ISM Fellows in Conversation | Jean Ngoya Kidula: Channeling Christianity in Kenya

May 20, 2021

Part of the ISM Fellows in Conversation Podcast.

Interviewed by Ben Bond (M.Div. ‘22)

Introduction by Clare Byrne (M.A. R. religion & music ‘22)

As a pianist and singer growing up in Kenyan Pentecostalism, Dr. Jean Ngoya Kidula absorbed a multi-layered musical and religious landscape. Kenya, a center for the music recording industry in East Africa, was a crossroad of musical influences from Tanzania, Zimbabwe, the Congos and South Africa. There was no singular or “pure” African music. Raised in a rural village but under the vast imprint of British colonialism, she saw religion in its multiplicity as well. “We were keenly aware of Hinduism and Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism,” Kidula says.

Her life’s work grew out of this complex intersection of sources. Kidula notes, “I perceive myself more as an African musicologist rather than an ethnomusicologist, just because of…the historical and colonial drama that accompanies the idea of ethnomusicology. I don’t study the other. I study who I am.” Currently a professor of music at the University of Georgia, Kidula is at work on a historical project about radio, Christianity, and politics in her home country. Kidula experienced the power of radio firsthand. As a teenager, along with her sisters, she recorded a song that received years of airplay on Kenyan radio. The power of popular music and the longstanding politicization of Christian radio in Kenya is the focus of Kidula’s ISM Fellowship project, The Gospel In the Industry of Music in Eastern Africa: 1953-2002.