Joseph Kamaru

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Joseph Kamaru
Died3 October 2018 (aged 79)[1]
Nairobi, Kenya
Occupation(s)Musician, political activist
Years active1965–2018
Musical career
GenresBenga, gospel
InstrumentsVocal, guitar

Joseph Kamaru (1939 – 3 October 2018) was a Kenyan Benga and gospel musician and political activist. He was an icon, a hero, and a leading Kikuyu musician,[2] who has sold about half a million records.[3] He was notable for his politically motivated songs either praising or criticising the government. His music covered the teachings of life, promiscuity and sexual harassment in Kenyan politics and social culture.[4]

He was known for his friendship with President Jomo Kenyatta, but after writing a song condemning the murder of JM Kariuki, they ceased to be close. He also wrote songs praising President Daniel arap Moi.

Early life[edit]

Kamaru was from Kangema, Muranga District.[5] In 1957 he moved to Nairobi where he got a cleaning job.[5] His first formal job was working as a house-help and a nanny, earning enough money to purchase his first guitar.[6] He started pursuing music in 1965.[5]


Kamaru made his first breakthrough in 1967 with Celina.[2] The height of his musical career was between 1975 and 1985 due to the release of adults-only cassettes, all dealing with Kikuyu folk songs.[6] In the late 1980s he was the first Kenyan artist to play at the Carnivore Restaurant, then only hosting foreign artists.[5] According to Martin Dunford, the owner of the restaurant, Kamaru's vibrant performance opened doors for other Kenyan artists to perform at the venue.[5]

Many of Kamaru's songs were political, either praising or criticising the government.[7] Initially he had a good relationship with president Jomo Kenyatta,[6] but after Kamaru wrote a song in 1975 condemning the murder of Josiah Mwangi Kariuki he fell out with him.[8] After Kenyatta's death, the succeeding president, Daniel arap Moi, was close to the artist.[9] In 1980, Kamaru toured Japan as a part of President Moi's entourage.[9] After the visit he composed Safari ya Japan praising the president.[9] Moi grew displeased with Kamaru's support for multiparty democracy in the late 1980s.[5]

Kamaru received significant support from Voice of Kenya radio presenter Job Isaac Mwamto, who embraced the rise of Kenyan music, by presenting Kamaru's music to his radio stations.[4] He was often called "Kenya's Jim Reeves".[4] He recorded nearly 2,000 songs addressing morality and offering life teachings.[10] The songs launched his status as a Kikuyu music legend and impacted East Africans’ music scene with classic hits such as "Gathoni" and "Charia Ungi".[10] His popular songs include "muhiki wa mikosi" and "muti uyu mukuona" among others.[4]

In the 1990s, Kamaru announced that he had been "born again" and would no longer perform the secular music on which he had built his career.[6] In 1993, he turned to gospel music and disbanded his previous group, the Kamaru Supersounds.[11] The change saw a plunge in his record sales.[5] Kamaru was once the chairman of the Kenya Association of Phonographic Industries (KAPI), and owned a church ministry in Nairobi.[12] He also ran two record stores in Nairobi.[13] Kamaru expressed interest in building a Kikuyu cultural home on one of his many farms in Murang’a to safeguard and protect the Kikuyu culture, though this was not accomplished as he died in October 2018.[14]

Illness and death[edit]

In April 2018, after a circulating death hoax, Kamaru confirmed his good health in an interview with the Daily Nation.[14] In the interview, Kamaru said "God could not take me until I oversaw changes in the music industry and mentor upcoming musicians to get the best songs for their audiences and in return get a better pay".[14]

Kamaru died on 3 October 2018 at the age of 79 at a hospital in Nairobi from complications of Parkinson's disease.[15] He was survived by 2 siblings, 1 daughter and 3 sons.[14] His grandson is an ambient musician and sound designer who goes by the artistic name KMRU and is based in Berlin.[16]


  1. ^ "Kikuyu benga musician Joseph Kamaru dead at 79". 4 October 2018.
  2. ^ a b Dorian, Frederick; Duane, Orla; McConnachie, James (4 October 1999). World Music: Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Rough Guides. ISBN 9781858286358 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ The Music Business in Kenya
  4. ^ a b c d "From Darkness to Light the Untold Journey of Gikuyu Musical Legend Joseph Kamaru". Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Daily Nation, Lifestyle Magazine, 18 April 2009: The memoirs of a musical maverick
  6. ^ a b c d "Popular Kikuyu musician Joseph Kamaru dies at MP Shah Hospital". The Standard Media. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  7. ^ Kimani Njogu & Hervé Maupeu (2007): Songs and Politics in Eastern Africa
  8. ^ "Veteran Musician Joseph Kamaru Passes Away". Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  9. ^ a b c "Legendary Kikuyu musician Joseph Kamaru dies in Nairobi". The Star. 4 October 2018. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  10. ^ a b "Kikuyu music legend Joseph Kamaru in need of medial aid". The Star. 18 July 2018. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  11. ^ Allmusic profile
  12. ^ Daily Nation, 7 July 2006: My Take - Joseph Kamaru
  13. ^ East African, 27 January 2003: "Kenyan Music Stays 'Unbwogable' in Hard Times". Archived from the original on 27 February 2003. Retrieved 1 February 2009.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  14. ^ a b c d "Musician Joseph Kamaru Dies at 79". The Daily Nation. 4 October 2018.
  15. ^ Gachane, Ndung'u. "Musician Joseph Kamaru, 79, dies at MP Shah Hospital". Daily Nation. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  16. ^ "KMRU spaces". youtube. Retrieved 25 November 2022.

External links[edit]