He is a relatively quiet man of dark complexion and short stature yet he can walk tall in the Kalenjin Nation. He is a workaholic, rarely seen anywhere but in his production studio along the garage road in Kericho town.
Having dominated the music industry for more than forty years, Pastor Joel Kimeto as he is popularly known has managed to entertain Kenyans with his unique and admirable melodies in the only way he can. His songs are rich in moral lessons, idiomatic and delivered in a distinct baritone that brings out the seriousness of his Christian message laced with humour and satire. The dexterity of his voice suited to comic form has made him taller than his height in the music industry.
Kimeto was born in 1956 in Kapsabul, Bomet County at a time when schools were very few and were mainly run by missionaries. The name in his national identity card is Joel Kimeto but has an adopted name Kipwitat that was given to him in memory of his grandfather.
Kimeto’s adaptation and appropriation of Kalenjin idioms and style in the creation and performance of his songs produce a unique discourse not common in contemporary gospel songs. Kimeto has strived to remain relevant and tall in the industry by consciously and cautiously importing the traditional idiom and appropriating it in the Christian religious space.
Pastor Joel Kimeto studied and passed his CPE exams but his school life came to a pause due to a lack of school fees. He later enrolled and passed his K.J.S.E
In 2001, he joined Daystar University and enrolled on a certificate course in music and anthropology, a course that was taught alongside journalism and mass communication. He later joined the then Kenya Highlands Bible College, presently Kenya Highlands University for an inter-term course in music.
Journey to the music industry
Kimeto is a well-traversed man. With the coming of the Europeans in the Eastern part of the Kipsigis Land, young men were abandoning herding to work in the settler farms. When he went to work in one of the settler farms, it is said that the star of luck shone on his way when he landed on a farm belonging to a white settler who had a guitar. Kimeto developed an interest hence was so keen with the way his boss handled and played his guitar and asked him to teach him how to play. Unfortunately, Kimeto lost two of his righthand fingers while working on the farm.
This did not discourage him from learning the art of playing the guitar. He left the settler and went back home to join Kipchamba arap Toputuk who then was an established musician although he had not recorded any song. Kimetto accompanied Kipchamba whenever he was invited to perform and that is where he ironed his skills. Kimeto later converted into a Christian and started composing Christian songs in traditional tunes.
Kimeto also travelled widely after venturing into Gospel music. Even with turbulences of digital transition, Kimeto has appealed to the young generation through one of his songs Rat Torosta (tie your nappy) whose style is hip hop. His interaction with a wide range of audiences and experiences forms the reservoir of his songs. In one of his songs mocking old age, Ya Yosin (Old age is bad), he quotes most of the Kalenjin dialects’ reference to old age; from Pokot to Sabaot to the North and Tugen and Kipsigis to the South.
Kimeto made his first musical entry in 1979 by composing his first songs in his first album called Ya Meet ne Mamwayaaksei (Death is so bad that it is difficult to talk about). In this song, he describes the cruelty of death. He however gives hope to the listener that in the face of death, there is resurrection.
He developed a working relationship with the then nearest producer Chandarana Records Ltd in Kericho, who was his producer until the time he established his recording studio. One of the reasons he gives that motivated him to establish his own recording company was that Chandarana exploited earlier musicians who were ignorant of their intellectual rights. He says that he has nurtured other musicians through his producing studio.
Pastor Kimeto’s songs address many contemporary issues. He uses the Christian space to articulate and accentuate the values of his community and his traditional cultural experience and knowledge to voice the dying Kipsigis culture within the context of the Christian religion. His sound understanding of Kipsigis’ religion and culture as well as Christian religion enables him to reconcile the two in his songs. The result of this fusion brings harmony between the two cultures instead of tensions created earlier by missionaries.
His other songs include Wolowoli (Change), Ya meet ne mamwayaksei (Death is so bad that it is difficult to say), Miten Ngetiet (There is resurrection), Kimyet (ugali), Rat Torosta (tie your nappy), Ingeete Kimereng Mindo (a dik dik can wake up an antelope), Kirate Setyo, Kagibwan Olingwong (We Have Come to Your Place) and Maywek. At now, he boasts over twenty five thousand subscribers on YouTube.
Not much is known about his marriage life. However, during an exclusive interview with Kalenjin Media, the veteran singer sternly refuted claims that he wanted to marry a second wife who was his dancer. He instead clarified the allegations saying that he is happily married to one wife, Agnes with whom they held a traditional wedding together. They are equally blessed with children.
According to him, and as a pastor and staunch believer of The African Gospel Church, it is against the church doctrines for a pastor to be polygamous. “According to the Bible if one wants to be a believer of Christ then they should not marry more than one wife,” he said.
He, however, advises youths that it is a noble thing to take time to know your partner before getting married to avoid the nowadays common ‘Come we stay’ type of marriage.
Initially, Kimeto was not known for active politics, and he categorically states that his songs are religious and social. He had gone to an extent of saying that corrupt leaders have no space in his songs since he touches the vice in his song Osoya (Bribe). Prominent politicians from the region who have tried to patronize his songs for political mileage have failed because they fall victims to the very messages in the songs.
Nevertheless, Kimeto’s songs have captured the attention of leading political leaders from the Rift Valley including Kenyan retired president Daniel Toroitich arap Moi who appears in one of his productions. Kimeto was invited to different functions attended by the then president in the mid to late nineties. In fact, in 1996 Moi donated a van and state of the art equipment which he used to set up his recording studio.
Speaking to Kalenjin Media, the “Wolowoli” hitmaker recently refuted claims that he was gifted five acres of land by the late president Moi and instead called upon well-wishers to buy him land.
Kimetto sang the song Chitab Kalenjin at a time when Kenya was preparing for a general election the following year. The idiom he uses specifically addresses the Kalenjin and he seems not to want the ‘other’ to hear what he is telling his people.
However, towards the 2017 general elections, the renowned Kalenjin Gospel musician aroused controversy after he composed a song in praise of NASA coalition. Pastor Joel Kimetto urges the Kalenjins to abandon Jubilee for NASA.
He is arguably the most influential Kalenjin gospel artist and he seemed to have stepped on many toes, not because of his gospel but his latest song “Kogeu” which says the country has shifted from Jubilee to NASA and asks the people of Rift Valley, read the Kalenjin, to stand with the rest of the country and not stand in the way of change. He later sang the song “Siongi” which criticizes the politics of kingpins that have been witnessed in the current society.
When asked about his stand on the current politics, the veteran artist said that he does not take sides, “I am a pastor and I believe that its only God who endorses a leader,” he said. This comes after he was accused of betraying his Kalenjin family by releasing a song supporting former Prime Minister Raila Odinga. He later defended his stand and said that the song was meant to call upon Kalenjins to be united and accept whatever results come out after elections.
Joel Kimeto’s success has given birth to other Gospel artists within the Kalenjin nation in general and Kipsigis in particular. Some of these artists include Chesimet and the vocal female artist Emmy Kosgey. Many artists look forward to him not only to mould their talents but also to borrow a lot of spiritual nourishment from him. Click here to watch the exclusive interview Kalenjin Media.