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By AMOS NGAIRA
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Celebrated Kikuyu musician Joseph Kamaru, who died on Tuesday evening at MP Shah Hospital in Nairobi, will be fondly remembered by many not only for his artistic prowess, but also for his rich lyrics covering various themes.

In his long career spanning several decades, Kamaru belted out hits touching on all aspects of life from romance and politics to culture.

To musicians from central Kenya, Kamaru was the undisputed father of Kikuyu music, having inspired most of them to venture into the entertainment industry.

He held them by the hand, literally, helping them compose, record and produce their songs at his studio in Nairobi.

One of his biggest contributions to the music industry was his re-workings of Kikuyu folk songs, some of which had been used to mobilise the Kikuyu community against colonial rule during the Mau Mau war in the early 1950s.

Kamaru, 79, launched his music career in 1957 while still in his teens when he moved from his native Kangema, Murang’a, to the capital, Nairobi, in search of greener pastures.

He was first employed as a houseboy, but once he launched himself into music, there was no turning back.

His distinct dressing style characterised by American cowboy straw hats and high boots saw him fondly referred to by some of his adoring fans as “The Kenyan Don Williams”.

Speaking to the Daily Nation on Thursday, family spokesman Peter Irungu said Kamaru had succumbed to a long ailment, which started as a back problem.

The family has moved his body to the Kenyatta University mortuary as funeral plans get underway.

“The family members are still in consultations on funeral arrangements,” he said.

Besides his home in Thome estate, Nairobi, the veteran singer also had land in Kaharati, Murang’a, and his ancestral home in Kangema.

Mr Irungu will be remembered by those who keenly followed Kamaru’s career as one of the organisers of a musical concert dubbed “Kamaru @70”, which was held in 2009 at the Carnivore Restaurant in Nairobi to mark his return to music.

Kamaru also spearheaded the use of Carnivore grounds to host Kenyan bands, the venue having been previously dominated by visiting and local Congolese bands.

He would later in the 1990s make a big switch from secular to gospel music.

Early this year, Kamaru was admitted to a Nairobi hospital, fuelling speculation about his health.

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He later recovered and has been keeping a low profile at his Nairobi residence.

Veteran singer Daniel Kamau “DK’’ yesterday eulogised Kamaru as the person who inspired him to turn to music.

“When I first came to Nairobi, it was Kamaru who inspired me into recording and producing my music and we will all remember him for the inspiration he gave us in the music industry,” he said.

As for Peter Kigia, also a leading musician from central Kenya, Kamaru will be remembered for his fearless lyrics.

Other leading artistes who interacted with Kamaru include James Wahome Maingi, CDM Kiratu, Albert Gacheru and Mwalimu James Mbugua.

From Kangema, he inspired among others, Queen Jane and Simon Kihara ”Musaimo” into live and recording performances.

Kamaru’s illustrious career was never short of controversies with his provocative lyrics at times rubbing the powers that be the wrong way.

For instance, the all-time popular hit “Muhiki wa Mikosi” was a social commentary about a woman who was considered jinxed to the extent that anyone having an affair with her would find himself in big trouble.

Among some of his popular songs are “Mutondo wa Wendo”, “Nuu Ucio”, “Wendo wa Cebe Cebe” and “Charia Ungi”.

His colourful career saw him interact with the founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and also retired President Daniel Moi.

His closeness to Mr Moi saw him accompany him on an official visit to Japan in 1980, upon which Kamaru composed probably his first major song in Kiswahili Safari ya Japan.

Kamaru also performed during the wedding reception of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Margaret Kenyatta in December 1989.

One of the most exciting events in Kamaru’s career was in 1991, when he performed alongside then visiting Congolese musician Kanda Bongoman at the Nyayo National Stadium.

The organisers of the show had packaged it as a contest between the two and this paid off as the stadium overflowed with enthusiastic fans.



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