Did Gloria Muliro Steal Chris Tomlin’s Song?

Controversy seems to follow Gloria Muliro wherever she turns, like an unshakable stalker.

Gloria-Muliro-px

The latest has to do with her song, Follow You. The singer has been accused of stealing/plagiarizing/sampling (whichever term seems most appropriate), not only the words, but also the tune to the chorus/verse from Chris Tomlin’s song, I Will Follow You.

Now, people will throw out accusations all the time at celebrities. What matters is whether those accusations are true, reasonable, justifiable or simply unfounded. What makes Gloria Muliro’s case even more noteworthy is the fact that she responded, by denying all charges of stealing/sampling/plagiarizing the song [both consciously or sub-consciously].

She further added that the contentious lyrics were inspired by the Bible and any similarity with Chris Tomlin’s song is purely coincidental.

It is this denial that makes her case worth examining, especially if you’ve listened to the two songs. Here are the links to the two songs: Gloria Muliro and Chris Tomlin. Give them a listen before you proceed. The first 30 seconds should do it.

Now, a few details concerning the controversy:

FIRST, the words in the contentious verse in both songs are [almost] exactly the same. The only difference is that Chris Tomlin uses the word “when” instead of “where” in the second to last part of the verse [underlined]:

Muliro: “where you go I’ll go, where you stay I’ll stay, where you move I’ll move I’ll move, I will follow you”

Tomlin: “where you go I’ll go, where you stay I’ll stay, when you move I’ll move, I will follow you”

SECONDLY, Gloria Muliro was recently interviewed by Buzz concerning the controversial song. This was her explanation for the apparent similarity between the songs:

Buzz: Okay, make us understand why you are accused of stealing the song ‘Follow You’ by American singer Chris Tomlin word by word.

Muliro: Let me make it very clear. My music is inspired by the Bible. The words in ‘Follow Me’ are in the book of Ruth 1:16. Check and you will see. If today I preach the sermon from John 3:16, that will not prevent somebody else to preach the same verse in Russia. We are all guided and inspired by the same Bible.

THIRDLY, if you’ve listened to the choruses in both songs, the tune is more or less the same. But I will leave that one up for the reader’s/listener’s determination. It could be that all songs sound the same to me. I’m a lyrics guy, after all  🙂

Anyway, my focus in bringing this controversy to light is not to determine whether Gloria Muliro did sample Chris Tomlin’s song (though I feel like that’s exactly what I’m doing). My major concern is in the way she responded to the accusations, considering her claim to be a Christian, and therefore expected to live (or at least speak) according to certain standards.

In the excerpt above, she told Buzz that the words in the song are in Ruth 1:16. This could be true. Ruth 1:16 says, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” However, the verse does not have the “where you move, I’ll move” part. I could be splitting hairs here, but it seems Gloria Muliro’s song has more in common with Chris Tomlin’s song than with the Bible (her alleged sole inspiration).

I have tried to give her the benefit of doubt. I have even considered what a friend suggested on Facebook, that this could be a case of Cryptomnesia (This is when “a forgotten memory returns without it being recognised as such by the subject, who believes it is something new and original. It is a memory bias whereby a person may falsely recall generating a thought, an idea, a song, or a joke…” ) I was willing to grant that, but upon closer examination of the song, I realized that the similarities are too detailed to be merely incidental.

Some similarities in the internal message in both songs is striking. Yes, a person may sub-consciously sample a chorus and plagiarize a few lyrics, but is it possible for one to subconsciously translate those lyrics into Swahili? That seems a little bit hard to pull off.

In the first verse, Chris Tomlin says, “All your ways are good, All your ways are sure….” and in her first verse, Gloria Muliro says, “….Njia zako hakika (all your ways are good), Mambo yako sambamba (all your ways are sure)…” Maybe I am just cherry-picking lines to prove a point. So, let’s go all the way to the last verse and see what we can find there. In Chris Tomlin’s song, there are phrases such as, “…In you there’s joy, unending joy…” and in Gloria Muliro’s song, “…kuna upendo tele kwako (in you there’s unending joy), furaha kwako (in you there’s joy).” Is this still a coincidence inspired by the story of Ruth and Naomi? Maybe it is. Who knows? God works in mysterious ways.

