Dennis Karanja has nothing but a melodious voice. It is a voice resonating of nothing but hope, encouragement and vision, pun intended. Welcome Dennis Karanja, of the Mbona fame.” It is on a cold morning in Nairobi when I meet up with him along Moi Avenue, and the talk that ensues leaves me inspired in spite of the tussle of setting up this meeting. Born in Rongai-one of Nairobi’s suburbs, in a family of three, Denis Karanja, was born with a condition known as congenital blindness in the medical world. In lay man’s language Denis was partially blind. The second born in the family and the only member with a disability, Denis was shielded from the harsh realities of his disability by this immense parental love and warmth of family. At the age of five he will find himself in Thika Primary School for the blind and it is then that the harsh reality of his disability will hit him. The silent question that had always stuck at the back of his mind, of his difference from other children was quietly being unraveled. He was classified totally blind and immediately taken to learn Braille.
Learning Braille was not easy,” a thoughtful Denis tells me. He takes me through his triumphs and struggles in his younger days and basically his genesis to stardom. In those days, children who took long in grasping Braille were taken to a special class. This special class was where students who couldn’t fit in the regular curriculum or basically were slow learners were taught orientation and mobility skills to help them navigate their environment. They were taught basic activities of daily living such as personal grooming, cleaning the environment around them and a few other skills like weaving, knitting and rearing domestic animals such as chicken and rabbits. These children would spend years and years in that class away from the regular curriculum till they were fully grown. From time to time, they would be taught Braille and assessed to see if they would fit in the regular class. The ones who were unable to grasp these reading and writing skills in Braille were later sent home with the few other skills learnt .
Denis spent three whole years in special class. It took a lot of effort to overcome this and after three or four reviews, he was able to read Braille, and consecutively he was taken to class two where regular curriculum was being taught. I first discovered that I had a talent in music when I joined the junior choir in class five,” a smiling Denis tells me. Later on, with a few of his friends, they formed a group which composed songs and sung them during the church services in school. In addition to singing, they would also create comedies which they would After doing well in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education, Denis Karanja joined Thika High School for the Blind.
“I was happy to learn music as a subject since it was not being taught in primary school,” Denis tells me with a voice full of joy. In the year 2010 when he was in form four, Denis was invited to participate in a back-to-school show aired on Citizen Television by one of his friend who goes by the name Njugush. It is at this show that he will meet Daddy Owen, a popular gospel artist in Kenya and this will mark a step to greatness and a door to achieving his children dream. ―Everyone in the entire world is born a grade A dreamer but most of us end up being grade E implementers,” a now relaxed and happy Denis Karanja tells me. One of his dreams actually was to compose a song and record it in collaboration with Daddy Owen and here was the opportunity.
After a chat with him, they exchanged contacts and each of them went their separate ways. Denis went ahead and composed a song for the collabo but the song never saw the light of day. A year later, Denis will receive a call from Daddy Owen, with a grand plan. He had a written a song that he wished to perform and r e c o r d in n c o l l a b o r a t i o n w i t h D e n i s. “The message in the song moved me to tears,” Denis tells me. He always had wanted to communicate to the society about the tribulations of persons with disabilities but had never found the right words to do so. RKay music in Kenya recorded the song and the video being shot by the infamous Ogopa Deejays. “Thanks to Mbona I have been able to reach so many hearts in our society. I have had the chance to perform before different people, from all walks of life. Denis tells me.
The song Mbona, derived from a Swahili word meaning “Why,” is a song questioning the society. It questions the indifferences and discrimination of the society towards people with disabilities yet it is not their fault, or making to be in that state. This song has won different accolades including the prestigious Kisima award and of course fame and financial benefits, ” I thank God for making me a vessel to communicate to o u r society, ― D e n i s tells m e .
The essence of singing is not necessarily to make money but to pass the message in you to the society. Money is a result of the message reaching home but not the root reason, he says.
Apart from Mbona, Denis has composed, sang and recorded other songs like Naona Mbali, (I’m able to see far) Ebenezer, Safari; a song he sang in collaboration with the singer Eunice Njeri among others. “The path to musical fame has not been easy,” he tells me. Though he has not suffered any direct discrimination, Denis tells me that he has missed many opportunities to perform for some reasons he later finds out to be the fact that he is a person with a disability. Denis is a strong believer that no one in this world is useless. Though some parts of the body may not be functioning optimally, that does not qualify one to write off any p e rs on i n t h i s r e g a rd . “God is able to turn a mess into a powerful message of success,” he tel ls me. It is in this respect that he is planning to start a studio where he will be helping young and t a l e n t e d p e r s o n s w i t h disabilities realize their dreams in music.
He, with the help of a few friends, was able to help one visually impaired talented, young man named COG record an album. He also plans to get married to a lady who he tells me does not despise him for his disability adding that the lady knew and loved him when he was little known. “A long journey starts with only a single step. I do not know how long it will take for this dream to reach its realization but what I am sure is that one day, it will c o m e t o p a s s . ” H e a d d s .” It is the high time for us; persons with disabilities to stand up to give a helping hand to our fellow brothers and sisters to realize their dream in whichever field we are in or posterity will judge us harshly,” he tells me as w e conclude our talk. Dennis parting shot was simple, never look down on somebody unless you are giving a helping hand.