Kenya’s king of benga, Joseph Kamaru, who had a string of hits in the 70s and 80s touching on politics and societal issues and who changed tune to gospel music in the 90s, died on October 3 aged 79.
Mr. Kamaru, whose Kikuyu songs made him popular with Kenya’s first two presidents, had been admitted at the MP Shah hospital since October 1. His son confirmed the musician’s death while intimating that the family believed that Mr. Kamaru had succumbed to Parkinson-plus syndrome which he had been diagnosed with.
The man often called Kenya’s Jim Reeves hailed from Kangema, Murang’a County and made his breakthrough in 1967 with the track, Celina. During the mid-70s to the mid-80s, he became popular for his Kikuyu folk songs that were released in adult-only cassettes, due to the explicit nature of the songs.
Mr. Kamaru also had politically-themed songs which focused on the government, either praising or criticising the political environment. This brought him into contact with both of Kenya’s first two presidents, President Jomo Kenyatta and President Daniel Moi. At first, he would be favoured by the state leaders before falling out with them, over the assassination of J.M. Kariuki with President Kenyatta while with President Moi, it was over the multiparty democracy wave that had hit the country in the late 80s.
Aside from politics, Mr. Kamaru’s fame was such that he became one of the first Kenyans to ever perform at the Carnivore Restaurant which had until the 80s only featured foreign artists.
His songs also touched on morality and life lessons, which ultimately secured his position in Kikuyu music folklore.
Then came the 90s and Mr. Kamaru became a born-again Christian. This brought about significant changes to his musical career, as it morphed the nature of his content and brought about the disbandment of his band, Kamaru Supersounds. The shift in tune saw a decline of record sales, although the King of Benga was not bothered with this change of fortunes.
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