Does God have a favorite type of music? Many 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… (whispering) the demonic roots and all. Or maybe He is into reggae music…
But seriously, though, does God have a favorite type of music?
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 and his team are quite gifted.
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 normally review individual songs. I am reviewing it as an album because I think it is the only way to do justice to such a great work of worshipful art. Rauka is like a 14-page devotional. If you were checking, 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 amongst us. The ones 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’ve 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 God. 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.”
“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: 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 traditional 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.
* The album is in Swahili so I have done my best to translate the lyrics.