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?

rauka
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).

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Now This is What I Call a Perfect Prayer

2009-10-prayerI first heard it from my dad more than a decade ago. I was still in primary school. My dad rammed this prayer into my head until it became a permanent part of my memory. No, my dad was not born again, and he was not teaching me this prayer because he wanted me to be more pious. His reasons were different. My dad admired and pedestaled this prayer because it was a revealing prayer. It revealed the hypocrisy in many Christians. The words in the prayer indicated zero self-focus and total God-focus – Something that my father did not see in the professing Christians around him. It was a difficult prayer to live out, and I guess that’s why my dad loved it so much and made sure I memorized it. Here it is:

Oh LORD, If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,

and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.

But if I worship You for Your Own sake,

grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.

A PERFECT PRAYER

It’s obvious that this prayer expresses an other-worldly attitude of selflessness. It’s true that many people are “Christians” because they do not want to end up in hell. Others are Christians because the images they’ve been fed of heaven titillate their carnal cravings. Very few (if any) of us worship God for who He is. For a long time, I was persuaded that there was no prayer more profound than this one. Not even the Lord’s Prayer came close. Yet, something always bothered me about the prayer. It was an impossible prayer. What appeared to be a perfect prayer was actually a perfectionist prayer. It was a dangerous prayer. I never really prayed it. Whenever I examine my heart, there are always some strings attached in my relationship with God. My prayers and acts of worship are tainted with both explicit and subtle selfish aims. As apostle Paul once remarked;

“I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” [Rom 7:21]

WORSHIPING GOD FOR GOD’S SAKE

Later on, I realized that even though I had elevated this prayer and placed it on such a high pedestal, there’s an important element of the prayer that I never bothered to question. What does it mean to worship God for His own sake? This the question, though unanswered, was actually the most important aspect of the prayer above. To worship God for His own sake means to worship God as He really is. And to worship God as He really is means that one must first get to know this God. The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to us. God has revealed Himself as the creator and sustainer of the universe. But this is not all. The Bible reveals God as Savior and Redeemer of a world imprisoned in sin and the effects of sin. To worship God for His own sake is to worship God, not just as creator and keeper, but also as the redeemer of the world.

FREEDOM IN CHRIST

So you see, while the prayer above was indeed impressive, it was also imprisoning. I don’t want to tell God to take me to hell because I am worshiping Him for the fear of hell. The truth is that I am afraid of hell, and part of the reason why I worship God is because I do not want to end up there. This may not be the main reason for my worship, but it is part of it. If this makes me sinful, then I am headed to hell, for I cannot perfectly not mix my worship with my fear hell. On the other hand, I want to go to heaven, and I admit that to some extent, I worship God for the hope of paradise. If this means that I am disqualified for paradise, then I am hopeless.

But the good news is that I do know God for who He is. And of all the things that God is, He is also my Savior. Through the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, God has redeemed me from the curse of my sin. He has redeemed me from the power and penalty of my ever-sinful ways. I am free in Christ. This means that even if sometimes I worship God for the fear of hell, I will not end up there. It means that even if sometimes I worship God for the hope of paradise, He will not exclude me from paradise. This prayer that I learnt from my dad was profound. It was impressive. But it was also an imprisoning prayer. It disregarded the saving grace of God, and for that reason, it was a false prayer.

*****

PS: Just last year, I Googled the words of the prayer only to discover that it was written/said by an ascetic female Sufi (Muslim) mystic called Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyya (717 – 801 A.D.).

No wonder.

The Winemaker

image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org
image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

I guess he hadn’t completely broken off ties with his family. For in this scene, we find Jesus still hanging out with his mum and even attending a wedding together. I wonder, was he a mama’s boy? John doesn’t tell us. But he does tell us that there was a wedding, and that the wedding was apparently under-budgeted. For we see the wine running out just as the happy-hour crowd is streaming in. We are not told what he was doing at the moment. We can try to speculate. Maybe he was chatting up a bride’s maid (I know, that doesn’t sound very Jesusy). Perhaps he was part of a mini-dancing contest; or maybe he was just relaxing at a corner table with his new-found friends and students enjoying the cake and the ambiance. We are really not sure, but we know that whatever he was doing was interrupted by a strange statement from his mother,

“They have no more wine.” (John 2:3)

He could have feigned ignorance and asked, “What are you telling me for? It’s not my wedding and I am not the wedding committee chairman.” Actually, he sort of said something similar (v. 4) but Mary ignored it.

He could have taken this as an exit cue, “I guess it’s time to leave then, isn’t it?

But he didn’t, even before these five stage-setting words left Mary’s lips and landed on Christ’s ears, they both knew that she was no longer talking to her son, but her master. She was giving Jesus the reins. Take over. Fix this. Do what you came to do, what you do best – the impossible. It’s time to flex those muscles son… I mean… Lord. You have to pause and admire Mary’s faith. Jesus had never performed a miracle, never walked on a puddle or healed a sniffle. At least not that we know of. But she was handing over a whole wedding in jeopardy to him, and you know just how crazy wedding plans can get.

