Review | Music in Kenyan Christianity: Logooli Religious Song

Music in Kenyan Christianity: Logooli Religious Song. By Jean Ngoya Kidula. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013. [xv 312 pp. ISBN 978-0-253-00668-4, Paperback: 30.00, Cloth: 85:00, E-Book: 24.99].


Reviewed by Nicholas Ssempijja / Makerere University

“Musical features for Christian religious song share stylistic descriptions with indigenous repertoire……including music as self-expression both for artistic and social religious purposes” (Kidula 2013:181).

Jean Ngoya Kidula’s Music in Kenyan Christianity, Logooli Religious Song is another publication in the Ethnomusicology Multimedia series that carries on the discourse on the interplay between Christianity and Ethnomusicology with special focus on religious musical identity (Barz 2000, 2003, 2006). Her work has a unique approach to religious syncretism engaging such themes as gender in religious musical performance, musical hybridities, the media and agency in religious performance and identity creation.

 Kidula’s research is based in Kenya among the Avalogooli who occupy the northern shores of Lake Victoria. It entails an extensive, systematic, historical documentation of the role of religious music (Quakers and Pentecostals) in Christianizing (missionization) the Kenyan people particularly the Avalogooli. Similar to Gregory Barz’s study of Kwaya music in Tanzania (2003), this study concentrates on Euro-American Christian music introduced during the colonial period and its impact on the identity of the Avalogooli in Kenya.

The study’s empirical data was gathered through fieldwork conducted for thirty years. Kidula utilizes varied means to arrive at this information including but not limited to interviews, observation, participant observation, documentary information, magazines, journals and early missionary/colonial documents, letters, reports and memoirs. Generally, all eight chapters of Kidula’s study specifically elucidate on music’s ubiquity in religious identity construction and affirmation.

In the opening two chapters, Kidula takes us through the realms of Logooli social-political set up, including culture, aesthetics, taboos, rites of passage and religious beliefs as well as the early attempts at Christianizing the Avalogooli. She relentlessly explores the history of Logooli indigenous musical heritage, aesthetics of performance, ideologies connecting music to culture and religion. Kidula assuredly identifies herself as a mulogooli, in essence distinguishing herself as a native researcher who later turns out as a ‘halfie’ (Ssempijja 2012a).  This assures the reader of her richer insider perspectives during the course of researching and writing this book. In an extensive historical overview of the Avalogooli (chapter two), Kidula explains circumstances under which the demarcation (Partition) of Logooli land by British colonists was done. She wraps up the chapter by affirming that music is a persistent marker of continuity, change and transformation amongst Avalogooli. This Kidula does by demonstrating the role played by music in the consolidation of an Avalogooli religious-cultural identity.

Chapter three broadly considers the encounter between the Avalogooli and the Euro-American religious and music cultures. It revisits the colonial encounter with Christianity and circumstances under which the Avalogooli embraced Christianity packaged with new musical practices. Using early documentation, missionary/colonial reports about the Quaker and Pentecostals, Kidula revisits the doctrines, philosophy, practices and musical inclinations of both the Quakers and Pentecostals, hand-in-hand with the consequences that emanated from the use of the new Christianity and its music. The chapter lays a case for the ensuing discussions concerning religious syncretism and agency. It considers the initial strategies laid by the missions to proselytize the Avalogooli highlighting the variables and constants between the Avalogooli and the new religious cum musical systems. It answers questions concerning how the Avalogooli embraced Christianity, and enumerates circumstances under which Quakers were able to score highly in the areas of mass conversions and doctrinal conviction. Generally, the section concludes with the missionary transformation of Logooli identity religiously, musically and culturally. 

The next chapter (chapter four), “consolidation” is more structurally and theoretically grounded since it is here that the writer expounds on the conceptual base for the entire study. The chapter is an expedition into the Avalogooli musical systems and challenges that prevailed in accommodating the foreign religion with its music. Taking an example of the challenge of introducing hymns to the Logooli, the section revisits how new musical genres such as choruses and refrains, gospel music, and choir music among others, were introduced and fully embraced by the Avalogooli people. In this chapter’s recapitulation, Kidula notes that, “Avalogooli composed songs in these styles not only as new ways of sounding music and religion but also as an elaboration of similar indigenous forms and contexts” (94).

Chapter five “accommodation” suggests/provides alternative means/avenues of analyzing African musical performance practices. It re-affirms Kidula’s special approach to critically analyzing African music particularly considering or connecting the sonic elements to the traditional ethnomusicologically considered parameters such as contexts of performance, composers, lyrics, and melodic sources among others. In justifying this in-depth analysis, Kidula notes that, “the texts and musical structures reveal cultural, lyrical, and melodic sources, as well as the missionaries’ musical and theological preferences” (97). She thus delves into agency from a linguistic perspective, highlighting its recurrent problems that have also been envisaged elsewhere in the missionization of Africa. Here Kidula offers a very interesting comparison in the song dueling practices considering both sonic elements (such as rhythm, tempo and meter) as well as other extended performance practices (usually envisaged in many African musical contexts) including the place of dance. She labors to elucidate on the interconnectedness of these elements towards the final realization of the performance that is deeply embroiled with identity markers. Kidula takes a comparative analysis between the Avalogooli’s use and significance of the drum and what she terms as the “Ugandan Catholic Indigenous style” a kind of simplistic generalization of Ugandan Catholicism (Catholic music) viewing it from the precincts of the drum and not inculturation (see Ssempijja 2012b). The section also takes a deep inclusion of acculturation, and the resultant hybridities emanating from this musical syncretism which together contribute to the broader project of Avalogooli identity affirmation and agency.  While critically analyzing the song translations from English to Luyia, Kidula notes the multiple dimensions of new roles that the translated songs acquired hand-in-hand with their resultant consequences.

