Mention "The Kassangas" and the face of almost any Kenyan who was alive in the 90s will light up in recognition. So successful they were that President Moi would invite them to his home for performances. Their music dominated the airwaves, they performed during national functions and in 2006, received the Order of the Grand Warrior from President Kibaki.
Japheth and Anne Kasanga were seemingly attached at the hip – together in audio recordings, on video, in photographs and in person, creating an enduring name in gospel, so that one could hardly picture the Kassangas as separate entities.
Marriage was a revelation to Japheth. Growing up an orphan, and raised by neighbours, moving a lot from home to home, he didn't know that he could ever feel content and at peace and have a place to really call his home. "I was used to receiving harsh orders by everyone, including children in the families that brought me up," says Japheth. " I did not know how to create close personal relationships."
So when he met Anne, fell in love and married her, the young man was at a loss of how to nurture the union. "It was fascinating, being with someone who was at an equal footing with me. One who viewed me as an equal partner, not a lesser being. I was so ecstatic when we adopted the name Kassangas( with an extra 's') as our stage name. We had a shared music interest," says Japheth.
They both hail from Mosa village in Kitui County, but they did not really know each other.
"I was close to her brothers who played musical instruments and were Sunday school teachers and all I knew about her was her name. We met many years later," says Japheth.
In the early 80s, while teaching music in Daystar, he would often go to Mombasa to train choirs. At the time, Anne lived in Mombasa. While on one of those tours, he went to teach AIC Tudor and AIC Zion choirs, both of which she was a member.
"As I trained, I noticed that this young girl would grasp what I was teaching really fast, but at that time she was just a Standard Seven pupil so I left it at that," he says.
But, as luck would have it, they would find their way to each other.
"I kept going to visit her brothers and every time they would invite me to their home, I would be amazed at how good the food tasted and it always turned out that it was Anne who had cooked. I started getting interested," he says, smiling coyly.
He however kept his feelings to himself because he was not sure how well it would go down with her brothers, who were his friends. When she was in Form Three, he would overhear other men in the choir talking about her. "I realised that I might lose my chance if I didn't state my intentions. So one day when her brothers were not nearby, I gathered courage and told her.
Anne had harbored no romantic interest in him before then. "I turned down his advances because I was still in school," she says. He then proposed marriage to her in April 1988 while she was in Form Four but she declined.
Undaunted by the rejections, Japheth pressed on.
"I wrote her letters and lucky for me she responded. I was in Nairobi and she was in Mombasa so they would take about two or three weeks to arrive. The December of '88 I heard that they were going upcountry so I waited for her in Kitui. I took her to the river-side where I was assured of privacy and did my best job of convincing her to marry me," he says with a laugh.
The pitch must have been good because this time, she accepted the proposal. He went back to Nairobi, and they did not date or see each other much during their courtship. "We were very serious born-again Christians so we did not want to have intimate relations before marriage. Her brothers would also escort me whenever I went to visit them so there was really no chance of that," he says.
The closest they ever were in their courtship was when she would come to Nairobi and he would invite her to sing with him on TV programs like Sing and Shine and Joy Bringers on KBC. By then, she was the soloist of AIC Tudor choir. "She was exceptionally talented and a very fast learner, so even then we did not spend much time together practicing. I would teach her a song I had composed in the morning and then we would go sing it in the afternoon on television," he says.
They got married on April 8, 1989 in AIC Ziwani. By then, Japheth was well known because he was on TV a whole lot. "We did not have much of a choice in how our wedding would be like. Even my wedding dress was made by a lady from the church who offered to do it," says Anne. "Everyone wanted to contribute. They raised around Sh52,000 and that was a whole lot by those days' standards. I did not even buy clothes for my first born until she was around age five as people would keep bringing them."
Their journey as the Kassangas then began. "When we started singing as the Kassangas, we would only perform live, but people who would see us on Joy Bringers would ask us to record the songs so that they could listen to our songs later on," says Anne. And the rest as they say, is history.
The fame that followed has only crowned their marriage, which they consider as being richly blessed solely as a result of being grounded in God. They have four children; Lynn 27, Jason 25, Gideon 21 and Daniel 19.