Menkenja is a singer/songwriter couple comprised of Rick and Martine Baksteen. Their contemporary Christian music (CCM) is inspired by their cultural background. A variety of music styles can be heard in the songs: from lively piano ballads to atmospheric electronic sounds, sometimes with a touch of traditional African music. All their songs are original, personal, and authentic: linked to specific circumstances or events, always with a hopeful note.
Menkenja comes from the African Makaa word “mƏnkenja” meaning “light”. The Makaa language was spoken in the small African town called Abong Mbang where songwriter and composer Martine Baksteen was born to missionary parents. Abong Mbang lies in the West-African country Cameroon where the national language is French.
As such, Martine's youth was characterized by languages, music, and dance. She spent the first few years of her life in the village, marching around on bare feet in the African dust. On Sundays they went to a local French-speaking church where she learned to dance and clap the way the Cameroonians did. At the age of three, her family moved to the capital city, Yaoundé, where she started learning English and was homeschooled in Dutch. The school day would start with devotions and songs, so Martine grew up singing. Somewhere along the way she discovered the piano, taking lessons from another missionary around the age of 10. By then, she had already written many small songs about the things she learned about life, such as the fact that everyone is unique, and that Jesus was her superhero. Her grandfather recorded many of these songs and “released” them in two albums.
Martine was further shaped by her teenage years at a Christian missionary school, where she loved participating in electives such as drama (theater), drama evangelism (mime) and concert choir. She took voice lessons for several years and picked up the guitar, teaching herself. In the last three years of high school she was in the Worship Team, learning to lead the school assembly during the weekly chapels. Writing songs was an outlet for her, where she would express the things she was experiencing, often in the form of speaking to God.
After finishing high school, Martine entered a transition period. She moved to the Netherlands, where she started studying medicine in Leiden. As she processed the move from her beloved Africa to the Netherlands she wrote the songs Unchanging, Back, and Prince of Peace, expressing her faith in the God who went with her. These songs were the basis for Menkenja’s first album, Bare Feet in the Dust, and the making of the album was a therapeutic way to find closure for her.
Producer and sound engineer Rick Baksteen grew up in a very musical Dutch family, his mom a professional singer. He learned to sing bass and tenor parts in church, sitting next to his father, and started general music theory courses in elementary school. After learning the basics for two years, he took keyboard lessons for three years. Inspired by his keyboard teacher who used a digital audio workstation (DAW) during his lessons, he moved towards composing on the computer. His teacher taught him the basics of composing and how to use the DAW for several years until Rick started his secondary education.
In his late teenage years, Rick tried DJ-ing, but that didn’t challenge him enough. That is when he started developing his hobby of recording and mixing, slowly building up his home studio using his earnings from working in a supermarket. Many of his early songs were instrumental electronic beats, starting from an experimental combination of a chord scheme and a rhythm.
Building on his musical experience, Rick taught himself the drums and the guitar in his twenties. He soon functioned as worship leader of the church band. Studying mechanical engineering and then computer science, Rick’s master thesis was about real-time acoustics simulation in virtual environments. He then found a job in which he could combine physics programming with audio engineering and sound design.
Rick and Martine met in church, where their mutual love of composing brought them together. Hearing about Rick’s studio, Martine wanted to do some recording for a special occasion for her parents. That was the first of many recording sessions they did together, and along the way their friendship grew into a courtship. They were married in the spring of 2019 and released Bare Feet in the Dust a year later.
Though songwriting originally started as a hobby and an outlet for Martine, she gradually realized it could become more. As she shared her songs, she heard that the words were not only therapeutic for herself, but they could also serve to encourage other listeners. She remembered hearing from a friend going through a break-up that her own break-up song It is Done had been a comfort in that time, and that Unchanging was an encouragement to parents going through a difficult time with one of their children. Those experiences were the catalyst for the public release of Bare Feet in the Dust.