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DeMathew: Former hawker who became top musician

John DeMathew
John DeMathew, who died in a car crash on Sunday night. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Tributes poured in for benga musician, John Ng'ang'a, known by his stage name, John De'Mathew, who died in a Sunday car crash, but not everyone was praising him.

The popular Kikuyu musician was known for his use of satire to explain the political happenings in the country that were controversial and divided opinion about his legacy.

The artiste was known for his mastery of Kikuyu proverbs and sayings, earning himself the tittle of the Agikuyuũ prophet and seer.

He rose from selling groceries in Nairobi estates to earn the tag of “the King of Kikuyu music.”

But his songs with political undertones, landed him in trouble with State agencies for allegedly fuelling ethnic tension.

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Wituite Hiti, which means “You Have Made Yourself a Hyena”, was released ahead of the 2013 election.

It was thought he was referring to an opposition politician.

De’Mathew was charged in court over the song for hate speech but was acquitted the following year.

Defending himself, he said the translations were taken out of context and had missed the message in the song.

Yesterday, both President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga sent condolence messages to the singer’s family. Mr Odinga tweeted his tribute, saying the singer was a great educator “on culture and current affairs”.

But the BBC said some of Mr Odinga's supporters had expressed surprise that the former PM had praised the musician accused of using derogatory language.

This year, DeMathew composed and released his last political song, titled Twambe Turihe Thiiri (Let’s first pay the debt) that revolves around political agreements between President Kenyatta and his Deputy, Mr William Ruto and the ‘handshake’ with Mr Odinga.

DeMathew’s love life was also not devoid of controversy.

He refuted claims that he was in a relationship with a Murang’a politician, insisting that she only helped him promote his music by guiding him on how best to use video to illustrate his songs.

In his music career, DeMathew composed more than 50 albums with most songs being popular hits. He released his first song, Jenifer Reke Tuaranie, in December 1986 and then his first hit My Dear Nduku in 1987. He also produced Njata Yakwa also a hit.

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