Samuel Muraya and Linet Munyali-Muraya, popularly known as DJ Mo and Size 8 respectively, are arguably one of Kenya’s first families in the gospel music industry. In this revealing and no-holds-barred interview with ESTHER AKELLO, the couple gets candid about nearly losing their daughter, dealing with sickness and death in the family, finding rhythm in their marriage and influencing the gospel industry.
It’s a sunny Friday morning when I arrive at the Muraya residence in Westlands. The door is ajar and when I pop my head in, Samuel Muraya, popularly known as DJ Mo and co-host of NTV’s gospel hit show Crossover 101, ushers me inside with a smile.
A seat and a few minutes later, I see his wife Linet Munyali-Muraya, who many know as Size 8 (Reborn), creeping barefoot towards the kitchen, clearly unaware of my presence. Then as if she realises something is amiss, she turns towards the living room, sees me, stops in her tracks and smiles widely, almost embarrassingly.
“I’m trying to get away from Ladasha as noiselessly as possible. There is no way I’m getting any work done today if she hears me,” she attempts an explanation.
I nod knowingly before she quickly she disappears into kitchen. She comes out holding a cup of tea and settles on the carpeted floor as her husband reclines on a nearby chair. With that, the interview begins.
Things fall apart…
In 2013, Kenyans came to the realisation that Size 8’s transition from secular to gospel music was a solid success and a practical lesson in brand management – she was reluctant to change her stage name from Size 8 and simply added ‘reborn’ at the end to denote her new gospel persona. Her first gospel single, Mateke, was a chart-topper.
Size 8 reiterates that thus far, it is her all-time best performing single. Consequent songs such as Moto, Tam Tam and Afadhali Yesu smashed the local charts cementing her star status.
By 2015, to the outside world, Size 8 was soaring high and not just in her career but family life as news of her pregnancy circulated widely.
Life, however, was reluctant to imitate her career. Within her inner circles, things were slowly, assuredly and progressively degenerating.
“My mother had been suffering from kidney failure, diabetes and high blood pressure for a long time. She and I were close and most of my resources basically went into her medical care. I used to spend Ksh35,000 a week on her dialysis treatment.
However, at some point I ran out of resources and as a result developed stress over the matter. I thought I was managing it well until one day while driving from an event with Mo I collapsed and started foaming from the mouth with tears running out of my eyes. I was still in the first trimester of my pregnancy,” says the 29-year-old.
Panicked, DJ Mo drove Size 8 to the hospital where she was diagnosed with high blood pressure and put on medication.
The second time Size 8 collapsed, she was put under mandatory cardiology tests every week. According to the cardiologist, a malfunctioning organ was causing the erratic high blood pressure but they were unable to pinpoint which one specifically.
“Linet’s health from that point deteriorated. She got so weak she could no longer work or move for that matter. There were days I even had to bathe her,” DJ Mo explains.
At 28 weeks of pregnancy, doctors told the couple to seriously consider the possibility of a preterm delivery for their daughter Ladasha Belle Wambui, as Size 8’s hypertension had soared into danger zones.
Optimistic, the couple told doctors that they would wait things out hoping that Ladasha would cling on till full term. In her thirty-fifth week of pregnancy, Size 8, who was on the set of a TV show, received two calls.
The first one was her doctor asking her where she was so that they could send her an ambulance and fast.
“As it turns out, I never should have left the hospital the last time I had gone for my antenatal clinic. My blood pressure was ridiculously high warranting an admission,” explains Size 8.
The second call Size 8 got was also from a hospital, albeit a different one. Her mother’s health condition had grossly deteriorated and she was admitted.
As the one facilitating her mother’s medical bills, Size 8 was required to make key medical decisions on her mother’s health. Torn, Size 8 who admits to have felt largely overwhelmed checked herself into hospital.
“Once at the hospital, they checked my blood pressure. It had spiked upwards; I suppose from learning news of my mother’s deteriorating condition. I started fearing for my baby’s life and broke down,” she recollects.
