Singer Emmy Kosgei Madubuko’s music career and private life have always played out in the limelight. However, time and consistency have proven to be her vindication. In a recent trip to Kenya, she spoke to ESTHER AKELLO on the power of choice and remaining her own woman, that controversial photo of her kneeling before her husband, her plan for Kenya’s global domination in the tourism circuit and her passion to effect societal change.
It’s been seven years since the vivacious Emmy Kosgei released her smash album Taunet Nelel. Her single, also titled the same, became a massive hit transcending, nay, shattering Kenyan musical charts and inadvertently, tribal and social barriers in ways some artistes and politicians only dream of.
In between those years, the former background vocalist has won herself numerous awards, and released other successful albums proving that this village girl (as she describes herself) did not come to play.
She also got married to her Nigerian husband, now of five years, Apostle Anselm Madubuko of Revival Assembly Church and moved to Nigeria reducing her airtime on the local scene immensely. In fact, since her marriage in 2013, although she has released a couple of singles with her latest
collaboration Subiri Bwana with Mercy Masika and Evelyn Wanjiru raking up rave reviews in the local charts, Emmy has not released an album but not for lack of trying.
In addition to the unfortunate passing on of her producer John Nyika, Emmy reveals that she got busy with marriage, new appointments, and emerging ministries. Contrary to popular belief that she is just a singer, Emmy wears many hats and juggles them all accordingly.
Emmy Kosgei the homemaker
Five years into her marriage, Emmy says she has never experienced love like she does with her husband. It is interesting to note that her husband is her second romantic relationship ever.
“Anselm is very mature and has a clean heart.
He doesn’t hold grudges and loves everything about me. He also prays for me and corrects me tenderly, always has my back and gives me confidence. He tells me even if we were not married, he would still love me,” she professes.
In addition to prayer, something she says has been so key in her marriage – the winning formulae for the couple – has been lack of competition between each other. Both are very successful in their respective areas of interest and careers.
“When I was getting into relationships, one of the things I was keen on was that my partner would love me for me. Not my status. Anselm and I understand each other so much, there’s no room for conflict or misunderstanding. If we decide to undertake something and I am not pleased, I can voice my displeasure. This is something we cultivated way before our marriage.
He would always tell me, ‘Talk to me. Tell me anything even if its silly’ and that has helped us. When you meet us you’d think it’s a hoax but we really don’t fight over things. We communicate a lot and our faith helps. We both just desire to better the Kingdom of God,” she explains.
In November 2017, Emmy posted a photo of her kneeling in front of her husband on Instagram. The picture prompted quite a furore online with women saying that it was akin to lowering oneself. The topic is a sensitive one.
Just last month, Oxfam International executive director Ugandan Winnie Byanyima caused a storm when she tweeted that the culture was not only outdated, but also humiliating to women and despite it being looked at as a sign of respect, society only imposes it on women.
Emmy has stuck to her guns as far as the practice is concerned. “I don’t blame people for the criticism I received. My behaviour stems from how I was raised and what I observed from my own parents. I’ve grown up in the village, watching how my mum and dad lived,” she explains.
Emmy also adds that it is not a requirement, but a choice. “I didn’t pose for that photo neither did I do it for show. It’s a personal commitment. I do it in public and in private. I decided to be a typical African woman and I’m totally sold out in my marriage. I oil his head. I comb his hair. I have staff, who can do just about everything for us but I cook and make it my basic responsibility to serve him. It is how I show my love to him,” she says.
Emmy equates the move to humility, adding that it does not take anything away from her. Instead, she offers, it makes her a better woman and wife. “Unfortunately, some people equate humility with weakness. That is not the case at all. Serving my husband is not because I’m looking for his money or begging for his love. I’m cultivating it.
I still get to play my role as the church first lady, singer Emmy Kosgei and so on. It doesn’t make me weak, I do it from my heart,” she explains.
Aside from being a wife, Emmy is also a mother and a grandmother, a role she relishes. She is step-mother to Anselm’s three children, Velma, Sandra and Anselm Jr. “When I was getting married and joining my new family and church, I was really scared. However, it has worked out. Both divides have accepted me. My stepchildren respect me and call me mum. I don’t take it for granted. Their children also refer to me as grandma, even though I’m a grandmother before becoming a mum myself,” she adds fondly.
Does that mean she is never going to have any children of her own?“ I didn’t get married just because I wanted to have kids. Relationships are about unions and destinies. If you are attached to the wrong person, it can affect your destiny permanently. I’m also very busy. Personally, we are not under any pressure to have children but yes, I hope to have my own child one day,” she says.
That being said, with the office of marriage, other roles came calling.
Emmy Kosgei the minister
While the assertion is that women tend to lose their identity and cling on to being identified as wives, the pressure on pastoral wives is even greater. However, Emmy insists that she has not lost her identity. She does have her own ministry (music) but she is cognizant of the fact she also has new roles, and even some of her older ones, have been amplified.
