As Kenyans mourn the death of popular Kikuyu musician John DeMathew, there is a moment of reflection and celebration of the value of mentorship which contributed greatly the to deceased’s success.
John DeMathew’s special village that produced over 20 leading Kikuyu musicians
DeMathew's home club of prominent musicians
There are many villages in Murang’a but two of them specifically stand out – Rwathia Village in Kangema and Gatunyu in Gatanga.
You have probably read about the story of Rwathia village which is home to at least seven billionaires who control nearly half of the Kenya's GDP.
Gatunyu on the other hand, is home to leading Kikuyu musicians – DeMathew being first among equals.
The story of Gatunyu starts with legendary artist John Ndichu who pioneered vernacular music alongside his friend John Kamaru.
Ndichu died young but his legacy remains strong as he not only inspired young men in his village to become musicians, but also helped them with the exposure needed to start their careers.
One of Ndichu’s singers, a village mate, Kimani Thomas, became a successful singer with several hits to his name.
Thomas, in return, mentored his younger brother, Daniel Kamau, popularly known as DK Wamaria.
DK became a sensation in the 1970s and recruited talented singers to join his band.
Among DK’s band members who proceeded to have successful solo careers is Peter Kigia (famous for Reke Tumwanwo of 1992), Joseph Wamumbe (Rakeli hitmaker), and Timona Mburu.
Mburu and Wamumbe are credited with helping launch DeMathew’s career in the 1980s, as they helped him record his first song Jennifer which was received with relative success.
Another Gatanga luminary, Albert Gacheru, helped DeMathew record My Dear Nduku which became a hit and earned the musician the respect of a star.
Other popular singers from the area include the late Makibi James, Joseph Kariuki, Karanja David, Waithaka Mboce, Ngone Mkulima, among others. In total, there are over 40 prominent musicians from Gatunyu and its neighboring villages of Gatanga.
They have also been featured in a documentary that sought to retrace Kikuyu music with the title, Cowboys of Gatanga, in reference to the cowboy look common in their brand images marked by stetson hats, cowboy boots and denim suits.
Even in their success, the Gatanga musicians still have a strong bond – indeed, DeMathew died shortly after attending a fundraiser in support of Kigia’s ailing child.
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