It is said that the greatest artists are those who rise from the ashes… that the very factors which would have dealt them a heavy blow fuelled their talent instead.
For Lillian Rotich, 38, this seed of talent was planted when she was only 10. The gospel singer from Kericho is one of eight children from a single-parent. Her mother returned to her ancestral home following marital strains.
Poverty struck the young family. To put food on their table, her mother brewed and sold traditional liquor and eventually became an alcoholic.
Her mother strongly believed that education wasn’t for women. “Despite doing very well in my exams, my mother refused to pay my high school fees. She paid for all my brothers, though. My mum wanted me to get married after primary school and start a family, like all girls from my village,” says Rotich, now married and a mother of three.
Rotich sought solace in her local church, where she was given responsibilities. The church also funded her school fees up until Form Three. Her unwavering faith became an example to those who knew her and soon.
“My mother changed — she stopped brewing liquor and gave her life to salvation. She became my friend, my best friend until today. She supported my education until I completed high school.”
Rotich, thereafter, landed a job in a local tea factory. It was while here, in 2002, that she met and married her husband, Richard Rotich, then moved to Nairobi.
In Nairobi, she tried her hand in business, but gospel music was her life: She sang in the kitchen as she fixed her family a meal; sang as she tidied her living room; sang as she hugged her husband goodbye and wished him a good day. Rotich just sang unaware that her husband was listening.
“One morning, he said it’s time I took my singing to the studio, that I should record a song. He’s a pastor, and he mentioned how much his congregation enjoyed my singing. I hesitated but he wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
Rotich recorded her first single Achicha (‘No’) in 2005, whose single she gave to a vernacular radio station but left no contact.
The song received an unexpectedly positive response from listeners. No one had a clue who Rotich was. “The radio presenters made a public appeal that whoever had sang the song should present herself to the studio.
I received the message from a close friend,” Rotich says in between laughs. “I returned to the station with 2,000 copies of the song; all the CDs sold out. Later that year, I released a video for the track.”
Rotich has since recorded five albums, starting with Achicha in 2005. “This album had 10 tracks.” Her second album was Kenyit ne lel, in 2006, which loosely translates to ‘a new year’. Her third album was Kibendi Tai in 2008, meaning ‘we are moving forward’.
The hit song from this album was titled Momee nguno (it is not yet my time to go).Her fourth album was Inet Kei in 2009, which means ‘learn’. A song with a similar title received regular airplay on vernacular radio stations that same year. The fifth album was titled Otononse, 2013 (‘Stand up’).
In between her second and third albums, she lived in the US for one year. Rotich pulled crowds when she performed in Maryland and Atlanta churches.
“You should never forget where you came from. I doubt I would be where I am today if my early life had not been as it were.”
Rotich is currently a radio host for a mid-morning show that runs on Kass FM.