Photo Credit: Slowking CC

Kenya’s King Of Twist John Nzenze Dies Aged 80

Iconic Kenyan musician and the King of Kenyan Twist John Amutabi Nzenze dies aged 80.

The legendary singer died while receiving treatment at St Elizabeth Hospital Mukumu, in Kakamega County in the western part of Kenya. According to the family, the singer has been battling hypertension and has been in the hospital for a month.

John Nzenze was among the few famous artists who ruled the airwaves between the 60-70s. He is famed for the song ‘Angelike Twist,’ which became an instant hit and sold numerous records upon its release in the early 60s.

Nzenze, was a founding member of the award-winning Air Fiesta Matata Band, a band that introduced the ‘Twist’ style of music to the Kenyan masses. The music was accompanied by a unique dancing style, which had its influences from the American rock and roll music courtesy of Chubby Checker, which came alive around the late 50s and gained popularity worldwide from the early 60s.

The Kenyan Twist bears a distinct rhythmic style, some believe is borrowed from South African influences, and is characterized by a guitar-strumming pattern in 1-4-5 progression producing vibrant riffs, mid-tempo delivery, and executed predominantly in Swahili.

Nzenze started his career in the 60s and apart from Twist he also covered Rhumba, acoustic guitar music and funk. He released numerous hit songs that included; ‘Maoni Ya Twist,’ ‘Amina,’ ‘Ngoja Ngoja,’ ‘Kumbuka Nyumbani,’ ‘Wanawake Kuwakimbia Mabwana’ and ‘Marashi Ya Warembo.’ His catalog included songs that highlighted the ills in society at the same time educating.’

During his music career, he has performed alongside Peter Akwabi, Daudi Kabaka, David Amunga, Isaya Mwinamo, Fadhili Williams, and other pioneering stars of the Kenyan pop music scene. Though Daudi Kabaka is described as the pace-setter of the Twist music style in Kenya, Nzenze is credited for perfecting the technique of the music and popularizing it through collaborations; his style was more rhythmic but still maintained the original patterns. Nzenze made the music more colorful a natural fit for the pop charts.

The singer spent much of his life in Kenya’s capital Nairobi where he was born before choosing to relocate to his home in the western part of Kenya home in Kaimosi, where he led a quiet life. He stopped actively performing music around 2016.

The singer has credited for composing instant hit music, including lending his hand in crafting lyrics for other musicians in the East African country. Nzenze managed to make a name for himself as an artist at a period when to be a musician in Kenya; you’d be considered a ruffian. Due to his hard work, he was able to stand out as a formidable artist with his name on the mouth of everyone in Eastern Africa.

One of the notable recent performances was him lending his hand on Eric Wainaina’s ‘Don’t Burry Me’ alongside Blinky Bill and Kendi Njoroge.

Nzenze has influenced many artists in Kenya and made immense contributions to putting Kenyan music on the global map. He has been eulogized as an Icon and astute individual whose memory shall live on through his work as a musician.

More to follow///

Main Photo: John Nzenze performing at Kennedy Center Millennium Stage


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