Kangema, British Kenya
|Died||3 October 2018 (aged 79)|
|Occupation||Musician, political activist|
|Associated acts||The Tamaru Supersounds|
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, who has sold about half a million records. 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.
He was known for his friendship with President Jomo Kenyatta, but after writing a song condemning the murder of Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, they ceased to be close. He also wrote songs praising President Daniel arap Moi.
Kamaru was from Kangema, Muranga District. In 1957 he moved to Nairobi where he got a cleaning job. His first formal job was working as a house-help and a nanny, earning enough money to purchase his first guitar. He started pursuing music in 1965.
Kamaru made his first breakthrough in 1967 with Celina. The height of his musical career was between 1975 and 1985 due the release of adults-only cassettes, all dealing with Kikuyu folk songs. In the late 1980s he was the first Kenyan artist to play at the Carnivore Restaurant, then only hosting foreign artists. According to Martin Dunford, the owner of the restaurant, Kamaru's vibrant performance opened doors for other Kenyan artists to perform at the venue.
Many of Kamaru's songs were political, either praising or criticising the government. Initially he had a good relationship with president Jomo Kenyatta, but after Kamaru wrote a song in 1975 condemning the murder of Josiah Mwangi Kariuki he fell out with him. After Kenyatta's death, the succeeding president, Daniel arap Moi, was close to the artist. In 1980, Kamaru toured Japan as a part of President Moi's entourage. After the visit he composed Safari ya Japan praising the president. Moi grew displeased with Kamaru's support for multiparty democracy in the late 1980s.
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. He was often called "Kenya's Jim Reeves". He recorded nearly 2,000 songs addressing morality and offering life teachings. 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". His popular songs include "muhiki wa mikosi" and "muti uyu mukuona" among others.
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. In 1993, he turned to gospel music and disbanded his previous group, the Kamaru Supersounds. The change saw a plunge in his record sales. Kamaru was once the chairman of the Kenya Association of Phonographic Industries (KAPI), and owned a church ministry in Nairobi. He also ran two record stores in Nairobi. 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.
Illness and death
In April 2018, after a circulating death hoax, Kamaru confirmed his good health in an interview with the Daily Nation. 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".
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- Eastafricanmusic.com: The Music Business in Kenya
- "From Darkness to Light the Untold Journey of Gikuyu Musical Legend Joseph Kamaru". SDE.co.ke. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
- Daily Nation, Lifestyle Magazine, 18 April 2009: The memoirs of a musical maverick
- "Popular Kikuyu musician Joseph Kamaru dies at MP Shah Hospital". The Standard Media. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
- Kimani Njogu & Hervé Maupeu (2007): Songs and Politics in Eastern Africa
- "Veteran Musician Joseph Kamaru Passes Away". Kenyans.co. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
- "Legendary Kikuyu musician Joseph Kamaru dies in Nairobi". The Star. 4 October 2018. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
- "Kikuyu music legend Joseph Kamaru in need of medial aid". The Star. 18 July 2018. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
- Allmusic profile
- Daily Nation, 7 July 2006: My Take - Joseph Kamaru
- East African, 27 January 2003: "Kenyan Music Stays 'Unbwogable' in Hard Times". Archived from the original on 27 February 2003. Retrieved 1 February 2009.
- "Musician Joseph Kamaru Dies at 79". The Daily Nation. 4 October 2018.
- Gachane, Ndung'u. "Musician Joseph Kamaru, 79, dies at MP Shah Hospital". Daily Nation. Retrieved 3 October 2018.