By Mukurima Muriuki
Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Car Company, once said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” Christian Longomba, who was born of Kenyan parents, emulated Henry Ford and made his dreams become a reality by acting on them. Initially, he was unsure of his career path, but once he realized he was meant to be a musician, there was no stopping him. He encountered many challenges on his life’s journey––one being a large brain tumor––but he has continued to remain positive and overcome all obstacles on his way to a successful career in music.
“Growing up in a musical family, I was the shy, soft-spoken child. Since I didn’t feel that it was cool that my Dad was a musician, I didn’t want that for my career path. Most of my childhood friends’ fathers were doctors, lawyers, or policemen, so I wanted my father to be like theirs and have a job with normal working hours. One where he would come home and spend time with us, read the newspaper or watch the news,” recalled Longomba. Although his Dad kept odd working hours, Christian remembers how he would bring his band to their home to practice, and that he was a lot of fun. By constantly listening to the band practices Christian began to develop an ear for music.
Since Christian’s father moved from country to country in order to perform with his band, his brothers, Richie and Lovy, and sister, Elly, were born in Kenya while he was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. All of the children were born with a natural talent for music, however, Christian was unaware of his musical talent. “When I got into music, I never imagined I would make a career of it,” he remarked.
As Longomba was entering his teenage years, his dad died in 1996 leaving a huge void in the family. He remembers his dad as being the “coolest dad in the whole world.” His mother stepped into the role of breadwinner and worked many long hours at different jobs to feed the family. She was strict, but fun-loving, and ensured that the children were comfortable as they worked through the grieving process.
Longomba’s music career began after going to Samawati Studios where his dad had recorded some of his songs. His cousin, Nasty Thomas of the group Deux Vultures, also influenced him to gravitate toward music. Christian wrote a song, “Dondosa”, because of Nasty Thomas’s influence. “The funny thing is that when I wrote it, I wasn’t looking around me — my family and the numerous possibilities for partnerships at my disposal,” commented Longomba. “At Samawati Studios, I met a guy with whom I decided to record the song; however, the first release was not pleasing. I felt there was something missing – a “flavor” I could not get. It was frustrating, we parted ways, and I went back to the drawing board.”
While contemplating his next move, he remembered that his brother, Lovy, who was also a musician, could be the perfect fit. He reached out to Lovy, and they began to collaborate. Thus, the band, the Longombas, was born. Although they were both still in school, they had big dreams of excelling in music. The brothers were forced to skip school in order to practice and to work on the song, “Dondosa.” “We put in so much work on “Dondosa” that by the time we felt it was ready for a demo, we were on the seventh version. Lovy and I were speaking the same language; we both knew what we wanted. The only problem was getting a producer who could turn our dreams into reality,” explained Longomba. “At about the same time Deux Vultures had recorded a song called “Mona Lisa,” which was doing very well. We reached out to our cousin, Nasty Thomas, and asked him to link us up with their producer.”
Thomas took the Longomba boys to the Ogopa DJs Studio in South C. Christian and Lovy ended up selling most of their belongings to raise enough money for their recording. They raised half of the capital needed and Richie, their brother, gave them the other half.
Longomba recalled the story of how they met their producer: “Notably, the producer, Lucas Bikedo, was still operating from his parents’ home, so when we knocked on the door. It was his dad who ushered us in. Lucas must have been sleeping so we had to wait.
Later, he showed up and asked what kind of help we needed. He told us to continue waiting and must have gone back to sleep. He showed up again, and we gave him the CD with our “Dondosa” demo. He then asked us to leave saying he would contact us. We were surprised because after waiting for so long, we expected a more interactive approach. But we had no option so we ushered ourselves out. We hadn’t even got to his estate’s main gate when Lucas came running and said, ‘Men, I have listened to your track. I don’t know who was working on it before, but it has potential. Please let us go back to the house.’ So, we followed him to his little studio, played the song over and over and we could tell there was something about this song that was right. Lucas then asked what we called ourselves and we told him, The Longombas. He introduced us to his networks at KBC and Capital FM. I remember Capital FM’s Eve de Souza was the first radio presenter to play our song. Soon, Dondosa found its way to KBC’s top Kenyan music countdown.”
It wasn’t very long before their song started playing on Kiss FM, Nation FM, and other radio stations. But even though it was a radio success, the Longomba brothers still hadn’t figured out how to reach their listeners. Christian explained that no one knew them beyond the song. They were growing frustrated and did not have the resources to secure their own shows. They wanted to show their fans their capabilities, but they didn’t know any promoters. Once again, Nasty Thomas came to their aid. Deux Vultures gave them a deal that they couldn’t refuse – to be their opening act. They immediately signed on even though it was an unpaid gig because it was an amazing opportunity for exposure.
