Fan Sam Kariuki pays back singer John Ndung’u whose music lifted him

John Ndung’u

ACK priest and gospel musician John Ndung’u at his home in Kabete, Kiambu County.

Photo credit: Elvis Ondieki | Nation Media Group

The chemotherapy sessions were becoming too hard to bear and Sam Kariuki was giving up.

They dealt severe blows on his young body and robbed him of his appetite. He told his mother that the three months of chemotherapy were enough. He wanted to die and bring all this to an end.

But something made him change his mind. It was music bought by his father, which included records from John Ndung’u. Two of Ndungu’s songs in it, Gatheri and Mwitio wa Mwiri, urged him on in a special way.

“As a child, I had my own understanding of his songs. I changed my mind and agreed to go back to my medication which by then I had stopped for two months,” Mr Kariuki told the Saturday Nation.

That was in 1997 when Mr Kariuki had been diagnosed with a stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system).

With his renewed hope Mr Kariuki made a full recovery. Aged 39 today, he is based in Canada. And he never stopped being a fan of Ndungu’s songs. There are days he goes on YouTube and plays Gatheri on auto-repeat, he says.

What he did to Ndung’u a few years ago is a story some artistes know well— when a fan is so inspired by your music that he looks for ways of appreciating you.

It reads almost the same as what happened to legendary singer Freshley Mwamburi. Recently, Mwamburi retouched some of his songs, thanks to the assistance of Eng Njau Njoka, his fan.

Mr Sam Kariuki

Mr Sam Kariuki, a Canada-based businessman and entertainer, who was inspired by the songs of Mr John Ndung’u when he was being treated for cancer in the 1990s. 

Photo credit: Pool

Mr Kariuki has also been doing the same with Ndung’u, and fans must have seen recently released reggae remixes of Gatheri and Mwitio wa Mwiri that he helped do.

The connection between Mr Kariuki and Ndung’u happened around 2019. It so happened that Mr Kariuki was in communication with a producer in Kenya, not knowing he is Ndung’u’s son.

“There was a young man I was helping to record a few songs. As we spoke with the producer, I told him I was looking for an older artiste who I owed my life to. I mentioned the name and this young man told me that was his dad,” said Mr Kariuki.

“I didn’t believe it; so he offered to give me his number so I could talk with his dad. It was just like a miracle to meet my childhood hero who had helped me at the lowest point of my life. I called John for the first time in 2019 and I told him I really wanted to help bring back his good gospel music,” he added.

Those talks matured into conversations about Ndungu’s comeback album, and he has been doing a number of songs with his son as the producer. Mr Kariuki has helped him produce videos.

“He agreed to allow me help him, so I looked for a videographer who would do the videos for the 15 songs I set to help shoot videos for his biggest older songs that people were asking for on YouTube,” said Mr Kariuki.

Ndung’u, in an interview with the Saturday Nation at his home in Kabete, Kiambu County, said many are the times he has encountered fans extending assistance to him.

In one instance, he said, he was in Scotland where he had been invited to sing. And a Kenyan woman, who is a pastor there, was surprised to know that he was the one in attendance.

“She told the host: ‘You didn’t tell me he is the one.’ She gave me a bunch of notes in dollars and told me, ‘You don’t know what you’ve done in my life.’ She said she got saved when listening to my songs back in 1996 and her life is never the same again,” said Ndung’u.

Another instance happened in Kenya, when a man who looked financially well-off approached him and told him “You don’t know what you’ve done in my life,”  then gave him Sh10,000.

“I didn’t know him; I had never met him,” said Ndung’u.

Another instance involved a boda boda rider. “There was a time I was just here at Gitaru, and a boda boda rider came. I didn’t know him. He stopped and called me by name, saying, ‘Do you know something? Your music has changed my life completely,’” said Ndung’u.

In all, he said, those compliments make him feel treasured.

“I feel good and I say I will do more. Even if people are not going to buy music or others will treat this music as if it’s of no much value to them, it has made an impact in the lives of many. And I always say: When I get to Heaven – I believe I will get there – and the Lord is going to say, ‘The people who got saved because of the ministry of John, please stand behind him’, I know I’ll be shocked because there are many people who have found life in Christ because of these songs,” he said.

He has never met physically with Mr Kariuki but he appreciates the help he has given him. He noted that the idea of the Gatheri song that inspired Mr Kariuki was mooted when he worked as a casual labourer in the United Kingdom at a warehouse where only blacks worked.

“I was harassed left, right and centre. I was harassed by the kinds of jobs I was doing,” he said.

“With Mr Kariuki, we just got into an agreement to work together to promote the songs, to make them reach more people. Well, all my life I wanted that kind of an arrangement whereby I would be allowed to sing and someone else does marketing,” said Ndung’u.

Mr Kariuki called on those who feel they have been touched by Ndung’u’s music, whether in Kenya or in the diaspora, to come together and support the artiste.

“I believe that I can help John Ndung’u’s career make a turnaround, bring him and his good gospel songs on our TV and they can be used to teach our today’s generation like it made an impact in our lives growing up back in the day,” said Mr Kariuki.

Ndung’u, who is in his mid-50s, is a priest with the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK), having been ordained in 2007. Today, he is stationed at Nyathuna Parish in Kabete.

He said he never “disappeared” from the music scene but rather  he is in a different season.

“It’s not that I’ve been away from this field or from the music scene. I’ve been there, but God has raised up other people for a different reason and a different season,” he said. “I’ve still been around and I’m still singing for the glory of God.”

Listeners of the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) national service in the 1990s will remember some of his songs, notably Mwitio wa Mwiri, being aired. Ndung’u believes that was the golden age of music. When FM stations proliferated the market, fortunes dwindled for artistes.

“FM stations, when they come into any country, they don’t do good to musicians. They hurt them badly. Now, everywhere you tune into a station, you can hear the songs. Why do you need to buy them?” he posed. Ndung’u lost his wife in 2004 to an accident and remarried a year later. His three sons are grown-ups and the one who is a producer handled the remixes.

“I think he understands the music of his father,” he joked.

“We are still working on the comeback album. Most songs are ready to be released,” added Ndung’u.