates him for it. But he is fluent in Spanish, so he can actually sing the words, and I liked the tune already, so I don’t mind.

I’ve even heard it sung by the Division Director at the refugee resettlement agency where I volunteer. I started to laugh in surprise as I passed him in the hall and asked him, “You’re singing Despacito?”

He replied, “Everyone seems to be these days.”

True that.

“Despacito” has officially infiltrated all the main facets of my life: church, home, and work. Today a woman at my internship played it for a mini dance break when we were feeling tired. And you know what? After hearing it everywhere I go, I still don’t mind.

About a month ago, one of my friends shared a link on Facebook that noted how “Despacito” was the first (mostly) Spanish song to top the American Billboard since “Macarena” in 1996, over 20 years ago. That’s huge. I wish it happened more often; there are certainly enough sweet Spanish-language hits, and the United States boasts so many Spanish speakers that it’s ridiculous not to have more Spanish songs in the mainstream.

The same friend then shared a post about Bieber’s utter disrespect for the Spanish language. I had already preferred the original because why water down a Spanish song with English? Again, we have enough English-language songs out there already. But especially after listening to the way Bieber glibly subbed in “burrito” and “Dorito” on multiple occasions when he did not remember the words, I only choose the original if I have an option.

Don’t disrespect the Spanish language. Don’t disrespect the people who speak it. Honestly, be more mature and honoring.

Even though I don’t think highly of Bieber, I’m glad the song itself is so popular. Props to the Latinx artists such as Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee for producing such catchy, high quality music.

Here’s to hoping more Spanish-language hits will top the American charts soon!

Les Worshipers repetition, UJN PC: KSB

Masauti ya nyumbani (Sounds of home)

Every night I fell asleep to the sounds of my neighbors partying, the dance music audible through the thin walls and crimson drapes. Every morning a rooster awoke before the sun and squawked along with my morning alarm. I usually crashed at 20:30 and rose at 5:45 to prepare for the long work day at Un Jour Nouveau, a Goma-based Congolese organization “equipping men, women, and children to transform the culture of Congo through Christ-centered education, reconciliation, and leadership.”

“Siku muzuri,” I’d greet the smiling guards, Carlos and Jonathan, before crossing the road to Mama Esther’s house for breakfast. The sun gleamed off Lake Kivu and illuminated the vibrant foliage and bright flowers in her yard, where I waited for my driver, Fabrice, to take me further into our smoky city of one million. We’d drive over gray-brown rutted dirt roads, past blue Vodacom signs and red Airtel stands, around the turnabout with its statue and construction and occasional military presence, by the pastry store and banana booths to the Center. Fabrice would play “Alpha Omega” by Gael until we arrived.

Then English classes and staff prayer and lunch and piano lessons and worship practice ensued, filling my day with countless people and immense joy. Praises from Les Worshipers, the church choir, echoed off the rooftop and across the street (see video below). It seemed someone was always playing a keyboard or picking on the guitar, and the afternoons were bright with the sound of children’s voices. (I was often one of the people playing guitar and singing, whether in English class or choir repetition.) The sun set by 18:00, I went home for dinner with the family, chatted with my crazy wise and hilarious housemates and began the cycle again.

Goma is a home to me. Charles’ questions and chuckle, Denis’ melodic voice singing “Nakwimbea leo nafuraha” in church, Happy Fanny yelling my name across the yard, Mama Julienne’s Swahili at lunch hour, Jenni’s hearty laugh, Dieum playing “Napesi” on keys — these are some of the sounds of home. I don’t know if I’ll return to UJN and all the particular voices and people I love so dearly, but I do plan to return to Congo. And I cannot wait.

 

Leading worship at a multicultural worship night. PC: Wheaton College Student Activities Office

Live to worship

7:23 PM – I fiddled on the violin as Henry set up the sound system and turned on the keys. The song began as a rehearsal for Sunday’s worship, but it morphed into something else. After ten minutes, it was a new song, and I removed my shoes.

Every third quarter note, the drum set emitted a crescendo like cymbals. The resonance of Henry’s keyboard traveled across the empty stage to make it ring and fill the room with the sound of ghost musicians. I harmonized in the microphone as Henry led the worship song. My voice filled the space with improvised lyrics, prayers to our Father in Heaven.

Eventually we brought the song back to the original lyrics, closing the song with a prayer paralleling the introduction. “I love the Lord for He heard my cry and He delivered me from my fear/ and He lifted me up higher and higher… I believe You move at the sound of my voice/ You heard my cry and You answered me… I just wanna thank You/ I just wanna praise You/ I just wanna sing a song of love and have Your heart be moved by mine/ O God, be moved by mine.”

The power of prayer, revealed by the Holy Spirit through human voices over electronic keys and soft percussion. The power of prayer, captured in lyrics written by covered and covered by Jaye Thomas, read in the combined quote above. The power of prayer, like a psalm, a form of writing that is itself a musical call to God.

7:48 PM – I slipped my bare feet into my shoes, he shut off the sound system, and we went home.


Worshipping with my friend Henry this Christmas break made me realize how much I miss my worship team in Illinois. It has only been a few weeks since we practiced, only a few weeks since we conquered finals and rode into Christmas break, but those weekly times of worship are precious to me. Every Monday we meet to pray, fellowship, and worship God through music. We practice our pronunciation and have fun on the glockenspiel as we prepare to lead our multilingual community in worship.

This year I prayed for a team of worshippers, people who would want to spend time with the Holy Spirit even if we did not have an event to prepare for that particular week. God answered my prayer and has blessed us all through our habitual times of fellowship with each other and with Him.

This January I have the honor of helping to lead worship for Snow Camp, a winter retreat. My team plans on attending the weekend event as well, although we will not lead the worship together. A colleague is organizing the time, but I have the privilege of contributing to the set and leading vocals. Preparing for this throughout the month of December has thrilled me because I anticipate the Holy Spirit’s presence and power at the retreat and desire to know the Spirit more even now.

One of my main purposes in life is to worship God through music and prayer. Worshipping Him renews the life in me since I am spending time communing with the one who gave me new life: Jesus Christ. What joy!

David and Asaph knew this joy when they wrote the Psalms. They knew God’s heart and His faithfulness as they sang songs of worship and praise, songs that begged for Him to intervene and rescue them, songs that always ended in some form of reflection on who God is. Songs of sorrow and songs of dancing. Prayers, put to music.

Israel Houghton sings it accurately: “To worship You I live / I live to worship You.” This is my purpose: to glorify God. This is the purpose of any Christian, in fact, through whatever gifts and privileges He has granted you. May the new year only increase your desire to know God’s heart and worship Him, the Almighty One.