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Veteran musician John Nzenze in hospital

Thursday May 21 2020

John Amutabi Nzenze

Legend of the popular Kenyan Twist music style of the 1960s John Amutabi Nzenze. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

AMOS NGAIRA
By AMOS NGAIRA
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John Amutabi Nzenze, a legend of the popular Kenyan Twist music style of the 1960s, is recuperating in hospital after surgery.

Nzenze was operated on at a hospital near Kakamega Town early this week after complaining of stomach pain.

He is among the few surviving legends of the Kenya Twist genre. He is best known for his Angelike Twist hit song released in the early 1960s.

Nzenze, who retired from active music in 2016, has, in the recent past, been battling a stomach ailment and hypertension, which culminated in his admission to Mukumu Mission Hospital in Kakamega County, early last month.

Speaking to the Nation from his hospital bed, Nzenze, now in his early 80s, said he was still in some pain.

“I’m getting better after the surgery, though I’ll still need a lot of bed rest as the doctor recommended,” he said. He was also grateful to his fans, fellow musicians and family for their get-well messages.

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Nzenze, who leads a quiet life in his rural home near Kaimosi, Vihiga County, shares a similar background with music legends from the same county such as Daudi Kabaka, John Mwale and George Agade.

Another Vihiga County great is veteran singer Shem Tube of the Abana ba Nasery hit.

Mega hit songs

Like most western Kenya musicians of his era, he started his career in Nairobi in the 1960s.

Other surviving music legends from the region include David Amunga, Fanuel Amimo and Peter Akwabi.

Kabaka, who is also from Nzenze’s Tiriki sub-tribe of the Luhya community, was famous for composing mega hit songs of the time such as Helule Helule,  Harambee Harambee, and Msichana wa Elimu.

Many older music fans will recall some of Nzenze’s songs such as Marashi ya Warembo, Maoni ya Twist, Kumbuka Nyumbani and Wanawake Kuwakimbia Mabwana.

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

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

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

This saw Nzenze work with Laban Juma Toto and Gabriel Omollo of the Lunchtime song fame.

Juma Toto is remembered for a string of hit songs, including FC Gor Mahia  and Rose Jaber, in which he eulogised his wife.

Nzenze’s family will give fans details on hospital visiting arrangements next week. This will depend on when the  musician will be discharged.

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