Mengele’s long journey to recognition in gospel music

Stellar Mengele Onyango

Gospel musician Stellar Mengele Onyango.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • Mengele has produced music in many different genres and a variety of languages.
  • She recorded her first first album of 12 songs and while still in high school.

When you talk of hearty music, Stellar Mengele Onyango’s work is a perfect example and you can’t disregard her presence on stage.

Born in Kitui County, raised in different towns of Ukambani region and Embu County, Mengele has produced music in many different genres and a variety of languages.

“My mother says I started singing when I started talking and everyone that knew me as a child remembers me singing as a toddler,” she says.

Life was not rosy for her and her siblings while growing up and she always found solace in singing.

This led to recording her music at primary school level, where she did her first albums, Ananiwazia Mema and Ngaina Múno (meaning I’ll sing a lot) both in one cassette.

“Those days we'd record side A and B of the Cassette. Ananiwazia Mema was a hopeful proclamation, based on the bible scripture in Jeremiah 29. We were going through a very tough time as a family and as children; all we had was hope in the word of God. ” she recalled.

“Ngaina Muno (in Kamba language)was like a prophecy. I never knew much about what my future would look like.”

She joined form one at Mulango Girls’ High School in Kitui, she recorded 24 songs with different themes.

At this stage, she knew she wanted to do music as part of her career.

After recording her first first album of 12 songs and in form two, she produced Nimekusamehe Baba, a 12 songs album.

Nimekusamehe Baba was based on her rough life experience.

“When we were young, our father tortured us so much which led to our parents’ separation and so we were raised by our mother. As a young girl, I was bitter and dejected. At some point my mother felt that the bitterness would hurt me and so she started counselling us on forgiveness. That's how the song came about,” she said.

While in form four, she produced Mukamba Yesu Nukwendete album with 12 songs, making it a total of 24 songs while in secondary school.

“Growing up I wanted to become a government spy or a criminal investigator, but at no point has music ever left my heart,” she added.

She currently has six albums while others are still in preparation stage.

Mengele says the process of music making varies depending on a number of factors adding that the shortest she has taken to write and record a song was three hours.

“It was for a client who needed it urgently for a special occasion. She loved it. The longest has been a month and the process varies depending on the purpose of the song and the theme,” said Mengele.

“At times, I wake from my sleep with a song playing in my head and thanks to technology, I record it on my phone then go back to sleep,” she noted.

She adds that the first step is bonding with the theme of the song,then comes the tune, then she writes the lyrics.

She then calls her producer, records the song and work together to have the song well balanced before the release.

“I use different producers for different genres of music and sometimes I compose or even record songs that I end up not releasing,” she added.

Producing a single audio costs between Sh5,000 and Sh50,000. The cost could go higher depending on various factors.

Apart from English and Swahili, she loves most of her music in Kamba and Dholuo. “To me music is intrinsic, like the DNA in my blood and I am also very proud of my African heritage. I'm born Kamba and married to the Dholuo-speaking community. Kamba and Luo are the two native languages I’m proficient in,” she adds.

In her music career, she has encountered a number of challenges which are mainly as a result of misconception.

“People think fame equals riches sadly is not the case. Music is a career like any other and we're just like any regular person,” she says.

She added that the public largely believes that all musicians are fake and scandalous. Even when someone is genuine and innocent, people don't want to support you, which can be demoralising,” she said.

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