Gospel star Roseline Mwihaki wins suit worth millions against her Adawnage band

Gospel singer Roseline Mwihaki.

Gospel singer Roseline Mwihaki.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Their first coming together was in May 28, 2008. Gospel singer Roseline Mwihaki had just won a local talent show, Talentmania, founded by Charles Mburugu, to promote excellence in Christian performing arts.

Excited as she was, she invited David Ogara, Robert Njuguna, Anthony Akivembe and others, and together they formed the once-famous gospel band, Adawnage.

For eight years the band performed together all over the country, won accolades and toured the world with Mwihaki as its lead vocalist and founder.

Adawnage churned out mega hits such as Uwezo, Naomba, I Live for You among others, cementing its position in the scandal-ridden Kenyan gospel industry.

However, the once popular gospel band has now been hit by a scandal.

Last week, Mwihaki, who currently resides and ministers in Arizona, USA, won a copyright suit against Adawnage where she is seeking to be paid her royalties dating over a period of over six years. She accuses the band of collecting royalty monies and not remitting her portion.

According to her lawyer David Katee, Mwihaki, who now goes by the name Kaki Mwihaki, will now seek court orders to compel the band to compensate her.

Millions of shillings

“We can’t quantify the amount just yet because the orders have been issued by the court and Adwanage needs to comply with those orders before we can determine how much they should pay. However, we are looking at millions of shillings because the royalties have accumulated over the years, and it’s not about one song but more than 10,” Katee says.

Mwihaki’s troubles with her own band began in 2015 when her marriage began crumbling.  

Kaki met her ex-husband through the band members who are his childhood friends. She and her partner fell in love, got married but divorced in less than five years over what she termed as irreconcilable differences.

“In 2015, my marriage was irretrievably broken and I went through a difficult phase of depression, suffered stigma and it affected my overall health as well as my availability for some band activities. I maintained a low profile from the media during the entire (divorce) court proceedings and did very few performances with the band as I was in no state emotionally or mentally to participate,” Mwihaki said in court documents seen by Sunday Nation.

At the time, Adawnage had registered to trade as an LLP (Limited Liability Partnership) in 2013, with 13 members signing a partnership deed.

The 13 included Leah Midamba, Elijah Wambua, Njuguna, Elvis Muema, Lorna Olwanda, Grace Nduku, Ogara, Frank Muriuki, Pauline Mirithu, Akivembe, Michael Wanyama, Julius Nyawara and Mwihaki.

As Adawnage LLP, the band also registered with Kenya Copyright Board, Music Society of Kenya and other Collective Management Organisations, thus availing its music to the public. This enabled the band to generate income and collect royalties while also generating other revenues from brand merchandise.

In the court documents, Mwihaki said she is among the bank account signatories with the books kept by Ogara, whose role in the band was that of a songwriter, keyboardist, logistician and accountant in charge of all matters concerning the band’s finances.

However, as she stepped back from her role as lead singer as a result of the divorce case, the rest of the band began to distance itself from Mwihaki.

“I served as a vocalist and songwriter, and together with Robert Njuguna, I was in charge of PR and media appearances so the public knew me more as the face of Adwanage band. I was also viewed as the lead singer since my songs were out in the limelight and brought the fame and recognition to the band,”

It wasn’t long before she was kicked out of her own band and denied access to Adawnage music catalogue. Mwihaki later relocated to the US. While in the US, Mwihaki reached out to the band requesting to be paid her royalties of the 12 songs out of 20 contained in the initial two albums – Safari and Maisha – which she composed and authored.

Kaki also requested the band to change the authorship of the 12 songs to Roseline Mwihaki instead of Adawnage but the band refused, insisting that the songs were the band’s Intellectual Property and will remain as such.

“I am not credited as songwriter of any of my original compositions on any of the platforms (online and on YouTube) and efforts to have the band credit my work have been futile,” Mwihaki says.

Adawnage’s debut album, Safari, was released in December 2010. It contained 10 songs, of which Kaki had composed five – Usisahau, Uwezo, Naomba, Nitumie and Let Me Live.

The popularity of Uwezo and Naomba saw the band clinch Group of the Year in the 2012 at the Groove awards. The group also won the same category in 2017 as well as 2018 Best Group in the Maranatha Awards.

“The band has not credited me as the songwriter on either of these songs despite the fact that I am the sole writer and they have continued to collect royalties for both songs, and making no payment to me for my share,” Mwihaki’s plaint read.

In January 2016, the band released its sophomore album, Maisha, carrying 13 songs. Of the 13, Mwihaki composed seven – Vile Vile, Do you Love Jesus, Ready to Love, Maisha 123, I cry to you, Jina lake ni Yesu and the hit banger, I Live for You.

“I Live for You was undoubtedly the hit song of the second album. It was our comeback after five years of not releasing a new song. As of today, I live for you has 2,645,918 views on YouTube and no portion of the royalties from the song has ever been submitted to me, nor have I been credited as the songwriter on any Adawnage platforms,” Kaki continues.

After the group kicked her out, Mwihaki moved back to her mother’s house because she was unemployed at the time and depended on the group’s revenue to pay bills. It was then that she launched a solo career. She releasing her first single, Nani Kama Yaweh, in 2018.

In September 2019, Mwihaki made an effort again to iron out issues with the band. She called for a meeting with the initial partners.

“Only Robert Njuguna and David Ogara attended the meeting. I asked for my share of royalties, but I was met with great hostility from Robert who warned me not to drag the band into money wars. In the end they deliberated on the matter with other band members and out of 10 years of success in the music industry, they gave me Sh30,000,” she says.

The band informed Mwihaki that it was in the middle of recording a third studio album, and that a large amount of funds had been channeled towards that.  

“The only money the band is entitled to from the songs is performance rights, but Mwihaki is entitled to collect royalties separately as composer and author of the 12 songs,” Katee says.

A year later, on July 2, 2021 the band’s accountant, Ogara, contacted Mwihaki via WhatApp demanding that she signs documentation to remove her as one of the band’s bank account signatory. She refused and demanded for full payment of her royalties first.

Later that month, on July 30, Mwihaki and her legal team held another meeting with the band and its legal representation to try and resolve the impasse, but nothing was resolved. This prompted Mwihaki to file the suit on November 4, 2021.

Last week, principal magistrate Caroline Cheptoo Kemei, sitting at Milimani Magistrate Commercial court, consented to all the seven plaints filed by Kaki.

“The plaintiff has demonstrated her contribution to the band since inception. The plaintiff has proved her case on a balance of probability and this court enters judgment in her favor,” Kemei said in her determination.

In the ruling, Cheptoo ordered all revenue collected from show performances, merchandise and other sources since the inception of Adwanage LLP be audited and accounted for, and Mwihaki be given her equal share under the partnership. That Mwihaki be credited for her IP on all of her compositions on all distribution platforms. That reconciliation be done for revenue generated from all active distribution and licensing agreements between the band and any other party and Mwihaki be given her fair share under the partnership.