Chapter five is part of the discourse on syncretism forming an important conceptual base for the discussion on Avalogooli religious identity with its recurrent transformations. Kidula links the colonial encounter to the contemporary performance practices witnessed in Logooli Christian music. In her implied postcolonial criticism and analysis, Kidula presents performances and religious practices that articulate mimicry and mockery both religiously and also musically. These are highlighted when she draws on numerous translated texts whose meanings from English to Lulogooli/Luyia are inaccurate. Such practices involving mimicry and mockery were common in many other African regions affecting even performance practices including the playing of some European introduced musical instruments.

Chapter six is a continuation of the debate on syncretism. In emphasizing her approach to syncretism, Kidula cites Fashole and points out that “Africans were Europeanized, not Christianized, and that Christianity was accommodated and Africanized (Fashole-Luke 1978). To substantiate this claim, Kidula cites a number of biblical examples. At some point Kidula delves into ways in which the Avalogooli are localizing these biblical stories. An example is on page 162, where she narrates the story of Miriam the sister of Moses, particularly how she led other women to celebrate in song the crossing of the Red Sea. This is one of the biblical stories that Kidula cites as having received a particular syncretism. Elsewhere in this chapter, her anthropological approach to the study of religion is evident. Alternatively, this section could also be considered as “localization of the Euro-American-introduced religious practices”— particularly Christianity. Since localization has been conceptually used as a means of constructing, affirming, reinvigorating and renewing identities, part of this section of Kidula’s work points to ways localization works in the Logooli religious identity affirmation.

The final chapter (seven) is another space devoted to analyzing examples of contemporary religious songs that exemplify this religio-musical syncretism. Kidula analyzes these selected songs while identifying/highlighting the various local Logooli musical idioms and how they are musically manipulated in this religious syncretism. The section also revisits the place of religious songs in contemporary education and media. Notable and commendable also is the fact that the book utilizes accompanying audio and video examples which are accessible through a URL that has been provided in the preface. The examples are rather varied and rightly engage a better reading experience.

Her epilogue and postlude (chapter eight) generally sum up the major thesis of the study. Here Kidula notes that, “the music of the Logooli Christians is a local and indigenous expression, a national and mediated product, and an international and global phenomenon” (229). As a recap, she also highlights some of the most memorable moments during her research and convincingly draws contrasts between the conceptualization of African and western (Euro-American) performance practices. Among these notable experiences is when she recorded songs with the village women who worked with her mother.

 Kidula’s clear and fluid writing style has already earned her international acclaim since this publication is already a 2014 Society for Ethnomusicology Nketia Book Prize winner. Hence the study benefits not only scholars in ethnomusicology but also in music composition and analysis, religion particularly Christianity/missionization, social anthropology, history, cultural studies, gender and general East African studies particularly those that cover Kenya geographically. It is also a landmark contribution to studies in the wider East African region.

This study will also be an important resource for courses in the study of anthropology and religion particularly Christianity in Africa, as well as a historical documentation of a marginalized culture of the Avalogooli. However, with this study’s over emphasis on Kenya, one needs other resources in order to understand religious musical practices in the wider East African region. Nonetheless, Kidula’s work is a significant contribution to Ethnomusicology and the anthropological study of religion (Christianity).



Barz, Gregory. 2000. “Politics of Remembering: Performing History (ies) in Youth Kwaya Competitions in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.” In Mashindano! Competitive Music Performance in East Africa, edited by Gregory Barz and Frank Gunderson, 379-405. Dares Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota.

______. 2003.  Performing Religion. Negotiating Past and Present in Kwaya Music of Tanzania. Amsterdam: Rodopi Editions.

______. 2006. “‘We are From Different Ethnic Groups, but We Live Here as One Family’: The Musical Performance of Community in a Tanzanian Kwaya.” In Chorus and Community, edited by Karen Ahlquist, 19-44. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Fashole Luke, Edward W. 1978. Christianity in Independent Africa. Chicago. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Ssempijja, Nicholas. 2012a. “The ‘Native’, the ‘Halfie’, and Autoethnography: Ethics and Researcher Identity in Fieldwork”. In Nordisk musikkpedagogisk forskning. Årbok   14 (Nordic Research in Music Education. Yearbook 14: 217–235.

_______.  2012b. Glocalizing Catholicism Through Musical Performance: Kampala Archdiocesan Post-Primary Schools Music Festivals. Dissertation for the degree of Philosophiae doctor, University of Bergen, Norway.


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