Several things would happen for the next couple of hours. Though induced by doctors in a bid to catalyse a normal delivery, Size 8 ended up having a Caesarean section.
As it turns out, it was the best move as Ladasha’s cord had wrapped itself around her throat and was slowly but surely chocking her.
Size 8’s placenta had also been completely ruined and Ladasha had been cut off from vital food and blood supply.
Doctors opted to partially anaesthetise her for fear she may never wake up if she were fully put under anaesthesia. It was during this moment, of partial consciousness, that Size 8 learnt of her mother’s demise.
“I was not fully awake but I could hear what was being said around me. I heard people whispering about how I should not be told that my mother had passed on. Ladasha, on the other hand, had completely refused to take to the bottle and doctors wanted her to be put on a feeding tube. They feared all this information coming at me at once could affect my health negatively,” she explains.
When she came to, Size 8 confronted her doctors and they confirmed the sad truth. Stunned by the news, Size 8, who all the while thought she had been dreaming, mumbled a feeble ‘okay’ then stayed mum for several days.
“I remember one time during my pregnancy when both my mother and I needed to go to hospital and I had limited amount of money. I was so confused over what to do. I asked God to never allow me to be in a situation where I had to choose between my child and my mother. I never once imagined it would come to this,” says the hit maker, adding that several days later she woke up screaming in her hospital bed.
“It took a while for it to sink in that my mother was gone. I was very confused. I didn’t know what to do. I kept asking God whether I should be happy my daughter had survived or be sad because my mother had passed on,” she explains her confusion.
Despite her weak health situation, her family went ahead and made plans for her mother’s burial. Not cleared to travel by doctors as her mother’s body was to be laid to rest in Uganda, where Size 8’s father hails from, Size 8 paid her last respects at her mother’s church funeral service.
“When I think about it, I suppose it is God’s way of answering my prayer of never having to choose between these two ladies whom I love with all my heart. I just never thought it would play out like this,” she says.
One year on, Ladasha is doing better than ever and Size 8 admits her husband is the reason they pulled through the tough times.
“I was on the verge of giving up so many times. Mo however would hear none of it. In fact, he was all smiles and used to act like everything was okay,” says Size 8.
DJ Mo adds, “It was difficult for me too. I had moments when I thought I would breakdown, but never in front of her. One of us had to be strong even if it meant gritting my teeth and pretending I was holding up. At the end of the day, I’m just a human being. However, some good friends and family members gave us incredible support so we are very grateful for that as well.”
Making family work…
In September 2013, DJ Mo and Size 8 tied the knot in a private ceremony. It seemed like a heavenly pairing only likened to another entertainment power couple – singers Wahu and Nameless – who the couple says they look up to. Another couple they look up to is the popular pastoral couple Bishop Allan and Reverend Kathy Kiuna.
“Rev Kathy Kiuna has really helped me. I walked with her for one year and I learnt a lot from her. She never talks back to her husband especially when he is angry. She has taught me what it means to be submissive without necessarily being a doormat, which is a very real fear a lot of women suffer from.
My sister has also taught me a few life lessons. One of her marriage slogans is: ‘My house shall not be a house of war’ and I had to come to that realisation as well,” says Size 8 while admitting that at one time she ended up locking her husband and his clothes out of their house after an argument.
“We were young in marriage. We had a difference of opinion and I didn’t like how he was speaking to me; after all, I was the great Size 8,” she says chuckling.
Since then the couple have changed tact. “I’m a very loud and expressive person so it is difficult for me to pretend.
There were times Mo’s temper would hit the roof and boy would it get stormy! So I resolved that in such situations, I would eat the humble pie and give my husband his space. I researched widely and listened to a lot of relationship experts on how to best understand men and deal with them.
Women can argue endlessly. Men on the other hand want to say something once and have it concluded. Once I realised and accepted these subtle nuances, we settled down. We rarely fight now. We can have a difference of opinion but no crazy fights,” says Size 8.
DJ Mo adds, “Our personalities are different. Linet is energetic. ENERGETIC! She can make friends really easily while I’m a quiet observer when in unfamiliar surroundings.
