Urathi wa Ma. This is the song that literally distinguished iconic Kikuyu benga musician John DeMathew from the rest. The song, loosely translated in Kikuyu to mean ‘true prophecy’, was released in the late 90s and propelled the prolific singer’s profile as a modern ‘prophet’.
In the song, DeMathew — real names John Mwangi Ng’ang’a — tackled a wide range of issues, including the HIV/Aids scourge and devil-worshiping in the country.
In a proverbial manner, he ‘prophesied’ a day would come when sexual immorality would catch up with all those who practiced it.
But in reality, the single Njata Yakwa (My Star) remains DeMathew’s most popular song.
In the video, he features a young video vixen known as Sabina Chege. By the time of its release, Sabina was a radio presenter but has since risen to be the Murang’a Woman Representative.
In 2010, however, the singer created controversy after he released a song titled Mwaka wa Hiti (The Year of the Hyena).
In 2012, he was accused of propagating hate speech with the song, especially against former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who was one of the presidential contenders in 2013 General Election. Senior Principal Magistrate Ellena Nderitu acquitted him in June 2014.
A majority of his fans believed DeMathew was a modern prophet, as his songs that touched on social, political and economic topics were a true reflection of the real life.
He debuted his music career in 1987 with the hit song Peris Nduku. He had since released many other songs including Ngoro Gitina, Mteja, Muoyo Ti Kibandi, Nengereria Kane, Purity, Njambi, Nyoni Ya Njamba, Pin Number andUhiki Ti Undu Munene.
He met his untimely death on Sunday night through an accident at the blackspot near Blue Post Hotel on Thika Road.
He was pronounced dead on arrival at Thika Nursing Home. He was from a attending a fundraiser to pay for medical expenses of his fellow musician Peter Kigia’s daughter, Esther.
He will be remembered as one of the best benga artistes, with his songs receiving huge support across his fan base. Until his demise, the singer released more than 50 albums.
Scholar Kanyi Thiong’o based his Masters thesis on literature on DeMathew songs. The singer’s ability to blend in message and humour in his songs.
A few months ago, De’Mathew was elected chairman of the Talented Musicians and Composers (Tamco) Sacco, which aimed at uplifting the welfare of fellow artistes.
Moments before his death, he urged up-and-coming artistes to observe humility and uphold unity and good relations with others, so that they could learn more, especially from the seasoned musicians.
Kenyans led by President Uhuru Kenyatta have mourned the music maestro, with the President describing him as mentor.
“As a nation, we were privileged to have had such a brilliant artiste who played a big role in promoting our African cultural heritage through his music. Indeed, we have lost an icon in the music industry. DeMathew championed and played a big role in preserving our cultural heritage,” said President Kenyatta.
Deputy President William Ruto: “He has mentored many aspiring musicians and campaigned for a platform to empower them. He was artistic, sociable and an eloquent performer. Rest In Peace.”
Muranga Governor Mwangi Wa Iria hailed the late singer’s effort to help other artistes, through Tamco Sacco.
“Through his leadership, the music fraternity launched a cooperative movement dubbed Tamco Sacco and pooled resources to invest in real estate and other sectors as a way of empowering the musician’s fraternity,” said Wairia.
Talking to K24 Digital, one of Kikuyu’s legendary musicians Julius Kang’ethe aka Bylaw said DeMathew’s death was a big blow to Kikuyu music.
“We became good friends with DeMathew when he started singing in the late 80s. I personally mentored him. As an up-and-coming singer, he rose to be the icon he was. His death is a great loss to our music, especially coming barely a year after losing another legend in Joseph Kamaru. Now the Kikuyu artistes have a huge responsibility in ensuring DeMathew’s legacy lives. My condolences to his family, friends and fans,” said Bylaw.