AARON RIMBUI – The Inside Man (As lifted off Mavuno Life – July 2013)
It’s a smoke-filled dimly lit room. Alcoholic beverages are stacked up on every table, even as the dance floor begins to fill up.
Not quite the setting one would expect for a church boy and former worship leader. But this is what greets Aaron Rimbui as he takes to the stage at the popular club – Choices Bar & Restaurant. No crucifix. No stained-glass windows. No hallelujah chants. Just a plain old fashioned Friday evening.
Aaron Rimbui may be a Christian, but he’s not one built for conformity. Aaron’s played for and shared the stage with the best secular musicians Africa has to offer. From Kora winner Eric Wainaina and the world traveled Sauti Sol, to South African legend Hugh Masekela and Nigeria’s afro-beat sensation Sean Kuti, Aaron’s musical resume is impressive.
Together with the ‘Aaron Rimbui Quartet’, he’s played at the Tusker Lite Experience, Capital Lounge Unplugged, Blankets & Wine and has mesmerized crowds in music festivals in places such as Malindi, Dar-es-Salam, and Zimbabwe, not to mention touring the U.S with the Mavuno Worship Project.
“I am not a Gospel musician”, Aaron is categorical. “In the same way there is no such thing as a Gospel banker or a Christian painting, I don’t think I can be categorized as a Gospel musician. I am a born-again Christian who happens to be an artist.”
As we settle into the interview, his sweetheart and wife of four years Sarah Rimbui by his side, the one thing that impresses me the most is his razor-sharp focus.
“It was clear to me very early that God saved me and gave me the gift of music, but that that gift was not just for the church, it was for the world.” He adds, “Listen clearly to Jesus’ parting shot to his followers – he didn’t say ‘Go ye therefore into the church’. He said ‘Go ye into the world’. I believe that God has called me and given me a message of hope for the world”.
Considered East Africa’s premier pianist, Aaron was initially a drummer, and amazingly only picked up playing keys at the age of 17 whilst a student at Nairobi School. Today, he is a jazz keyboardist, composer, producer and has scored BBC’s Tinga Tinga tales (now on Disney Channel). He also has two impeccable albums under his belt, with a third album as well as a collaborative hymns project with musician Kanjii scheduled for 2013.
“People ask me how I know God called me to the ‘world’, and whether I’m just being self-indulgent. My sense of calling comes out of a deep relationship with God. The closer you walk with Him, the more you get to know about what’s on His heart”.
The Perfect Inside Man
Aaron’s eyes begin to light up as he goes deeper into this. “Daniel’s story inspires me. He served four pagan kings over a period of 80 years, often modeling what it meant to live a godly life. Whether it was with his excellence and professionalism or with his unwavering faith even in the face of death, Daniel was the perfect inside man. That’s what I know God has called me to be – an inside man”.
His wife Sarah, is just as engrossed as I am. She, a successful actress and director both on television (Changing Times, Beba Beba, Briefcase Inc.) and theatre (Phoenix Players, Wholesome Entertainment), completely shares Aaron’s passion.
She adds, “Think about Jesus. Even when those in ‘the church’ criticized him for hanging with the lost, he was clear about his call and never wavered in his commitment. When Mary washed his feet, there must have been people who were stumbled by it, but because of the call over his life, and his relationship with the Father, his steps were directed. I believe that God is directing the steps of both my husband and I”.
I am fascinated by the comparison with Jesus. No one can argue with the fact that if anyone served behind enemy lines, it was Jesus. Yet what distinguished him was his fruit – his work amongst the broken and the lost always bore tangible fruit. What is the product of Aaron’s ministry?
“I’m always amazed at the reception my music gets. And it’s not just about quality, it’s about impact. You’ll see people break down and cry at my concerts, I have heard stories of people getting healed as they’ve listened to my albums. I’ve gotten story after story of people tell me about the peace they’ve received as they’ve listened to my music, even when I play at secular events.”
Tusker Project Fame
I latch on to that, because one of the more contentious events he participates in is Tusker Project Fame (TPF), where not only did he co-write the theme song, he also serves as faculty member and band leader. I’m curious to know what impact his faith has had there.
“TPF is an amazing show that nurtures great talent, and I was glad to come on board in season 3. I noticed however that because some of the contestants were young and did not know their limits, they indulged in the freely provided alcohol a little too much. The resultant effect is that this affected not only their vocal ability, but also their professionalism. Our feeling was that the show could do with a stronger music focus, and as we worked with each of the artists, we were pleasantly surprised to see that with time, the drinks were provided but hardly anyone touched them.”
He adds, “Together with other Christians on the faculty, we slowly began to affect the atmosphere of the show. Our influence over the content gradually grew, and with time the content levels got cleaner and more palatable to a wider audience. As a result the ratings of the show shot through the roof”.
I am sufficiently impressed. Here is an artist who has such a clear understanding of his calling, and is passionately living it out in the marketplace. Before I release him and Sarah, I need to know how Aaron protects himself. What does he do to ensure he does not fall behind these enemy lines?
“Isolation is one of the biggest killers for Christians. So I make sure that I have good spiritual cover and I’m surrounded by good people. For one, my church and my pastors speak heavily into my life. I know that my success cannot have happened without the input of Mavuno Church. They pray over me and have commissioned me to be on the frontlines of media and the arts. But I also make sure I surround myself with ‘kindred spirits’ – people who understand the waters I swim in and can provide constant counsel, guidance and cover for me and my wife”.
2013 seems like it will be a good year for Aaron. He’s recently signed on as host of the radio show Capital Jazz Club, and his flagship event, “All That Jazz” is in its 11th edition.
Keep your eyes peeled for the quintessential inside man.