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Monday, February 3, 2014


squirrel in the choir
Kenani; a keyboarder of admirable repute

Antony Kenani seems to have just happened. Do you know how mushrooms miraculously sprout from dunghills surprising everyone the next morning? This Kenani guy was more than a mushroom in the St Paul's students choir when he appeared. The choir woke up on October 2012 to find this guy; a composed choir singer, keyboarder and trainer standing at the front conducting newbies and oldies into enthusiastic singing. What's more? He went to the extent of teaching 'Njia yangu msalaba' while still a first year.

Today, Kenani is the bass voice representative, a choir trainer and a keyboarder of great acclaim. He also plays the kayamba and tambourine so beautifully that you would love to hear him do it again and again. This is not to mention that he has a thing for the drum.

What most of us do not know is Kenani's history in singing. Do not think that he started singing choir songs at the university level like most of us did. No, the guy started realizing his life in choir music at a tender age while still in class 6.

Kenani meets the drum

Kenani realized that he could drum in a rather dramatic and boisterous way. In his boyhood, together with his gang of boys, Kenani would go to the river to swim. I am yet to find out whether they did it nude or whether they had some rags to hide their nether worlds. Anyway, that will be a story for another day. After the boys swam, they would compete over who could drum better.

By the river, there was no drum in sight. The boys would however improvise and find anything drummable- be it an overgrown pumpkin or gourd. In this boisterous competitions, the young Kenani would always emerge the winner much to the celebration of his gang. However, little did Kenani know that his passionate drumming would open more doors for him.

squirrel in the choir
The boys would drum anything they set their hands on

Kenani hails from a humble staunch catholic family. Do you know those families where every member has three rosaries hanging from their necks? Methinks his family was of that type. His mother would never hear anything about the boy not going to church. Not even when he did not have a shilling to give during offertory. Therefore, at an early age, Kenani found himself in the midst of a bevy of girls at Christ the King Kijauri church Sunday school singing and dancing to processional hymns.

As he grew up in the church, Kenani was fascinated by the choir instrumentalists. Driven by grit to learn these instruments, Kenani would at times prove to be a rascal by picking the choir drum and beating it senseless. The choir drum-mist would not reprimand him. All he did was to get amazed at the boy's innate skills in drumming. He encouraged him to learn more and by the time he was in class 8, he could play the kayamba, tambourine and keyboard at a novice level.

Academic life not too blissful after class 8

Kenani did his KCPE in 2005. He was a bright boy and emerged number one in his school garnering 378 marks. His humble parents however would not afford to secure him a place in secondary school. When his academic dream was almost dwindling, a well-wisher saved the day. He advised Kenani to repeat class 8, get better marks and secure a place at the prestigious Starehe boys high school. The poor Kenani had no alternative but to do so.

On going back to class 8, he studied studiously, toiling and moiling like an oiled piston. However, despite daily burning the midnight oil, he didn't make it to Starehe. In its stead, he got an admission to Mangu boys High school where this good-natured well-wisher paid for his academics.

Master of turnarounds at Mangu

Did you know why Dr Jonathan Ciano, Ceo of Uchumi supermarkets is known as a master of turnarounds? It is because he changed the face of Uchumi company from one that was falling in 2002 to one that stands firmly on its feet today. At Mangu high school, Kenani was no different. He gave the school the much needed face-lift as far as choir music was concerned.

In association with like-minded individuals, Kenani organized a fund-raiser to purchase a keyboard, drums, a PC system among other choir facilities. At first, the principal (the late Henry Raichena) was skeptical and offered no support to the boys. Methinks he had Central Kenya blood. However, on seeing how Kenani had organized the choir and the quality of singing evident in the group, he changed his mind and gave his full support to the drive. He even went on to sell his car and tithed most of what he got towards the fund-raiser drive!

Kenani's choir singing started in form one. By then, his voice was still shrill. Like that of a girl, maybe. All he could do was sing tenor. In form two however, puberty came knocking. It came knocking with a gift of a broken voice for Kenani. The young Kenani gladly embraced this and immediately switched to bass, a voice that he sings even today.

Light bulb moments in choir

In 2008, Mangu boys choir animated the Nairobi Archdiocese schools annual mass that was well attended by high schools and colleges. The choir sang beautifully making the mass full of pomp and pageantry. The priests celebrating mass congratulated Mangu boys and challenged the other schools to emulate this choir spirit.

