Nzenze’s death ends era of 'Twist' singers

Sunday May 31 2020

Veteran musician John Nzenze. He died on May 30, 2020. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


The death of 'Kenya Twist' music legend John Amutabi Nzenze (John Wanga) on Saturday marks the end of an era of singers and guitarists who popularised the genre that arose in the 1960s.

The dance style that was popular with the young and old involved the spiral shaking of the body.  Other proponents of the 'Twist' were Daudi Kabaka, John Abass and George Agade.

Another musical great of that time was John Mwale, who also doubled as a great rhumba singer.


Most of these musicians came from western Kenya, particularly today's Vihiga County.

Other legends from Western Kenya include George Mukabi, Isaya Mwinamo. Edward Nandwa, Shem Tube, John Lwangu, Tom Miti and John Ondolo.


It is a sad period for music lovers as Nzenze's death came just a few days after the benga musician Jimmy Wayuni succumbed to injuries he sustained in a road accident near Kahawa Sukari in Nairobi, last Tuesday.

His car collided head on with a lorry on the Thika Highway. 

The death of the 80-year-old after a long battle with prostate cancer was confirmed by his sister Mary Wanga on Saturday.  

“He had been recuperating at St Elizabeth Mukumu Mission Hospital after a surgery. He developed breathing complications and died,” Ms Wanga told Nation.

Nzenze is survived by widow Phanice Kamonya and five children (four sons and a daughter).

Speaking to the Nation on Sunday, musician Western Region Music Copyright Society Kenya Chairman Sila wa Sila said Nzenze's burial has been set for June 13 at his ancestral home in Kaptech, Hamisi, in Vihiga County.

Others who sent their condolences were gospel music star Joseph Shisia of the Omundu Mulosi hit song.  

 Deputy President William Ruto, Cotu Secretary-General Francis Atwoli, Vihiga Deputy Governor Patrick Saisi, music fan Samson Jumba of Thika, Maximillah Barasa of Bungoma, musician Getrude Mwendo and band leader John Katana of Them Mushrooms, also sent condolence messages to Nzenze's family.


Though born in Muthurwa Railway Quarters in Nairobi in 1940, where his father worked with East African Railways Corporation, he spend most of his life at his rural home.

As Nzenze said in an earlier interview, he worked closely with Daudi Kabaka, John Mwale, and Reuben Shimbilo, all from the Tiriki sub-tribe of the Luhya community of western Kenya.

Nzenze's hit songs include Angelike Twist, which made him quite popular across East and Central Africa. Others were Amina, Elizabeth and Twist ni Mzuri.

Most of the music legends of the 1960s worked in hotels in Nairobi. 

In Nzenze's illustrious musical career, other than performing in Kenya with his Air Fiesta Mateta Band, he performed in Ethiopia, the United Kingdom and Japan.