When St. Stephens Church was moved from Jackson Road (the current parliament building site) to Jogoo Road, it was meant to be the Anglican African Cathedral as All Saints Cathedral was already serving the white settlers community. The church immediately found a building congregation as it was built amid an African residential area. The railway workers in the nearby Makongeni estate, Government Quarters, Bahati, Mbotela, Landmawe, Muthurwa, Shaurimoyo, Makadara, and the up-coming Maringo estates, supplied an immediate congregation. The new church had been fitted with a pipe Organ which had been sourced from South Africa. The nearby Church Army College provided an immediate clergy support. One of the sisters in Church Army, Sister Martin started playing the organ even as she encouraged congregational singing.
In the nearby St. Pauls primary school in Mbotela estate, was a competent music teacher, The late Prof. George Senoga Zake who was encouraged by the late Graham Hyslop, the then organist at the All Saints Cathedral, to start a choir at St. Stephens Church. The St. Stephens Church Choir was formed in 1956 by Prof. Zake. Prof. Zake and Graham Hyslop were later to join hands with Prof. Washington Omondi, Rev. Kalume and others to work on the Kenyan National Anthem based on a Pokomo melody. This was at the break of independence.
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From these humble beginnings, St. Stephens Church Choir was formed. Prof. Zake instilled good singing discipline and being a trained musician, insisted that all choristers learn tonic-solfa. Most of the singers were drawn from the nearby schools e.g. Morrison primary school in Bahati, St. Pauls primary school in Mbotela and further afield. Prof. Zake taught the full musical Liturgy according to the Anglican tradition as was done at the All Saints Cathedral, Nairobi and at Namirembe Cathedral, his home Cathedral in Uganda. Chants of the day were sung and an attempt was made to learn all the hymns of the â€œNyimbo Standardâ€ as per the church calendar.
Prof. Zake Steered the choir until 1966 when he had to leave the country for further studies abroad. During his tenure he groomed two great musicians at the time. These were Mr. P. Kiteto and the Late Darius Mbela. He finally settled for Mr. Darius Mbela who was by then the choirmaster of St. Phillips Church Jericho (a sister Anglican Church). Darius Mbela took over the St. Stephens choir leadership from the Prof. Zake in 1966 and continued with the good foundation that had been laid.
By early 70’s, St. Stephens Church Choir was a name well known in the Christian music circles. The Kenya Anglican Youth Organization (KAYO) proved to be the right forum for the choir to prove its strengths and all through the 70’s the choir became the dominant name in the Anglican church choirs competitions which provided a national forum to display top quality singing.
Many of the St. Stephens choristers were sourced at a tender age. Most of them joined the choir while still in school and grew with the choir. Majority joined out of admiration of an institution which had become a national pride. Credit must go to the Late Darius Mbela who started an open-door policy thus attracting other great musicians to work with the group. Great singers like George Dickson Masumbuko rose to become the Assistant Choir Master and a member of the Kenya Police Band. Musicians such as the Late Dr. Arthur Kemoli, Annetta Miller and Dr. Edwardo Ward and Caroline Cebrone among others greatly improved the choir over the years.
Mr. John Kitakwa, an Organist from Tanzania in the mid 70’s was a great resource to the choir as he gave the choir access to Tanzanian composers e.g. Father Lewis Malema, Father Songoro, Melchoir Syote and many others. It must be noted that it became a desire and a privilege of many composers to work and try their songs with the choir.
Many church choirs regardless of denomination will forever be indebted to St. Stephens Choir who over the years have continued to groom not only seasoned singers but also choir masters. The St. Stephens Choir story is a long one and has to be viewed in the unfolding decades. The 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and the millennium spanning five decades. The St. Stephens Choir have had experiences Nationally and Internationally in various musical concerts across the East African countries and Europe. The choir have also performed major works by some famous composers like Haydn and Mozart in conjunction with the Hanover Youth Orchestra.
St. Stephens choir became the choir to be relied upon by the state to grace national functions. When the first head of state, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta passed away on August 22ND 1978, the choir was called upon to compose memorial songs for the occasion. Within a day of the sad news, special music as a tribute had been composed and recorded to mourn the founding father of the nation. The choir went on to be the chore component of the national mass choir which performed during the state funeral of the Late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.
During the attempted coup of 1982, the nation once again had to rely on the choir to calm the nation. A song was quickly composed and recorded by the then Sound man from Voice Of Kenya (VOK), The Late Mr. Daniel Gatuguta, in the St. Stephens church vestry. This went on air shortly before the then head of state, His Excellency the President Daniel Arap Moi went on air to reassure the nation that all was well.
Preserving our Heritage
The introduction of a music committee in the choir from mid-70’s ensured that all musical talent in the choir was duly tapped. Talented singers who joined the group in the mid 70’s like Chris Sikuku, rose to become versatile composers and the principal assistant to Darius Mbela, composing innumerable songs. The choir made its first recordings in 1976, followed by another recording with the Vienna Boys Choir in 1979. Some of the renowned recordings done are: Mzabibu Wa Kweli , Tribute To Mzee, Heri Maziwa Ulionyonya and Mzabibu Wa Kweli.
The choir debuted the Kenya Music Festivals in 1979 and won various individual solos and mixed choir classes becoming a common expected participant maintaining the winning tradition they had set since the mid 70’s. The choir has a wide repertoire of music including African compositions and arrangements, as well as classical pieces and American Spirituals. The choir takes part in many charitable and humanitarian projects and concerts in Kenya such as The Kijani Festival, the Handel’s Messiah Hospice Concert in aid of the terminally ill, and the YWCA Concerts that highlight the plight of the girl child and women in society.
Over the years, the Choir has been taking part in the Nairobi Diocese Anglican music festivals, Kenya Christian Choirs Association festivals, the Inter Churches festivals, the Nairobi Christian Choirs festivals where it has been performing exemplary well over the years.
The St. Stephen’s Choir introduced African ideology into the church worship through the use of African traditional compositions, arrangements, instrumentation and dance. The choir has served as an academy of instruction for many upcoming musicians in the country and is one of the finest choirs in Kenya and in Africa receiving numerous accolades both locally and internationally.
The choir has a total membership of over 120 members who serve separately in different services, and come together for joint performances during special occasions and music festivals.
There are 4 choirs that serve in the Cathedral:
- Krooners Choir (7am Holy Communion Service)
- English Service Choir (9am English Service)
- Kiswahili Service Choir (11am Kiswahili Service)
- Youth Choir (Youth Choir)
Over the years, the choir has had many home-grown choir directors like the late Steven Odinga and the late Charles Omondi who grew from Sunday School to become distinguished musicians. The current choir leadership comprises of Daniel Madalanga, Eric Wasonga, Gilbert Oyuga, Ada Kaibe and Maxwell Ramba.