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Kenyans Decry Tribalism at New England Gospel Music Contest

Ajabu Africa News, News Report, Harrison Maina and John Gachuki Posted: Aug 07, 2009

QUINCY, Mass. In a dispute reminiscent of the 2007 Kenyan election impasse, a New England music competition pitting Kenyan-American churches ended in disarray when disgruntled competitors alleged tribalism.

The contestants blasted the competition as a divisive venture and demanded a recount of the judges tally.

Overall winners cup defending champions, St. Pauls Community Church from Lawrence were stripped of the cup they had just retained for the second year in a row minutes after they stormed the main stage to celebrate.

All Saints Quincy was consequently declared the new overall winner, followed by St. Stephens Episcopal Church of Lynn, while St. James African Community church of Attleboro was third.

Dubbed the annual New England Kenyan Churches Music Festival, the Aug. 1 event was established with a goal of uniting the tribally divided Kenyan churches in the region by bringing them together once a year to mix and compete freely in worship music. Though started only last year, the event has become attractive to spectators as it generates fierce competition.

Several spectators said they felt sorry for nonparticipation of their churches for either lack of knowledge or were barred due to failure to meet registration deadline or requirements.

Rev. Joseph Ngotho of Lynn introduced the event by stressing that it was not just a competition but praising God as we will in heaven.

The set piece category competition opened the event with teams going at each other with a pre selected Kikuyu language versions of the worship song titled How Great Thou Art (O Lord My God!) by Stuart K. Hine.

Supporters exploded in ululations, intense clapping, whistling, and screaming to build morale and buoy their teams to victory.

Interestingly, children keenly watched their parents hit the stage in African traditional attire and decorations totally unfamiliar to them. They were strategically positioned in the front rows to catch a good glimpse of the cultural worship performance.

In the end, hawkeyed participants not willing to concede defeat challenged the accuracy and validity of Saint Pauls victory. It was the second time in as many years that competing teams from different churches voiced concern with the final tallies as scored by the adjudicators.

The first annual festival held at the St. Stephens Lynn last year riled some loosing teams that went home complaining of unfair scoring by the then adjudicator.

This year, however, vigilant participants did some quick math soon after the awards that showed glaring discrepancies.

Led by David Ikanyi of St. Stephens Church, Lowell and Rev. Fredrick Thanji of All Saints Community Church, participants contended that there was no way a team could emerge as the winner out of six teams in the set piece category and the last in the traditional song category and yet emerges overall winners of the contest.

They therefore demanded an immediate recount as stunned adjudicators scrambled to revisit their notes.

The events emcee, Rev. Paul Mwaniki from Saint James African community church in Attleboro, tried to pacify openly disgruntled parishioners as he appealed for calm and promised a fairer outcome.

The adjudicators missed something and now its going to change everything we announced, said Rev. Mwaniki, prompting uproar from the worshippers. Just ignore everything we said before and wait for the new winners.

Wide-eyed participants and their supporters hanged on with abated breaths as others walked out in a peaceful protest.

Organizers had hired new, apparently qualified and experienced adjudicators, to score this years festival that was expected to be more competitive than the first annual event. They flew in Ben Ateku from Dallas, Texas, who was assisted by George Rachier of Dracut, Mass.

According to reliable sources, Ateku is a former provincial director of music in Kenya and a former Massachusetts resident who relocated to Dallas, while Rachier informed worshippers that he is from Kogelo, the a small rural village in western Kenya famous for being the rural home of President Barack Obamas father.

Efforts to establish the qualifications and experience of the second adjudicator did not bear fruit, as none of the organizers were sure.

As the adjudicators flipped through pages of their notes to reconcile their scores, Rev. Mwaniki asked the overall cup defending champions to return the trophy they had just received and nervously celebrated on the stage.

There was a several-minute hesitation before a very embarrassed member of St. Pauls Church reluctantly placed the trophy back on the adjudicators table. The adjudicators had to borrow a calculator from the public as they frantically tried to add up the scores, leaving members wondering how they had originally come up with the disputed figures.

After several minutes of consultations, a new round of winners was announced where All Saints Quincy emerged the overall winner.

All Saints Quincy also scooped the traditional song category, followed by Lynn, while the dethroned champions, St. Pauls Lynn won the set piece song category, followed by hosts, All Saints Quincy. Newcomers, St. Stephens Lowell came third.

The newly recalculated score helped some teams move a notch higher to the bewilderment of others.

This, however, did not bring solace to St. Johns Worcester, who were the expected favorites in the traditional song category but ended up tying the rear end in all three categories, clearly humbling the team into oblivion.

It was not a laughing matter as other teams still doubted the new results and claimed that the adjudicators did not know what they were doing.

It was a nice event but I was very disappointed by the adjudicators, said George Karanja of St. Pauls Attleboro.

Trying to explain the fiasco to the participants, Ateku, the main adjudicator, said that they had miscalculated the results and apologized for the error.

The hiatus clearly caught the organizers by surprise including Rev. John Karanja, a visiting pastor from the ICC Church in Baltimore, Md., Bishop Jeremiah Kibobi visiting from Kenya, and Rev. Samuel Kimohu of St. Stephenss Lowell.

Rev. Ngotho of Saint Stephens Episcopal church in Lynn and Rev. Peter Gachathi of St. Pauls Lawrence, who were part of the key organizing committee all sat speechless as some of the new winners declined to come for their certificates.

Rev. Mwaniki, the emcee, closed the meeting when it became clear that participants were no longer interested in going for the newly announced trophies. Rev. Kimohu then said the final prayer.

This unfortunate development threw the future of the event into uncertainty, as many participants decried the ineptitude of the organizers and the tribal feeling that the event projected.

Why did they give a Kikuyu language set piece song for competition while in New England we have many churches that have many different other tribes represented? asked a perplexed Sam Mwaura of Burlington. This locks out other Kenyans and cannot therefore be said to represent all Kenyan churches in New England. They should be more inclusive.

How could the adjudicators who were not Kikuyus figure out what the Kikuyu soloists were saying in order to score the harmonization with the back up singers? asked another Kenyan who did not want to be named.

You can not cook a big meal and invite only your friends while still insisting it is for everybody, said a Kenyan woman from Lynn, who asked not to be named. They need to include other tribes and have English or Swahili set piece songs with traditional songs being open.

Reliable sources told AjabuAfrica.com that some participants have declared that they will not show up for next years competition.

Others downplayed the fiasco, stating that all the teams would not really have scooped the priced trophy.

There had to be winners and losers but clearly, worshippers need not to be taken through this again by ineptitude of adjudications after having played their part, said one parishoner.

The main pioneer of the event, Rev. Mwaniki, told AjabuAfrica.com that the organizing committee had already planned a meeting to review the problems that bedeviled the event and hopefully put some measures that would make future events better.

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