Songs of Glory

Mary's simple demeanor may make her pass for any ordinary visually impaired lady, but here is a legend; a music icon in the Kenyan Gospel scene. Her music career spans for over three decades and still going strong. She reminds us of the power of maximizing what God has granted unto us; and the beauty of diversity. Meet Mary Atieno Otiende as she shares her triumphs, conquering disability, and her journey to fame, emerging one of the most respected and sought for gospel musician in Kenya and beyond.

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Courtesy Of nation.co.ke

Growing up

Born in 1961 in Kirengo village, Karungu in Migori County; Mary recounts her challenging childhood having been born in a polygamous family.  Her father Francis Yara, who was a school headmaster, had two wives with Mary’s mother being the eldest.
“My parents did not know that I was visually impaired till I was five months old.”
Like any other concerned parents, they took her to The King George hospital now Kenyatta hospital but all was in vain. Although education for the girl child was not taken seriously in those days, her parents went against the trend and took her to St. Oda Aluor School for the Blind where she started school as well as her music career.

Trouble struck in 1977 when she was diagnosed with a heart condition. After conducting several tests on her, the doctors could not diagnose her with anything. The sixteen year old Mary never lost hope but clung to Jesus. She turned to prayer promising God that if He healed her, she would serve Him for the rest of her life. “Several tests thereafter, the doctors were astonished to find that my heart was very healthy. It is at that point that I decided to give my life to Jesus, I got born again,”

Musical Journey

While in high school, she started to sing with the renowned Reuben Kigame. She later became the head of a 30-students choir called Starlight. The group sung and composed many songs which they sung at school and beyond.
“I remember a certain time when we were invited to sing in a state function by the then president Daniel Arap Moi. The songs we sung that day; Furahini Wakenya and Twaipenda Kenya became instant hits getting unprecedented airplay in the then Voice of Kenya now KBC.”

Mary later joined Kenyatta University where she studied a Bachelors of Education degree. While in the university, she joined the university choir and composed many gospel and patriotic songs which they sang during all university and state functions. She remembers at one point, the then president Moi bought the whole choir uniform for their great music. All these events were working towards her success in music.

Shortly before her graduation, she joined the International Fellowship for Christ IFC choir which saw her release her first songs like Adamu Na Eva, Sodoma Na Gomorrah, which propelled her to instant fame. In 2004 she released another album “Njooni Tumsifu” which topped the charts for two years running.

Challenges as a person with disability:

In Spite of her fame, her social life was greatly affected. The university was so expansive that she was unable to move from the numerous lecture halls to the hostels of residence. Unlike the lower levels of education where help was always ready, she found herself a loner. She had to look for help whenever she needed it.  She also had to look for someone to help her read the many literature and religious studies books as her studies demanded.

Career, family and fame:

Though she was quite apprehensive when she started her teaching career at Buruburu Girls’ School in the 80s, where she now teaches Christian Religious Education and English Literature; Mary shares her joys and thrills of her teaching career. “The students and teachers received me well and have never discriminated me for my disability. The school administrators have also been very supportive”
Her music has found her touring different countries in the world, from East African countries, to Europe and the USA.

Mary is happily married, “I am married to Pastor Alex Ominde and we are blessed with three beautiful children; Melody, Harmony and Precious.”

Apart from teaching and singing; Mary and her husband started a church in Kayole. She also tours different churches sharing words of encouragement to the congregation, her motivation being the hope she found in Christ.
“It is the Lord through his Son Jesus Christ who gives me the strength to face the challenges of every passing day.”

Future plans:

Mary plans to start her own recording studio with the aim of mentoring young upcoming musicians. Currently she is working on her next album to be launched soon.

Challenges:

The music industry comes with its own bunch of challenges too, and being a person with disability does not make things any easier.
“The major challenge I have faced in my music career is the piracy menace. In addition, shooting a good quality video has also become extremely expensive,”

Parting Shot:

Mary’s word to people intending to get into music, especially gospel musicians: “The secret to staying on top of the music charts is in getting grounded in the gospel which comes through continued reading of the bible, putting all your trust in God and recording gospel music in gospel studios.