Susan Ngigi: From Sunday school songs to spicing up acclaimed Safaricom choir

Susan Ngigi

Susan Ngigi, Manager Workforce planning at Safaricom and a choir member in the Safaricom Choir during the interview on September 28,2022.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

It’s the music in her. It makes her want to stop and sing along to a song in the oddest of places. It sends tunes reverberating in her mind every so often. It drives her, relaxes her, and to some extent feeds her.

Susan Ngigi must have been born for the choir. The alto that rises from the depths of her lungs and is accentuated by her vocal cords as it escapes from the often oval that is her mouth has been many years in the making.

As a young girl, she would sing in Sunday school. In secondary school at the Holy Family Academy in Nyahururu, she was in the choir. At the University of Nairobi where she studied economics, she was in the choir. Not one; but two — the university choir and the choir for the church serving the university.

She was part of the UoN Catholic church choir (St Paul’s) that sang Alfajiri ya Kupendeza, Ikatetemeka Nchi, Kina Hiki among others.

Today, she is 13 years into her job at Safaricom. And, not surprisingly, she is part of the choir. She was part of the cast that sang the famous “Niko na Safaricom” song that some commentators on YouTube have described as the best advertisement yet on Kenyan TV. She was part of the group filmed singing on the beaches of the Indian Ocean.

Choirs, for her, are life. They have given her confidence, taken her places, and helped her connect with her musical side.

Below, Ms Ngigi – a mother of three who is in charge of workforce planning and performance at the Safaricom Contact Centre – explains herself.

It needs no guessing, but I am a Catholic. And I think I’ll die Catholic.

I am a mother of three: two beautiful girls and one handsome boy. And a wife to one husband.

I joined Safaricom in the year 2009 as a customer care representative and the following year, in 2010, I got to know that there is a Safaricom choir.

Currently, I work at the Safaricom Contact Centre along Mombasa Road and I am in charge of workforce planning and performance management. My work entails basically predicting the customer contacts that are coming to the call centre in whichever channel; be it emails, SMS, calls, social media or any other channels that they can use to get to Safaricom. I monitor on a day-to-day basis how that is happening against what we had predicted.

Music is something that I really love, as long as it’s organised music. As long as it’s communicating something. Even when I am passing by, or I’m in the supermarket and I hear a nice song, you will see me singing along. It’s something that gets into me; I can’t really explain, but I just love music. So, any time I’m in any establishment or any institution and I find that they have an organised group, that’s a choir, I try find my way there. And the good thing is that I’ve never missed an opportunity to join the choirs.

My work has to be in sync with my choir participation. Rehearsals depend on the season. If it’s a busy season, we will have like two evenings of practise and a whole Saturday or a half-day on a Saturday. Mostly, our day of rehearsal is Thursday from 5.30pm to 7.30pm. So, those are the two hours that we dedicate for practice every week. However, if we have a performance or a production, then we have to sacrifice another day, a Saturday, plus maybe the day of the performance. So, it depends. But when we are travelling and all that, it means we have to also take more days outside work.

The choir is made up entirely of Safaricom employees. The only ones who are not staff are the director and his team. But all of us are staff working in whichever department in the organisation.

My voice is alto, though I can also do a lower soprano. But I prefer alto because it’s a very good, sober voice and it doesn’t involve those very high notes that make you feel like you are damaging your vocal cords. So, I prefer alto but I can also do low soprano very well.

The way I look at music is that you can give and uplift people in many ways. One way is the message that you are giving them; that’s the content of the music. Number two is the how of performing the music. When you listen to this song, it’s very enriching and vibrant. Even when bored, you just find yourself dancing to the tune. So, the how and also the message. So, it helps uplift the people.

Being in a choir also makes you disciplined. I remember even in university, most of us used to be the top performers. How that happens, I don’t know. But I think it makes you more upbeat and you are more ready to face any challenges that come your way. You are ready because you know you have to make a sacrifice. I think that is the discipline that it gives you. It’s the same thing even in the workplace. I’ve never had an issue with my work with my bosses. Actually, my boss encourages me. Every Thursday at 4pm, I leave for choir. It works very well.

Being an outdoors person, the choir fits me perfectly. I love just experimenting new things and going out and creating memories. One thing you realise with choir members is that they are like that. We are loud people, we talk a lot. So, being in a group where we all have that commonality, for me it’s very fulfilling, very enriching.

Our choir released three song renditions in August. One is Eleanor Daley’s Size of Your Heart. Basically, the song is saying that whatever you do and how you help other people, how you uplift other people, is how you create a quality life for yourself and others. It was conducted by Esther Nashipae. The other one is Ride on King Jesus, a famous African-American spiritual. It was conducted by Philip Tuju, the music director for the Safaricom Choir. Another one is The Lord Bless You and Keep You by John Rutter. It was conducted by Anthony Mwangi. They are on the Safaricom Choir’s YouTube account.

The choir is an extension of the Safaricom brand. We try as much as possible to work together with the brand team to promote Safaricom as a brand. We work hand-in-hand in ensuring that whatever is in Safaricom’s strategy is also what we embed in what we do.

We have done many projects at Safaricom, from classical music to Easter performances. A few years back, we also started learning music, so currently I can read the notes. I’m not yet a pro but I can read the notes. And we have really benefitted a lot. The choir also gives you an opportunity to go places, to meet people. It also gives you an opportunity to get exposed.

I have really travelled in the choir. We did a CSR (corporate social responsibility) in Nyeri at a certain children’s home. We have done a concert at the Nyeri Baptist Academy in Nyeri. We have also done a CSR in Mombasa. We have done quite a lot of performances in State House during the national events; the performances in Impala, the classical fusions. We were lucky to also visit our late CEO Bob Collymore – may God rest his soul – in his residence. He hosted us for dinner.

I have never thought of going into solo performances. I may not be very good at composing songs, but I have not given it much thought. So, I am not sure. Maybe that’s something I can explore in future.

I’m motivated by the desire to make the world a better place. I look forward to generating new ideas and keeping moving and contributing to the well-being of society. So, I am a giver. I am very much into welfare activities, building people and mentoring, encouraging and all that. I consider myself a giver, and that keeps me going; the joy of realising that you have encouraged a person and that you have made them better than they were the previous day. It keeps me going.

Oh, you want me to shout out to the members of the choir? I will start with my alto team. We are a very great team; the likes of Sheba and our mentor Belinda. Then there is Nancy, who is always next to me. Then there is Celestine and all the other alto members. Then to our new director, that is Philah (Philip Tuju), he has been very good. He has taken us to a new area we were not used to. We were more classical before but now we’re doing contemporary. To the rest of the team: the altos, the sopranos, the basses; all of them, we are all a great team and we keep moving and we keep creating memories and creating music.

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