Paulie Mugure Mugo

It’s great to give thanks

Beautiful acapella of Hebrew hymn “Tov Lehodot La'Adonai”. Courtesy, The Samuels Family Kenya.

Samuel Mutonga can pinpoint, almost exactly, the moment that music became an integral part of his life.

Sam, the founder and patriarch of The Samuels Family Kenya, recently shared with me the intriguing story of his family and the well-loved music that they are famous for. Sam’s family of eight, comprising himself, his charming wife Rehab, and their six children, compose and perform music together and are celebrated for their distinctly unique sound across Africa and beyond.

I first encountered the Samuels one Friday evening at a lively Shabbat dinner to which I had been invited. Little did I know that I was in for a most pleasant surprise indeed! That night, listening to the family sing, I found myself carried away by their beautifully harmonized sound as they led the joyous celebrants in song.

I later ferreted out their YouTube channel where another lovely surprise awaited in the form of a freshly-uploaded version of the Hebrew hymn, “Tov Lehodot La’Adonai,” whose lyrics are drawn from Psalm 92. The track, recorded a cappella by the Samuel kids amidst a lush garden setting, forever captured my heart (and brought out the goosebumps), and I became all the more eager to know more about this gifted family.

It all began with an old-fashioned box guitar, as I was shortly to discover.

The year was 2003. Sam, married to Rehab for five years at the time, and the father of three young children, had left his home country of Kenya and headed to London, UK, in search of greener pastures.

Kenya’s economy had been devastated by more than two decades of chronic mismanagement, and Sam, a trained veterinarian, had been forced to close his struggling business and leave, hoping to find gainful work on another continent. He had boarded the earliest flight to London one chilly September morning – the very day that the couple’s second-born twins were to celebrate their first birthday.

“My plan was to eventually immigrate permanently with my family,” Sam told me during this interview. “And I was very determined.” He had landed at Heathrow Airport nine tiring hours later, somewhat anxious but hopeful of a better life for his young family.

“Before traveling, I had contacted several friends in the UK, but by the time my visa had come through, all had fallen silent. Some had even refused to pick up my calls! It seemed like they had all gone into some sort of hibernation,” he said, not without some humor. So, Sam had arrived at Heathrow not knowing where he would spend his first night in this new land.

“I arrived at about 5 pm and didn’t know where to go,” he told me. “I had heard about a hotel nearby that I could book myself into and thought I could spend the night there and then leave. But just as I was contemplating this, I heard someone call my name.” It was a lady, Rehab’s cousin. She had been aware of Sam’s plans but had been scheduled to travel to Canada a week earlier.

“Interestingly, the lady had rescheduled her Canada flight to that same night,” said Sam. “So, we quickly headed to a certain pastor’s house, arriving there at 10 pm, three hurried train rides later. She then handed me over to my soon-to-be host and quickly left to catch her 3 am flight.” To say that Sam was dumbfounded would be a great understatement.

Sam and Rehab, now 55 and 51 respectively. Photo Courtesy the Samuels.
The pastor’s home was in Dagenham in East London, and although he and Sam had never met, Pastor John, as he was known, turned out to be a real blessing to Sam.

“This is where you’ll sleep,” Pastor John had told Sam. “And this is the fridge… don’t go hungry. Feel at home and free to do what you came to the UK to do.”

Sam was astounded by these surprising acts of kindness from two near-strangers who owed him nothing; one moment he was fretful and alone in a foreign land and the next he had been picked up and delivered safely, like a valued parcel, to a warm and friendly host. This, he could only put down to divine intervention.

“I was greatly humbled. So, one day, as I was walking in the streets of Dagenham, I vowed to take an offering of over 600 pounds, a tidy sum at the time, to a local church in Plaistow, London, just to say ‘thank you’ to God.” He then settled into his new home, ready to begin fishing for the opportunities that had brought him there. And raising the avowed 600 pounds was going to be his first priority.

As a matter of routine, Pastor John, Sam’s host, would leave the house every day to attend to his daily activities, leaving Sam to take care of his own. But unbeknownst to the now-good friends, a seemingly innocuous item in the pastor’s home was about to transform Sam’s life forever.

“Pastor John had a guitar, a box guitar, that he had hung somewhere in his house,” Sam told me. “One day, as he was about to leave, he looked at me and said, ‘Samuel, if you feel lonely, just pick up the guitar and sing.’ I don’t know how he knew that I could play the guitar.”

