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Kenyans Mourn Passing of Popular Gospel Singer


East and Central African music fans are mourning the death of renowned Congolese gospel musician Angela Chibalonza. She passed away a few weeks ago in a car accident in Kenya. Since she arrived in Kenya in 1998, Chibalonza released seven albums. She was nominated in 2004 for a Kora All African Music Award in the category of best female gospel artist. From Kisumu, Kenya, reporter Ajanga Khayesi has the story.

The popular Congolese songwriter and gospel singer Angela Chibalonza was famous for her dynamic voice. Simply known as Chibalonza, the artist is a household name in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Congo, Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. Part of her widespread appeal was her ability to sing in several languages, including Kiswahili, Lingala, Ruganda and French are spoken.

"Chibalonza," said fan Samuel Wafula,"was an accomplished, gifted, and anointed gospel singer who has won solemn hearts through her famous gospel hits. I have been listening to her for the last ten years ever since she came to the helm light of gospel music in the country."

Chibalonza said her music was a reflection of her Christian faith. She said she knew and received Jesus through singing. She said hearing gospel songs made her cry. Chibalonza said she felt her heart was touched by Jesus.

Angela Chibalonza was 40 years ago in the Congolese village of Braissele near Bukavu town, the second-born in a family of 11 children that included six boys and five girls. After attending local primary school, she continued on to high school and university.

When growing up she was greatly inspired by Congolese Mbilia Bel’s soprano, called by National Geographic Africa’s first transcontinental diva. Chibalonza turned to gospel music 1992 when she joined the university and became a Christian. She started profound singing at the university, and later at a Congolese Catholic Church where she became the choir leader. From there, she joined the Pentecostal Church in Bukavu.

In 1992, she decided to leave the DRC for Kenya. Chibalonza denied that she left her homeland because of on-going violence, there. Instead, she said her decision to relocate in Nairobi was a career-move.

Among the albums she recorded in the Kenyan capital are "Nakuabudu" (I Worship You), followed by "Jina La Yesu" (The Name of Jesus), "Mwisho wa dunia" (End of the World), "Ninapotembea" (As I Walk), "Imani yako" (Your Faith), "Nzambe Papa" (Father God), and "Yahwe Uhimidiwe" (Yahwe Exalted). The songs "Ninatamani", "Nitampa nini", "Yahwee Uhimidiwe", "Jubilee", all received enormous airplay, on FM radio and television stations.

"Her music," said Ngiri Forty, a studio producer for Namkio Recording Studio in Kisumu, "included well defined Afro-beats blended with reggae lyrics. Her soulful vocals in the praise and worship style of music were rich and full-throttled. Chibalonza’s songs were not only sweet to the ears, but the inspiring messages were known to send many into frenzy during Christian [concerts]."

Venturing into music was difficult – and Chibalonza said her family discouraged her from a singing career. She said her family punished her whenever she attended overnight prayer meetings.

In 2003, Chibalonza married her long time Congolese fiancée, Apostle Elisha Muliri, the founder of Shekinah International Ministries in Kenya.

Chibalonza sung prominently during National Prayer Day in Kenya, which is attended by the country’s president Mwai Kibaki. She was scheduled to perform during the Africans Let’s Worship concert, at the Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi late October this year.

She died in late September when a car she was traveling in struck a lorry on the highway between Nairobi and Nakuru. Her family says she and other colleagues were on their way from Egerton University to a gospel concert.

Her passing came just days before launching her latest album, "Nimekutana na Yesu" (I Have Met Jesus) under the banner Furaha ya Kipawa (Joy of My Talent).

Husband Elisha said "God giveth and taketh away" – a prominent message Chibalonza conveyed through her music.

Gospel music producer Japheth Kassanga said it was an obstacle for gospel business considering that, her albums quickly made the best-selling and stayed long in the music industry.

"She acted as a wonderful role model for other gospel singers," said Elizabeth Keraro, a gospel singer in Kenya. "She is a person to be remembered and adored. Her songs like Jubilee and Uhimidiwe would be our inspiring songs."

The Daily Nation newspaper said her death was also a set-back for Kenya’s music industry because her songs were finding markets on the international scene. It comes two weeks after another popular star, Sharon Wangwe better known as Lady S, also died in a road accident.

Music critics say Chibalonza’s beautiful songs will continue to be heard on Kenyan radio, and in the minds of her fans.

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