“We both have our own established ministries and careers and since we travel a lot, we always synchronise our diaries. I also support my husband and my office as first lady of Revival Assembly Cathedral. So if he is preaching somewhere and he wants me to come along, I will go. I will pray with and for him and I will also sing.
If I’m not needed, I’m free to pursue my interests,” she expounds, adding, “When somebody loves you truly, they’ll support you, they want the best for you. We are hoping to have a homecoming of sorts this year, so to speak. Now that Anselm has a connection to Kenya, his team is making plans for a conference and of course I will be performing.
”Emmy adds that she has more speaking engagements as well. “I have grown so much especially in my faith, fear and love for God. I preach. I talk to people a lot more either in inspirational talks, preaching and even counselling. Things I never thought about before,” she says.
In addition to her speaking engagements, Emmy has also finally finished putting together her sixth album – her first since relocating to Nigeria. “I’d never go more than two years without releasing an album.
However, after my producer passed on, I tried working with other producers but it proved difficult to replicate the musical chemistry that we had. I did find someone at last and so while I’d written the songs, I could only record a few at a time.
The album is a departure from what I’ve traditionally done, but I believe my fans will see more facets of my musical sound,” she explains.
The album also features collaborations with other artistes like Mercy Masika and Evelyn Wanjiru and even a few Swahili and Igbo ones as well with renown Nigerian artists like Ighosa Ono and Sinach.
Emmy Kosgei the cultural ambassador and peacemaker
Weaving culture with everyday life is Emmy’s forte, one whose power even the Kenyan government kowtowed to. In 2013, the Ministry of Tourism appointed her a cultural ambassador.
“Representing Kenya and Kenyan culture is natural for me, with or without the appointment. However, my job is one of the things I have come to love as service to my country. I’ve won a lot of awards, just because of how I choose to brand myself and represent my country, Kenya,” she offers.
Her role also means she always has to be on stand by for any event organised by the Ministry. So while she may not be actively in the public eye, Emmy travels to Kenya 10 to 20 times a year for concerts, corporate and national events.
“Kenya is more than wildlife. How about attending festivals, enjoying Kenyan food? It is also key for counties to hone in on the special aspects of their localities and package them,” she expounds.
Some of her favourite events include the Tastes of the World Festival in Dallas, USA, The Heritage Festival in Canada and the Majuu Festival in Atlanta, USA.
Majuu Festival focuses on American-born Kenyan children who have never visited home. The children are challenged to pick a community different from theirs and make presentations about that community’s cultural practices.
“The initiative aims to make them know and understand their heritage. Some children ask me if we live in huts or if we have electricity just because of poor perceptions of Africa. We want to build an eager generation of Kenyans in diaspora who are interested in their culture. The earlier you do it, the better,” she explains.
Perhaps her passion also stems from the fact that for seven years now, Emmy has been hosting the Pamoja Festival in Eldoret, which emphasises the fact that Kenya’s strength is actually in her diversity.
“I realised that if people don’t even understand Kalenjin music yet listen to it, then I had Kenyans’ ears. It is our work to show that one can use their ethnic background positively.
There are some things that only your community can shape, so be proud of who you are, where you’re from and to use it positively. Unfortunately, we live in an era where there is a lot of victimisation once people realise what your tribe is,” she says.
This and the fact that she realised that her fans cut across different regions also prompted her to stop performing at political rallies. “As my status grew, I realised that I had influence over my audience. Wisdom dictated that in a time of tension, I should encourage people to support who they want,” she discloses.
Despite challenges such as lack of sponsors, Emmy has been consistent in holding the free concert at the dawn of every New Year in Eldoret.
“The irony is sponsors don’t want to be associated with peace concerts. They only want to come in after chaos. Eldoret is my musical base, as well as a hot spot for election violence despite being cosmopolitan. We invite different artistes and leaders as well. Attainable peace is everybody’s responsibility and it takes long-term effort, one I’m committed to. However, if you exclude the leadership, you won’t get far. I was so happy that for the first time in a long time, Eldoret was very peaceful during the 2017 elections. Our efforts bore fruit,” she emphasises.
Emmy Kosgei the philanthropist
Emmy runs a school, Hope Academy, in Baringo, which caters for 76 children from needy families. In 2017, the first batch of KCPE candidates sat for their exams. “I picked the students from the time they were in baby class to class 8. We started from zero, and I pay for everything for them, from books to uniforms. I take them to my events, I do tours for them and take them to places normally they wouldn’t have thought of going,” she says.
Emmy is also a good will ambassador for a centre for children with disability in Korogocho slums in Nairobi.
“When I tell them that my dad is in a wheelchair, but he still went to school, albeit at the ripe age of 21, they are astounded. I encourage them to believe in themselves. My dad was poor and depended on goodwill to get an education. Now he is working on his doctorate,” she says, obviously proud of his achievement.
“When I started singing, I was in it for the love of music. The first time I stood before a crowd, I was shaking. Now I understand purpose. We are not just here to exist. Regardless of where I am, I have achieved more than I imagined. Knowing that I have more responsibility has also helped me to ask God to help me be where I need to be, and fit into that category,” she concludes.