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Veteran musician John Nzenze dies

Saturday May 30 2020
JOHN

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

By AMOS NGAIRA
By DERRICK LUVEGA

The music fraternity in Kenya is in mourning the death of veteran musician John Amatubi Nzenze.

Nzenze, a popular Kenyan Twist music style of the 1960s, died while receiving treatment at St Elizabeth Hospital, Mukumu on Saturday where he was receiving treatment for prostate cancer.

His cousin, Sammy Ingati, who confirmed the death, said the musician had been admitted to the Kakamega-based facility for one month.

"He died at 2pm today (Saturday). He was a popular musician and a patriot. He sang patriotic songs that promoted the country. We are requesting the government to support the family," Mr Ingati said.

STOMACH PAINS

Nzenze was operated on after he complained of stomach pains. He was one of the exponents of the popular 'Kenyan Twist' music style from the 1960s. 

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Nzenze was among the few surviving legends of the 'Kenyan Twist' genre and is best known for his "AngelikeTwist" hit song released in the late 1960s.

Nzenze, who retired from active music in 2016, has in the recent past been battling hypertension, which led to his admission to hospital early last month.

Speaking to Nation from his hospital bed recently, Nzenze, who was in his early 80s, said that though he was stable, he was still in pain.

“I am getting better after the surgery though I will still need a lot of bed rest as the doctor recommends," he said.

He was also grateful to the scores of fans, his fellow musicians and family for their get-well messages.

Leading a quiet life at his rural home near Kaimosi in Vihiga County, he shared a similar background with other music legends from the county like Daudi Kabaka, John Mwale and George Agade.

Another Vihiga County great is veteran singer Shem Tube, of the Abana ba Nasari hit song. Like the others, he started his musical career in Nairobi in the 1960s.

Other surviving music legends from western Kenya include David Amunga, Fanuel Amimo and Peter Akhwabi.

Kabaka, who is also from Nzenze's Tiriki sub-tribe of the Luhya community, was famous for having composed the songs of the time, including "Helule  Helule", "Haramabee Harambe"  and "Msichana wa Elimu". 

For Nzenze, who is a superb guitarist and singer, many older music fans will recall some of his earlier songs such as "Marashi ya Warembo", "Maoni ya Twist",:Kumbuka Nyumbani'  and  "Wanawake Kuwakimbia Mabwana'.

For these musicians who starred in the 1960s recording in Kiswahili was a huge advantage as they could tap into a larger audience in Kenya, East and Central Africa.

In an earlier interview, Nzenze explained why most producers of that time encouraged them to record their songs in Kiswahili.

LIVE PERFORMANCES

"We realised that the best way to get our music played on the national radio, in nightclubs and in restaurants and hotels then was by recording in Kiswahili," he said.

He teamed up with some of his friends to form Air Fiesta Matata Band in the late 1960s and got invitations to perform at various places in Nairobi and other towns.

This saw Nzenze work with Laban Juma Toto and Gabriel Omollo, of the "Lunchtime" hit song fame. Juma Toto is remembered for a string of hit songs, including FC Gor Mahia and Rose Jaber, in which he eulogised his late wife.  

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