You have to admire Mary’s faith because it is this kind of faith that’s missing in many of us, believers.

We’ve all been there; impossible deadlines, tragic headlines, dying relationships, shocking medical reports, and now weddings wading in impending doom. We’ve been there, we’ve witnessed our best laid plans hitting solid walls, we’ve wept as our best friends betrayed our trust, we’ve helplessly stood by hospital beds as heartbeats slowed down and death smacked its lips. We’ve been there, and we’ve been desperate. We have needed that glimmer of hope, that healing hand, that knight in shining armor. Only to find blank stares and no answers. And we have given up. Many times, countless times.

Why?

The answer to that why is simple, but it is not simplistic: We never spoke to Jesus about it; it never even came across our minds. Like Mary’s statement, a phrase like, “My girlfriend dumped me” doesn’t sound like something we would say to Jesus. It’s too open-ended. We half-expect him to respond with a blank “so what?” Yet, Jesus still attends weddings and He still turns water into wine. He still transforms empty shells of people into hope-filled souls. He still heals marriages and mends friendships.

So, instead of running around in desperation, dare to look up for affirmation. He won’t ignore you. Consider running your concerns by Him, however vain they sound to you. Mary did, and we know what happened. Water-jars were transformed into wine-jars as parched taste-buds were suddenly soaked in a divine taste of wine.

Give him your tears, and watch Him turn even that into wine.

Kenya’s 2013 Post Election Violence

[Written on March 15, 2013]

3427415-computer-monitor-and-hand-with-gun-isolated-on-white-backgroundThere’s a celebratory mood in Kenya. Other than those celebrating the wins of their preferred candidates in various electoral positions, there’s another, more subtle celebration. Despite many fears of a recurrence of the 2007/08 post-election violence, the 2013 elections were predominantly peaceful. The few incidences prior to the elections, were, if I may call them such, “pre-election” violence. No matter the efforts by international media to zoom in on them, they didn’t count.

We were determined to see our prayers answered.

There would be  no post-election violence this year.

AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE

There is therefore a general attitude of gratitude in the hearts of many Kenyans. We are grateful that no people were chased and displaced from their homes this time around. We are grateful that no life was lost out of grievances from the election results. We are grateful that God heard and affirmatively answered our prayers. There are no new IDPs.

One thing still worries me though. The fact that God answered our prayers. The fact that we got exactly what we asked for, and nothing more. This worries me. Continue reading Kenya’s 2013 Post Election Violence

Okay Kenyans, You Can Stop Praying Now

imagesIt is a small room. There’s probably about 30 to 40 people inside. All the people in the room are praying. Fervently. Faithfully. Resolutely. Unceasingly. You see, one of their own has been thrown into prison. And they are praying for, if not his release, at least his well being. That he won’t be killed like James, the brother of John. The Christians in Mary’s house are praying for Peter, who had been thrown into prison by Herod. Their prayers are so loud and passionate that they can barely hear the knocks at the gate to the house.

But Rhoda, a servant who was probably standing near the door, hears the knocks and rushes out, towards the gate. When she recognizes Peter’s voice, she is so overjoyed that she forgets to open the gate and rushes back into the house. She announces that Peter is at the door. Everyone thinks she’s crazy. Continue reading Okay Kenyans, You Can Stop Praying Now

Hearts on Fire (A Prayer)

Kenya-Nairobi-cemetery-2010-07-21On 28 January, 2009, a fire razed down Nakumatt Supermarket in downtown Nairobi, Kenya. Security guards locked exit doors in an effort to prevent looting. Angel Wainaina, an actress who played the role of Sergeant Maria on the Cobra Squad TV series, died in that fire. So did Peter Serry, then CEO of Tusker FC. About 50 lives are believed to have been lost in the fire. Three days later, on 31 January 2009, An oil spill ignition occurred in Molo, Kenya, and resulted in the deaths of at least 113 people and critical injuries to over 200 more. The incident occurred when an oil spill from an overturned truck burst into flames as onlookers attempted to obtain remnants of the spilled fuel for personal use. This is the prayer I wrote in the wake of these fiery tragedies: Continue reading Hearts on Fire (A Prayer)

A Valentine’s Day Cypher – The Conclusion

This is the last installment in a four-part poetry cypher. If you haven’t already, check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 before continuing…

THE CONCLUSION

GIRL ::

A moment of hesitation,
A heart full of affection,
Crossed thoughts… Confusion,
A need for a conclusion,
I need to say something, yet no words come to mind…
He just spoke his heart, I just stand there blank…
It’s simple really, he puts me… on a pedestal… I don’t deserve to be up so tall.
With him I wear a halo, from the moment he says ‘hallo’
I want to be his imperfect,
Perfectly perfecting our perfect…
So, let’s do this together… Don’t make it about how to ‘get-her’
What do you say?
Or even better, let’s face the ONE who’s perfect,
What does HE have to say?

Continue reading A Valentine’s Day Cypher – The Conclusion