During an event called, “The Tusker Pool Challenge,” the Longombas made their long-awaited debut. This is where they met Big Ted, who had previously worked closely with Deux Vultures. Their performance was well-received, and the fans demanded an encore. Therefore, Big Ted asked them to perform at the Ngong Racecourse. The brothers were working very hard to build a fan base and, consequently, had forgotten about getting paid for their work.
As their name became synonymous with Kenyan music, they began to write songs about societal issues. “For example, the song, “Vuta Pumz”, has a club or dance feel to it, yet it tackles responsible sexual behavior and calls on partners in a relationship to be faithful to manage the spread of HIV/Aids,’ explained Longomba.
In order to explore different ways of creating music, Lovy and Christian moved to the United States. “We felt we needed to explore a different way of making music, to think outside the box. We wanted to take our music beyond Kenya and Africa, to expand our horizons. Besides, there was no use being popular with nothing to show for it. It is important to note that pursuing a career is a journey, so people should not imagine that we would achieve success overnight,” said Longomba.
Christian stated that Nigerian musicians have great songs and a supportive fan base. He has learned that their publicists are aggressive and they transport the artists to other countries where they meet many famous musicians. He explained that recent videos showing Alicia Keys dancing to Wizkid’s music is due to good management and aggressive publicists. He feels that the aggressive promotion of artists is lacking in Kenya. “Even when Nigerian artists network with celebrated musicians in other countries, specifically in America, they don’t look at it as a bridge to reaching the American market; their focus is still on Africa, which makes sense because it’s a market of nearly a billion people. These networks end up showing their fans back home that their stars are mingling with their peers from around the globe, and that’s what this industry requires,” he said.
According to Christian, very few African acts attract international audiences — Femi Kuti, Angelique Kidjo and Youssou N’Dour — is not a very long list. He feels that these artists have demonstrated that music knows no borders. His view is that whether they choose to sing in their mother tongue or another language, those who do not understand their language will still fall in love with their music. He believes their song, Queen, which was recorded in California, is a testament of the talent of the Longombas.
Life was looking promising until Christian started having health issues. “Like everyone else, I have undergone trying times. I have generally been a healthy guy, save for the occasional headache for which I would take pain killers. Sometimes I would vomit, but I put it down to something that I had eaten that must have upset my stomach, There were moments I would get tired during the day, but I thought that was a sign I needed to rest,” he remarked.
One afternoon when Christian was feeling bored, he invited a friend over for lunch. While he was sitting on the sofa, he lost consciousness. He realized that he had experienced a seizure. His friend, a nurse, called the paramedics who took him to the hospital where he underwent many tests. After several days of testing, he received the alarming diagnosis that he had a brain tumor. He recalled that he never thought this would happen to him. “It was big, so the hospital kept monitoring it as they waited for a specialist’s opinion. The neuro-surgeons later told my family that they had never seen such a big brain tumor, and that they needed time to study and plan how to safely remove it,” explained Longomba.
Two weeks later, he underwent surgery. Since the surgery was major and invasive, it was fraught with risks; However, Christian trusted the doctor to do his job, and that God would do the healing. His surgery was successful, but there was another setback. He suffered internal bleeding, which necessitated more surgery to remove blood clots from his brain. “My recovery was so amazing that I realized that God was there for me. My illness has taught me a lot, especially about faith in God. I have learned to appreciate every little thing God has given me — the ability to smile, mobility, and even the ability to go to the bathroom. People take these little things for granted, yet for some people, they are luxuries,’ said Longomba.
In retrospect, Christian explains that he doesn’t truly know how to thank his father-in-law, Benjamin Onyango, and his mother-in-law, Elizabeth, his brother, Lovy, and his brother’s wife, Ida. They all went above and beyond during this difficult period and he will never forget their love, warmth, and prayers. He is also thankful for his wife, Bella Yetnayet Ketema, his son, Prince, and daughter, Elly for their unwavering support. Not only is he thankful for his family, but he is also appreciative of the spiritual, moral, and financial support he received from Kenyans and non-Kenyans all over the world.
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” is a proverbial saying that describes Christian Longomba’s view of adversity. He has a can-do attitude and understands that he, along with God, is responsible for his future successes. His parting words are: “Watch out for the Longombas’ album, which is coming out soon!”