Later on, towards the  year end, this choir was invited to sing during the Catholic Episcopal conference in Karen. They would sing in association with Maryhill girls high school. The choir was now complete. Initially, Mangu boys would only sing bass and tenor since they had no female voices. With Maryhill girls, they could now sing all the four voices. The singing was so beautiful that the then Radio Waumini director, reverend Fr. Kamere invited the two schools to animate the radio mass at Waumini. Though this did not come to fruition due to looming KCSE exams, Kenani and his gang realised that their singing could indeed bless people.

Kenani meets musical bigwigs

After form four, Kenani did not waste time. He went back to his home parish and asked to learn music. His request was accepted. His home choir sponsored him and off he went to learn with the professionals. At the music learning seminar, he met old choir masters who had amassed a wealth of experience in singing. He honed his keyboarding skills, vocals, choir mastery and reading music notes.

After a rigorous training in music, Kenani went back home fully loaded with musical knowledge. He started training wazees in his home choir. At first, they were reluctant to have him teach them. Who was he to tell them what to do anyway? If anything, they had seen the boy grow from a toddler running with mucus hanging dangerously from his nostrils. With time however, they learnt that after listening to him, their quality of singing improved. The priests would be so much elated and would praise them profusely.

In 2011, Kenani met St Pauls musical bigwig and composer Jc. Shomaly. At the time, Shomaly was recording one of his many songs with another Kisii choir, Biticha. While at Biticha, he got wind that at Kijauri had been born a young musical veteran who was surprising musical oldies with his impeccable choir talents. Just like the three wise men, Shomaly with two other musicians paid a visit to Kijauri to pay tribute to the young musician. He too was bewildered by Kenani's talent. He in fact demanded to have a snap with the boy.

Kenani steps into Nairobi
Kenani joined the university of Nairobi on 6th October, 2012. What is most surprising however is that on 10th October (barely a week after joining), he was part and parcel of the University choir. Maybe, he was still donning on a green kaunda suit and yellow socks like most first years do but anyway, who cares? What matters most is that the boy had a musical talent and knew it. A week later, he was on the St. Paul's choir technical bench. 
squirrel in the choir
Kenani the first ye

At the university of Nairobi choir, Kenani learnt so much that he did not know earlier. For example, he started learning English classical music and dancing. It would be worth noting that initially, his dancing was pretty bad. The university of Nairobi choir members laughed so much at how pathetic he was at shaking his waist. Some even said that both his legs were left-sided. At the same time, they were mesmerized by his crystal clear and impeccable vocals. Kenani sees his bad dancing as a blessing in disguise. It is by his bad dancing that many people knew him including the trainer, Mr. Chris Wekulo.

squirrel in the choir
Kenani chills with Ringtone after a choir performance in Kasarani

Choirs he is in

Apart from being part of the St.Paul's and the university choirs, Kenani prides in being part of 'The Coronation Choir' and 'The Choir'.

'The Choir' is the new name for the formerly renowned State house choir. Former first lady Lucy Kibaki loved it. It was like a favourite dish to her. She would relish it during Mashujaa day, Jamhuri day and other national festivities. However, when Margaret Kenyatta set her feet into the state house kitchen, this meal's name did not augur well with her. She would love to have something simple and precise just like her personality.

Therefore this name was scrapped off when Lucy Kibaki's couldron boiled over and Margaret placed hers on the state house hearth. Kenani has sung for the president and other important diginitaries during national ocassions like the president's inauguration, Mashujaa day, Jamhuri day and Kenya at 50.

The coronation choir on the other hand was formed during the Kenya @ 50 celebrations. Kenani auditioned and made it. It is worth noting that this Coronation Choir (under trainer Chris Wekulo) won KBC's ultimate choir show getting a prize of a cool one million Kenya shillings.

Inspirations and role models

Kenani loves Tanzanian choir music, especially the one done with an electric organ. He also likes listening to Migori choir as they do their volume 12 album.

Bernard Mukhasa (the Kidole juu composer), is a man that Kenani looks up to and would one day like to meet. Famous keyboarders that Kenani aspires to be like are Renatus and Mkude. Do not ask me who those guys are. I do not know them. Ask Kenani.

Away from Catholic choir music, kenani loves the zilizopendwas. He is intrigued at how sweet this genre of music is, yet no modern instruments were used in the composition.

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