Kenzo, first Ugandan nominated for Grammy, had humble start

  • 3 min read
  • Nov 22, 2022

Kenzo, first Ugandan nominated for Grammy, had humble start

Ugandan singer Eddy Kenzo speaks to The Associated Press at his studio in the Makindye district of the capital Kampala, Uganda, Friday, Nov. 18, 2022.  Kenzo, whose real name is Edirisa Musuuza, became the first Ugandan singer to win a Grammy.  He gets engaged and continues to reach heights that defy the expectations of him and his fans and rivals.  (Photo by Associated Press/Hore Nalwada)

Ugandan singer Eddy Kenzo speaks to The Associated Press at his studio in the Makindye district of the capital Kampala, Uganda, Friday, Nov. 18, 2022. Kenzo, whose real name is Edirisa Musuuza, became the first Ugandan singer to win a Grammy. He gets engaged and continues to reach heights that defy the expectations of him and his fans and rivals. (Photo by Associated Press/Hore Nalwada)

AP

Eddy Kenzo doesn’t know exactly when he was born, a strange thread of personal history that finds himself at the heart of the Ugandan singer: a humble man who sometimes worries about what’s next.

And yet Kenzo, who became the first Ugandan-based singer to earn a Grammy nomination, continues to rise to heights that defy the expectations of him and his fans and rivals in the East African nation, where his work is sometimes questioned. , questioned.

Some Ugandans find his style of music playful and say he is not much of a singer. But others see in his experimentation the creative potential that marks him out as an artist of extraordinary gifts.

For Kenzo, any recognition of his work is a reminder of how far he has come.

“Honestly, I’m very overwhelmed. I’m also very nervous at the same time,” Kenzo said in an interview with the AP about his engagement. “I thank God that we made it.”

Kenzo’s “Gimme Love,” a collaboration with American singer Matt B that began with a chance meeting in Los Angeles, was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best World Music Performance.

Kenzo, whose real name is Idirisa Muswoza, won the 2015 BET Award for Best New International Artist, the first and only Ugandan to achieve the honor. This accolade followed her smash hit ‘Sitya Loss’ accompanied by a video of the dancing kids whose energetic performance caught the attention of global stars like Ellen DeGeneres.

The song was a reference to Kenzo’s own humble beginnings in a remote part of central Uganda, as a barely literate child who didn’t know where his next meal would come from. By his own account, Kenzo spent 13 years on the streets after losing his mother when he was only 4 years old.

He wanted to be a footballer and even got a scholarship to a boarding school based on his talent, but later gave it up and returned to the hustle that he says made him a man.

“I’m a nuisance,” he told the Associated Press. “This is a very big step for me, my family and the people of the ghetto, the squatters, the people who came from nothing. It gives us a lot of hope that anything is possible.”

He recorded his first single in 2008 and rose to fame in 2010 with the song “Stamina”, which was loved by politicians, lovers and others for its praise of youthful energy. In addition to winning awards, Kenzo is often invited to perform around the world.

Three days before he found out he had been nominated for a Grammy, Kenzo held a festival in Kampala attended by thousands of people, including the Prime Minister of Uganda. It was a proud moment for a singer whose music is often overlooked by local FM stations, who can make or break a song with their choice of DJs.

Even for Kenzo, there is a sense that he is more appreciated abroad than he is at home.

“My biggest fans are outside of Uganda because the world is bigger than Uganda. Uganda is just a small country,” he said thoughtfully.

Andrew Kagwa, arts reporter for the local newspaper Daily Monitor, described Kenzo as an enigma that “disrupted the industry in ways no one can explain.”

He spoke of Kenzo as a Ugandan singer who “refused to fail”. DJs may not like his music, but he has a loyal following and wins accolades despite his struggles.

“For some reason, things happen to Kenzo,” Kagawa said. “He just lets the awards, the accolades, speak for him.”

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