Sam could at least play the basic chords of the old guitar. So, in the days following, he took to strumming that box whenever his host was away, partly to stave off the quietness around him. But as he played, alone in that house, silent words would begin to swell up from deep within him and he would find himself singing straight from the heart.

“A certain scripture, Psalm 116, came to me one day in the form of a song and I began to sing it from deep within my heart: ‘What shall I render to the Lord For all His benefits toward me….?'”

And during those days of quiet solitude, he says, Sam found a new closeness with his Maker. “One day, God spoke to my heart and said ‘Sam, what I need from you is not the money. I need your heart.’ And that turned my life around.” Sam had found his life’s purpose, more than ten thousand kilometers from home. He dedicated his life to serving God and four weeks later his wife Rehab did the same.

In just three months, he was back in his home country.

“I came back home after three months,” Sam narrated. “And during that time, I began receiving songs as I slept, through dreams. I would hear melodies, very nice melodies, and I would immediately wake up and begin writing them down. Then I would share them with my family and we would sing them together in our home.”

At that time, only Sam’s little firstborn, four-year-old Hephzibah, was able to join her parents as they sang. The twins were still only a year old.

“My wife Rehab and I sang a lot, and it soon began to overflow to our kids as they grew older. Late one evening, we came home to find them singing beautifully on their own. And in due course, some of my songs would come from them. We would be relaxing at home and a child would begin to hum a certain tune; I would pick it up and it would eventually become a very powerful song.”

The gift of music had eventually located his family.

Today, firstborn Hephzibah is 25 years old and twins Christinah and Jedidiah are 21. The three have completed formal schooling and are pursuing their chosen careers – Hephzibah in organic cosmetology and the twins in TV and film production. Their younger siblings Esther, Ruth, and Ephrayim who are 17, 15, and 13 respectively, are homeschooled by Sam and Rehab, with some aspects of their learning outsourced to additional teachers. Yet, each of the six kids carries this very special gift of song. Together with their parents, they form the highly-talented musical ensemble The Samuels Family Kenya.

The Samuel Kids. From left: Hephzibah, Ruth, Jedidiah, Ephrayim, Esther and Christinah. Photo Courtesy, The Samuels.

“Today, we receive testimonials about our music from all over the world – Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and America. Everywhere we go, we find someone who knows our sound.”

The Samuels have not received any formal training in music to date. But if you give them a musical piece, you will find their voices falling almost effortlessly into place as they sing, Sam assured me. The children have sung and recorded songs in several different languages to date: English, Swahili, French, Tamil, Kikuyu (their mother tongue), and more recently, Hebrew.

I seized the opportunity to ask Sam about my recently-discovered favorite, “Tov Lehodot La’Adonai,” which had just been recorded by the children. The song is a cover version of a hymn originally performed during a live concert, Midor Ledor (From Generation to Generation) at the Pavilion Jerusalem in April 2011.

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High…,” goes the touching piece.

“It is the very first song that the children have recorded in Hebrew,” Sam informed me. And I couldn’t help but ask if the family has any plans to release more music in the language of the Holy Land.

“Yes, the kids are certainly able to do more music in Hebrew,” Sam affirmed, “and they can do it in their own unique style.”

“Our life’s work was birthed without us fully understanding what exactly was happening. It was simply our way of life,” Sam said to me, as we concluded our chat. “And it is now flowing in the next generation.”

Sam believes that the family’s unique musical gift is God-given and is destined to reach diverse peoples, tribes, and nations throughout the world in the years to come. “That’s why the children can so easily pick up a foreign language,” he told me. Their gift is truly multinational, he believes, and will soon be heard in many more nations around the globe.

I relish the thought.

The Samuel family can be reached on +254 707 605 770

About the Author
Paulie Mugure Mugo is a published author based in Nairobi, the capital city of the East African nation of Kenya. Paulie has authored three books, two being lightly humorous personal memoirs, while the third, “KINGS”, is a memorable look at the rulers of ancient Israel, a subject she finds endlessly captivating. Were books children, this would be Paulie’s unwittingly spoiled favorite. She recently completed a certificate course, "The History of Modern Israel", and is currently enrolled to study "The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem" at the University of Tel Aviv, through one of the institution's online platforms. She enjoys reading widely, but rarely works of fiction as, in her view, nothing can be as fascinating as the world we live in. She lives in Nairobi with her husband, four boisterous offspring, and Nala, a guard dog who clearly has no clue she is one.
Related Topics
Related Posts