But an even more important question is this, do you think those are sufficient reasons to make people think that Gloria stole/sampled Chris Tomlin’s song? I think they are. Gloria Muliro doesn’t seem to think so. When asked whether the accusations against her were unfounded, this was her disturbing response:

Buzz: So why would people think that you stole the song, in your opinion?

Muliro: People are just jealous of my success.

Dear Christian artistes, we are called to be above reproach. This does not necessarily mean that we will never fail or try to cover up our failures. It means that we should always be ready (and willing) to bring those failures to the cross. It doesn’t help anyone to keep holding onto our “righteousness” when it is clear before God and before men that there is reason and cause for repentance.

Christianity is not about never falling, it is about always rising up after the fall. Our faith is best displayed in our admission of our falleness (and in our proclamation of Christ’s sufficiency to forgive and raise us up again). No, the world will not be won by our outward cloaks of perfection and self-righteousness, it will be won by the display of our utter dependency, for therein lies the reality of the Gospel in our lives. We are all desperate beggars before God’s throne of grace.

It is my prayer that Gloria Muliro will come to the realization that Christian artistes are not saints misunderstood, but sinners forgiven.

Soli Deo Gloria

Lyrical Review: Kanjii Mbugua’s Rauka [Album]

Does God have a favorite type of music? many people, especially older people, are convinced God is into hymns. Others argue that God loves rock music, but leans more towards soft rock, you know, the Casting Crowns type of music. God is definitely into Hillsong. Surely, He must love the Gospel RnBs. We know He can’t love Hip Hop because, you know, (whispering) the demonic roots and all. Or maybe He is into reggae music…But seriously, though, does God have a favorite type of music?

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Photo courtesy: spinlet.com

I think He does, and I know which album would be on top favorites if I sneaked a peek into His iTunes: Kanjii Mbugua’s Rauka album. Why do I say this? Because Kanjii’s album was good enough to make it into the Bible. Don’t believe me? Just open the Psalms, chapter 151 to be exact. Although all the 14 songs are written in Swahili with a few English lines sprinkled in one or two songs, Rauka is a masterful work of lyricism. But then again, Kanjii is gifted that way.

But what strikes me most is not the chords but the lyrics. I am not a music expert, and that is why I have always reviewed the lyrics of a song and left the musical production and arrangement to the experts. This is the first album I am reviewing on Alien Citizens. I usually review individual songs. I am reviewing it as an album because I am compelled to do justice to such a great work of worshipful art. Rauka is like a 14-page devotional book. You’ve probably already realised your Bible doesn’t have Psalm 151. Well, not anymore, because here are the 14 verses *:

1. Rauka (Rise up)

Rauka (rise up) speaks to the hopeless among us. The ones who have been branded poor, without cure, the constant failures. The song calls you to remember that Jesus did not forget you when He saved you. You may have recently received a dismissal notice at work and auctioneers are scrambling for your property, But remember Jesus did not forget you. So rise up, forget the past, what you have been through. RIse up, it’s a new day. “We thank you Father, we lift You up, we praise You. We receive You, King of kings.”

2. Ako nami (He is with me)

The second song sets a trend that I found distinctive and commendable in the rest of the album, Kanjii moves from just talking “about” God to talking “to” and “with” God. He moves from mere analysis of God’s nature to the actual worship and adoration of that nature. Ako nami (He is with me) reflects on God’s eternal strength, glory, Lordship and kindness. 

“You’re the rock on which I stand. You’re the one that never changes. In your arms I am secure. You’re protecting me. In your power I am mighty. Against all weapons formed against me, I shall not fear, I shall not fear.”

3. Karibu (Welcome)

Karibu (welcome) speaks of proclaiming the praises and attributes of God throughout the world. “All day long, I will confess You are holy, You name be lifted high, from every corner of this country, may all praise go to you Father.” And then Rigga reinforces the message with his rapping prowess; “Welcome Father, there’s no one like You, We welcome You King, Lion… Your Highness, we will make your praises heard… How will they know the King has arrived?”

4. Mfalme Mkuu

The most popular song in the album mainly because of the video that was released with the album. Mfalme Mkuu speaks of how Jesus saved us in the midst of our despair. “I had lost hope in life, I was to perish, fall, I was to be lost, but Jesus saved me… I was drowning, troubles all around me, I was in captivity, defeated, overwhelmed, but Jesus saved me… I am astounded, amazed, surprised, Your goodness has no measure, Your strength has no measure.”

