After more than a decade away from live performances, veteran singer and songwriter Pete Odera last week made a comeback to the stage where his music career began 25 years ago.
“I have been mulling a return to recording and performing for the last four or five years and finally the time has come,” said Mr Odera, a day before the show at the Nairobi Baptist Church last Sunday.
It was here that Mr Odera and Tedd Josiah and the late Salli Oyugi formed Kenya’s first contemporary Christian gospel group, “Hart” in 1993.
At a time when gospel was mainly traditional choral music, the young artistes introduced urban styles like R&B, rap and funk into the Christian music, presenting a sound and image that shocked the church. The group was declared persona non grata by the same church that invited Mr Odera back for a concert last weekend.
“The old wounds have been healed and we are sending a message to the new generation that the old rules don’t apply anymore,” he said.
The “Back In Concert” performance was curated to have as broad an appeal as possible with music that transcends genres and generations.
“There are not many artists today who can perform a show that appeals to both parents and their children and that is what we want to achieve with every show,” said Mr Odera.
His cast of performers had musicians with whom he shares a bond, from music director Johnson Omonije, a Nigerian who has worked as bandleader on the TV show "Coke Studio." Mr Odera acknowledges the work the keyboardist and producer has done on transforming the music.
“I am turning 50 next year so I need to be able to work with younger musicians who can give another edge to the music and Johnson has succeeded in doing exactly that; he turned the music from great to excellent,” he said.
He invited two of his protégés, Ivlyn Mutua, whose singing ability he first noticed online and Danny Gift, who got his big break as a contestant on the TV talent show “Exodus to Stardom” on stage to perform a song together during the concert.
“When I first heard Ivlyn sing five years ago, my jaw dropped and I realised there is a new generation and I have since made a deliberate effort to work with such younger talent,” he said.
His daughter, Mikalya Odera who was one of the backup singers at the concert, received some of the loudest applause from the audience when she was introduced. Incidentally, just last weekend she was playing the role of Deena, famously played by Beyoncé in the musical “Dream Girls” at a performance by Brookhouse School in Karen.
“The whole concert is a story because everyone on stage is someone I have a relationship with, so there is total commitment to the project,” he said.
He is also motivated by an apparent hunger for musical nostalgia with an audience yearning for some of his material from 25 years in the music business.
“I put together a 90-minute show featuring many of the familiar songs and introducing some of the new songs.”
The first of the new songs is titled “He Won’t Let Me” which is the first single from the upcoming album.
“My new album will not be strictly a gospel, rather it will be a diary of my life and experiences as a man, a pastor, a husband, a father and of course, a musician,” explains Mr Odera.
The first attempt for his comeback was in 2016 when he recorded the single “Mwingine” written by Sara Mitaru that didn’t materialise after producer David “Blackman” Muthami relocated to the US. Unlike in the past when he has written a lot of his own material, the new project has other writers, contributing songs to the album. Among these is veteran songwriter and producer Suzanne Gachukia.
“I am taking this album one song at a time and I have already spoken to several of the current generation of performers to appear on the album,” said Mr Odera.
A duet with Wahu Kagwi, who made the switch to gospel a year ago, is already confirmed and just awaits production. Now that the jitters of this first concert are out of the way, expect to see a lot more of Mr Odera rolling back the years on stage in the coming months.