At 70, Nzenze still holds on to his guitar
Posted Sunday, June 14 2009 at 20:19
- He has been in the entertainment world for 50 years but has little to show for it
His songs have endeared him to many music lovers in Kenyan and beyond the borders for the past 50 years and yet the legendary crooner has little to show for it.
At 70 years, John Amutavi Nzenze is no doubt in the twilight of a music career full of dashed hopes and disappointment.
Like several of his contemporaries, Nzenze is struggling to shake off the tribulations which have beset local musicians and driven them into oblivion despite their rich contribution to the music industry.
Last week, Nzenze was among four local musicians picked for the prestigious Head of State Commendation awards in recognition of their contribution to the industry.
Other musicians feted were John Katana of “Them Mushrooms”, David Ndung’u and Conrad Karukenya.
But the elderly songster was unflattered by the gesture and thinks the Government should have done more in recognition of efforts to promote local music.
Nzenze’s contemporaries include Isaiah Mwinamo, Daudi Kabaka, John Mwale and George Mukabi.
Others are Reuben Shimbilo, Tom Miti, Edward Nandwa and George Agada who had their illustrious music careers clouded in endless struggles for survival with little income to show for their efforts.
Born in 1940 in Nairobi’s Muthurwa estate, Nzenze won the hearts of many with his captivating compositions which include his popular 1961 hit song Angelike.
The singer has also promoted the lively “twist” dance style in his songs, adding a kick to his charming and sentimental compositions. He has performed in many countries including Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Algeria. He has also visited Japan and Britain.
Although he continues to bubble with verve and the exuberance that has kept him going strong over the years, he says the plight of local musicians and other artists should be addressed.
“When I received the phone call informing me that I had been picked for the HSC award, I felt excited but my heart sunk when we only received a medal in recognition for our effort,” said Nzenze in an interview in Kakamega.
He said local musicians were exploited by promoters and left to languish in poverty and appealed to the Government to intervene to check piracy and infringement of copy right.
At the peak of his career in 1968, Nzenze and his group represented the country in the All African Music Festival in Algeria and finished in a respectable third position after putting up a splendid show.
On their return, the group was feted by President Jomo Kenyatta and later received an invitation to perform in Addis Ababa before Emperor Haile Selassie.
For three months, Nzenze and his colleagues at the Air Fiesta Matata band got lavish treatment in Ethiopia as they belted out their enticing tunes and wowed the monarch during their stay.
During the memorable performance in Algiers, Nzenze recalled meeting the former vocalist with Franco’s TPOK Jazz Papa Noel whom he admires a lot.