Last week, we questioned media reports that Joseph Kamaru had recorded 2,000 songs. Dr Joyce Nyairo, one of the writers who made the claim, has responded. Here is a summary of her response:
We do risk misleading the public when we fail to explain numbers and how they have been arrived at. My count of Kamaru’s songs is from anecdotal evidence.
It arises from the partially corroborated conversations I had with him. It comprises songs he wrote and recorded and others he said he wrote and never recorded.
It also comprises those he mixed, produced and collaborated on in his studios with other artistes and those songs he re-membered because he acquired their rights.
My count is 1,602 and it takes cognizance of (lewd) mugithi remixes and samples of Kamaru’s songs by one-man guitarists at live shows because the artistes ought to have paid Kamaru royalties for those covers.
Sometimes I encounter anecdotal evidence even where I am not actively looking! You have asked where these songs are. If our current conversation shows anything, it is just how desperately we, as a country, are in need of an accessible museum of popular music.
And for such a museum to function with excellence, we must have the curatorial knowledge and distinct national practices of documentation.
And as we build that museum — whether as a physical or online space — we must acknowledge that the reliable archive that was VoK/KBC suffered the vagaries of poor policing and wanton stripping.
Still, it is remotely possible that the Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK) has an archive which, however publicly inaccessible, is up to date.
What would remain open to scholarly debates such as the ones that I try to further is whether MCSK and World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) methods of attribution are the most just for song-working credits.
Look out for the forthcoming publication, Nuu Ucio: 21 Essays in Memory of Joseph Kamaru. My prayer is that it will generate robust debates and more scholarly work on a man whose craft should be remembered and re-membered for centuries.
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Kamaru recorded more than 2,000 songs and sold five million copies. I managed him for seven years. I authored his raw burial programme.
His debut single, "Uthoni wa Mbathi-ini", sold more than 250,000 vinyl records, followed by "Kahora Mwalimu", "Nuu Ucio Waringa Murango", "J.M. Kariuki" — a million and counting.
— George Gichuna
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It’s possible Kamaru recorded 2,000 songs or a number close to that. His "Nguina Ndi na Tha" and related songs are about 50. Mau Mau songs are about 30.
— Harun Kimani
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Your negative attitude towards Kamaru makes you lower the number of songs to only 34. For your information, Inooro FM’s ‘Ngogoyo’ presenter Kamau wa Kang’ethe played more than 100 Kamaru songs for four hours on the Sunday before he was buried.
— Sent from 0721 *** 500
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Kamaru recorded 600-800 songs maximum. I recorded his gospel songs — no more than eight — which did not do as well as he’d expected. He did his last recording, a political song, with me in May 2017, but it was not released to the public.
— Alan Kanyotu, Studio Sawa Sound
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If a reporter writes ‘2,000 songs’, the editor should ask: ‘Is this figure correct? Try to find out’. If the journalist does not verify it, then the sentence should read: “Kamaru claims to have recorded 2000 songs.”
— Sent from 0721 *** 505
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I read your piece on the late Kamaru’s “2,000 songs” with a wry smile. We Kenyans really love to lay it thick, don’t we? I couldn’t help thinking of another ‘fact’ which we put out there with a (almost) sense of pride, that, Kibera hosts the largest slum in Africa. Really?
Nairobi has a population of approximately 3.7 million (3.2 million as per 2009 census) and 42 percent of the Kenyan population lives below the poverty line.
Lagos has a population of 21 million and half of Nigeria’s population lives in extreme poverty. It is therefore inconceivable that a city with a population seven times more than Nairobi, with such a high level of poverty, would have a smaller slum.
— Patrick Osare
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Mr Mwaura, seriously a man of your age, let me ask you: Will this help us whether Kamaru recorded 2,000 songs or not? Will it change the lives of Kenyans? I think the Kenyan media are full of educated fools!
Instead of highlighting the real issues affecting our country and how we can make a difference, you are highlighting petty issues.
— Amos Wamathai
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