5. Ebenezer

“He has said He won’t leave me until we reach the shore, He has said He has a good plan, a plan to give me hope. You are Lord of my life, and your promises are true. I will trust You, your promises are eternal… Let them say what they say, you are my Ebenezer, You guide me in life, there is no one else like You.”

6. Wewe Tu (Only You)

This song speaks of whom we should run to in our times of trouble: to God and not man. “In my pain, I cry out to my Lord. He is with me, I will not be afraid. I’d rather run to You than to man, I remember your love. Your Word is my hope. Your mercies never cease.” Kidum’s unmistakable voice spices the second verse and reinforces the same Psalm 22-like message: “Enemies surround me, I have no escape, but in Your name Lord, I am a victor…” But for You Lord, I would have perished in darkness. But for You Lord. Only You.

7. Mwanzo na Mwisho (Beginning and the End)

So far my favorite song in the album, “I thought I would perish, troubles overwhelmed me, in my depression I cried out to the Lord. He is my fortress, my hope, my rock of salvation… I will lift Him up, I will praise Him, He is the Savior, Alpha and Omega… Your name is Jehova, Lord, I ascribe to you all authority forever.”

8. Nitangoja (I Will Wait)

“It wasn’t long ago, I was drowning in issues, I longed for peace. Then I saw Your face, the One I depend on, You are my resting place. Even in my perplexion, when enemies surround me, I remember You will never leave me… I stand before You, surely You’re my shield. You’re teaching me, you’re my refuge, I will stand on Your Word.”

9. Nakuhitaji (I Need You)

“I don’t need to look for someone to care for me, love me. I don’t need to look for someone to make me happy, to satisfy me. There are no others, my soul thirsts for You. You are mine and I long for You… You’re the true vine. You provide everything I need. You are mine, I long for You.”

10. Juu Yangu (Upon me)

“I am poor, I have nothing to call my own. Like the birds of the air, you care for me. I am sure You hold my hand. You draw me to Your shadow… I know His hand upon me, I know His hand upon me… The ones I thought were my friends forsook me. But Your presence, Father, was over me. When my body wasted away with disease, You are Jehova Rapha, You healed me.”

And of course, the transposed lines towards the end are nothing short of heavenly: “Ooh, he has risen. No matter what I am going through. He has risen.”

11. Mwamba (Rock)

A mildly reggae tune with the talented Rigga sprinkled all over it: “I have come from far, seen a lot. Who cares for me? (My rock). They betrayed me, they mocked me. Who is my friend? (My rock)… I am not afraid of the floods, the rains or the winds. My foundation is in You, my rock, my rock… I will follow your Word, it is You I will depend You, Hide me.”

12. Wewe unami (You are with me)

More of a refrain than the usual verses and chorus, Wewe Unami (You are with me) is an affirmation of God’s constant and refreshing presence. It speaks of the cross as the bridge to life. “He walks with me, He holds my hand, His shadow surrounds me.” Pure, gospel-centered, worship.

13. Wewe (You

I think this is the song with the most frequent and explicit reference to Wewe (You), a psalmic chorus that addresses God and sounds almost private for its personal references: “You are my pillar, You are my refuge. You, You. You are my strength, You are my hope. You You…. In a dry land where there is no water. You are my Good. I seek. I seek. My soul longs for you. I thirst for you, I wait for you.”

14. Still Moving

The last song of the album is also the only fast-paced, party-feel song. It speaks of moving on and hoping and trusting despite circumstances that say otherwise. It is a song about rejoicing in lack and weakness. A song about praising in apparent hopelessness and despair. 

——

There you have it, a brief (long) overview of the whole album **. When I think about it, I am not so sure why I fell in love with this album. I mean, I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it’s the way the album is so explicit about God and His place in our lives. Maybe it’s the way every song stresses the weakness of man and the strength of God. Could it be the way each chord ties together the paradox of being happy in suffering, hopeful in bleakness, joyful in sadness? perhaps I love this album so much because it does not just remind me of my utter wretchedness and weakness, but it supplants this reality with God’s saving mercy and grace through Jesus Christ.

In other words, it is a Gospel album.

Written for the fame of His name.

~~~
Cornell

* The album is in Swahili so I have done my best to translate the lyrics.

** You can buy the album and pay via MPESA (and other online payment alternatives) through this link (just click on this sentence).