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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Why I Didn’t Sing in Church Last Sunday

When I walked into the church on Sunday, I immediately knew it will be a long morning. I had arrived on time, and that was the problem. You see, I just didn’t feel like singing today. In fact, I haven’t felt like singing for a while now. These days I am actually happy when I get to church late, just when the “Praise and Worship” session is ending and the preacher is about to go up.

Sometimes I sub-consciously deliberately go in late for this reason. I like to think of myself as a sermon guy. Perhaps that’s why I prefer pod-casts to pulpits.

It’s not like I haven’t asked myself what the problem is. At first I told myself I am a bad singer and I wouldn’t want the person standing next to me to hear me, but that was a lie. It’s true that I am a bad singer, but I don’t think my neighbor would hear, let alone care. The music is loud enough at my church.

So I tried to rationalize that it’s the standing up for one hour that I can’t stand. Can’t we just sit there and watch the “Worship Team” do their thing? They have been practicing all week, why should I spoil their perfect harmonies? But I knew that this was just another excuse.

I know the real reason, but it is embarrassing. More embarrassing than fearing my neighbor and being too lazy to stand up. The real reason is, I just don’t feel like singing sometimes. I don’t want to. Yes, I may know the words to the song, but I really don’t feel them. I know the words are true. I know that God is great, awesome, that God is marvelous, that He is glorious… but I just don’t feel like saying it over and over. Because it feels so fake, so forced, like being forced to eat your vegetables… or laugh at a bad joke out of courtesy.

Most of the time, I only do it because it is part of the program. If it were up to me, at such times, I would skip the singing.

And I have skipped it when it were up to me. In Bible studies that I lead, I cross my fingers that no one will suggest a song before we begin. It’s a similar feeling with the prayer. I like to keep it short. Let’s just get to the Word. It is the preaching that I love. I can listen to the sermon for hours, and even preach one for longer.

I can’t help but wonder, am I the only one who feels this way sometimes? I know there are many amongst you who feel the exact opposite. You love the singing, but the sermon puts you to sleep. You can jump for hours, but you can’t sit for even 20 minutes. It is a strange thing, this difference. I wonder if it says something about the state of my spirituality… and yours.

By the way, have you read any book by J.R.R. Tolkien? He is an amazing writer! I love the way he weaves a beautiful fabric with his words. The way the words of his stories just freely roll down the tongue when read out loud. Bilbo Baggins, even the names of his characters are lyrical.It is like he wrote for both the eyes and the ears. Tolkien is a wonderfully gifted writer, I could sing his praises and praise his works all day long and then some. Every time I read his work I am inspired to tell the world about him, and write similar stories of my own. I can’t help but wonder if this is the wonder that escapes me when I face the thought of singing about my God.

For the fame of His name,

Cornell

The Moment of Truth [Game Show]

the-moment-of-truthThe Moment of Truth is a 2008/09 American TV game show whereby participants get to answer 21 questions and stand to win a grand prize of $500,000. Prior to going on the show, each participant is administered a polygraph exam. This is done by answering 50 random questions, most of which are intensely personal. 21 of these questions are then picked to be asked again in front of a live audience, including the contestant’s close family and friends, and he or she is supposed to answer each of the 21 questions truthfully… or walk away with nothing. What struck me about this show is how much people are willing to risk and sacrifice for the sake of half a million dollars (that’s over 40 million Kenyan shillings!).

It’s amazing just what people are willing to sacrifice for 40 million shillings. When the moment of truth comes, the contestant is willing to forsake all, his friendships, his marriage and his family… for a good amount of money. A wife is willing to destroy a 20 year marriage for 40 million shillings. A son is willing to alienate his parents for 40 million shillings… Husbands will readily admit that they have been cheating on their wives; wives will confess to be in love with the husband’s brother or best friend and a daughter, like Melanie Williams who won the grand prize, will confess that she believed her dad was a pedophile.

I was watching this show the other day when it hit me; these people are willing to literally confess their most heinous sins and uncover their vilest secrets in front of a national audience for the sake of their god. Money is a powerful idol that is often underestimated. Paul was right, “…the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils…” Human beings are willing to bare their souls, revealing their utter wretchedness and lay all their sins at the foot of the money-god.

But am I willing to do the same for my God? Am I willing to lay down my vilest sins, confessing them before God and man for the sake of the ultimate prize of eternal glory? My God, who is LORD of all, Creator of all universe and the owner of the cattle on a thousand hills… Is He appealing enough to risk my dignity and reputation for? Am I willing to hate my mother and father for the sake of this God of mine the way others are willing to do it for the sake of money? When the moment of truth comes, am I willing to lay down my pride, lay bare my soul and count it all as loss for the sake of knowing Him, and owning Him?

I am not so much shocked that people in this show are willing to stake it all for the sake of 40 million shillings; I am more appalled that if the same demand was to be made of me regarding my love for my God, I will hesitate, and most likely settle for nothing.

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” [Romans 7:24-25a]

Yes, We Are Older Than God

G. K. Chesterton, in his classic work, Orthodoxy, says:

“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.

But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

It helps to remember that “old age” was never part of the perfect plan of creation. Hmmm… No wonder Jesus died at 33. Someday, we are going to be as children again. Psalm 144:12, Matthew 19:14, 18:3.

#Maranatha

Blog Break (8 Feb 13)

Here are links to three interesting reads that I think are worth your weekend reading time:

  1. SHOULD WE CHEER FOR GOD? “When you’re watching a football game and your team scores, what do you do? You Cheer! You burst out of your seat and pump your fist and yell and clap and slap five with those around you!. So why aren’t you like that toward God? You should express that same kind of excitement and joy toward Him!”
  2. In A LETTER TO (SOME) ATHEISTS, Michael Patton responds to the way many atheists like to oversimplify belief in God, comparing and likening (or equating) it to belief in Santa Claus. “If belief in God was on par with belief in Santa, then why would there be people who hold positions in seminaries and universities all over the world who not only believe in God, but spend their lives making (what they believe to be) rational defenses for such a belief?”
  3. Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God, but by different names? Is God by any other name still God? In A ROSE IS A ROSE, R.C. Sproul attempts to show how and why all religions do not worship the same God. “It is a quantum leap to go from saying that God by any other name is still God, to saying that all the great religions in the world believe in the same Being though they call Him different names.”

Enjoy your reading, friends 🙂

 

Give Thanks… In Everything?

solagratia-011If you’re like me, you probably find it easier to compartmentalize and categorize your Bible. But there’s a reason why the Bible wasn’t arranged in topics, but as one great narrative. One of the reasons why we like to compartmentalize the Bible is because life seems more manageable that way. Are you feeling lonely? “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16). Are you weighed down by life’s hustles? “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28). Struggling with giving? Perhaps you need a motivator, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” (Mal 3:10). Continue reading Give Thanks… In Everything?