It definitely helped when Linet tempered herself. I mean; it’s boring fighting with someone who doesn’t want to fight back! That forced me to review how I dealt with issues and slowly but surely I learnt not to give in to temper tantrums.”
The couple also admits parenting has not only changed them but brought them closer. “The Bible says children cement a marriage. Ladasha definitely helped break some of the walls we had emotionally and made us more vulnerable to each other,” they share.
Size 8 further offers, “My sister always told me how Mo’s love for our daughter would directly affect how I love him. Mothers are about their children so the more a father loves his children, the more a woman loves her husband. There’s a gentleness that has definitely risen to the fore from Mo and a sense of compassion and care. Plus Mo and Ladasha look so alike, it’s next to impossible to have a fight or grudge with one without seeing the other.”
While the couple gushes openly about their daughter, they admit it took them a while to figure out that some alone time was necessary.
“We were used to being just the two of us. Even kids, unintentionally of course, can break up a marriage if the couple does not take the time to recalibrate themselves. So now we find babysitters or take Ladasha to her grandmother so we can get some alone time to just sit, talk or hang out,” says DJ Mo.
Balancing work and family…
During her tumultuous pregnancy, Size 8 had to leave the limelight to concentrate on getting her health in check. Several times, DJ Mo had to step in to host some of her TV shows (her contract was amended by her clients to accommodate him due to her health issues).
A formula Size 8 says she has always found helpful is to work twice as hard when she is on top of her game. So she writes, produces and makes lots of music when everything
is okay after which she gradually releases them to the market.
While she says her secret formula is to plan, work hard, pray harder and then let the chips fall where they may, she definitely agrees that DJ Mo, who is also her manager, is the strategist between the two of them.
“You have to be relevant in what you do and at the same time put yourself out there. Work on yourself and your craft because once you’re a brand money works for you. You cannot release a song and then sit at home and expect to make money. While I host Crossover 101, my company, System Unit, hosts events as well as run a djing academy. Additionally, I am the brand ambassador for Broadways bread while Linet and Ladasha are the new faces of Softcare diapers,” explains DJ Mo.
In 2016, Size 8 released several songs but few lived up to the controversy that Tiga Wana created.
The criticism towards the song whose inspiration stemmed from a popular Kenyan hashtag #Sipendiujinga (I abhor stupidity) flew in fast and thick with many questioning whether the song lived up to the standards of gospel music.
“When you are doing something different, people may not easily back you up or understand. I’m a Christian and an artist and while worship and praise music is paramount, it is okay to have diversity in music even in Christianity. Remember even the Bible says some people take ‘solids’ and others ‘milk’. My album caters for everyone, from pastors and other people who have matured in Christianity to those who have just started discovering their journey with God. Remember even Paul sat with the gentiles and brought himself to their level to be able to preach the gospel in its simplest form,” says Size 8.
In addition to their various businesses, Size 8 and DJ Mo manage the Size 8 Foundation, which runs a day care programme for disenfranchised children hailing from various areas
such as Kiambiu, City Cotton informal settlement among others in Eastlands. While the initiative – God’s Gift Daycare – initially was a business idea, the couple presently uses it as a way of giving back to the society.
“One day while praying, I felt the need to change the daycare’s mandate from business to charity. We started with five children and now we have 70 and we cater for everything, from their food to their teachers’ salaries. In a month we spend not less than Ksh150,000. Some well-wishers have come forward to stand with us and we are grateful. Our biggest headache right now is finding bigger space to accommodate the children,” says Size 8.
As the interview draws to an end, the couple is quick to say while many people may take them at face value and know them for their music careers, just like everyone else, they are multifaceted. They are parents, husband/wife, sister/ brother and it is the compilation of all these roles that inherently make them who they are.
“We are different but we complement each other. God is our centre rock and the reason we are where we are. Our different roles and the desire to be models of a Christian life is what motivates us the most and at the end of the day, we would rather be known as people who spread the good news of Christianity in our different areas of gifts than anything else,” Size 8 wraps up the interview.
Published January 2017