MOURNING A BENGA MAESTRO

It was life on the fast lane for De' Mathew

He had over 50 albums and 375 songs, many of them politically controversial

In Summary
  • John DeMathew was as controversial as he was influential 
  • His hits carried strong political and social messages 
The late Kikuyu benga musician John De Mathew.
The late Kikuyu benga musician John De Mathew.
Image: COURTESY

The late John Ng'ang'a Mwangi also known as John DeMathew was arguably the most controversial Benga musician from Central Kenya.

He was also very influential and his demise through a tragic road crash on Sunday near Blue Post Hotel on Thika super highway rekindled memories of his life on the fast lane.

De' Mathew had over 50 albums and 375 songs under his name, and his pieces almost always carried political messages. His songs were contentious and it was common for him to rub people, both from his backyard and other regions, the wrong way.

 

It is said he composed his first song while in Class Seven but his career took off in December 1986 when he released his first single, 'Jenifer'. He proceeded to release his hit song 'My Dear Nduku' in August 1987 and instantly became famous through the country.

DeMathew is also remembered for heavily campaigning for President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2013 and even recorded a hit that was seen as a hate song against former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who was then a presidential candidate.

He was charged alongside musicians Muigai Wa Njoroge and Kamande Wa Kioi for producing a song that bordered on hate speech but they were acquitted.

The song at the centre of the controversy was ‘Wituete Hiti’, translated to mean, “You have made yourself a hyena.” DeMathew defended himself saying the political song was misinterpreted and was not targeted at Raila and his Luo community.

Senior principal magistrate Elena Nderitu declared that the prosecution did not present enough evidence to link the singer to hate speech as alleged and dropped all charges.

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission had recommended that the singer be charged and jailed for a term not exceeding three years, or pay a fine Sh1 million or both.

DeMathew is also remembered for causing a storm in his backyard after releasing a song that touched on the region’s politics.

 
 
 

In the song, DeMathew said the country’s leadership would never cross River Channia and that if it happened, there would be untold consequences.

The song instantly revived Kiambu-Nyeri political rivalry.

The River Channia border myth originated during founding President Jomo Kenyatta's era.

The myth implied that the presidency would always remain in Kiambu and never the northern part of Kikuyu land.

In 2003, immediately after former President Mwai Kibaki’s election, leaders from all corners of the country who were in the National Rainbow Coalition accompanied the Head of State from Nairobi for the homecoming in Nyeri.

People, especially locals, believed that the escort was only to ensure Kibaki crossed Chania River in Kirinyaga, meaning that leadership had gone to Nyeri.

DeMathew is also remembered for having featured Murang'a Woman Representative Sabina Chege in his hit song, 'Njata Yakwa'.

Soon after his death became public, Chege described him as a man whose art will forever remain engraved in people's hearts.

“I have seen you grow as a person and in the music industry. It’s with humility that we accept God’s will for he was still present and on his throne when the accident happened,”Chege wrote on Facebook.

DeMathew was born in Mukurwe-ini, Gatanga constituency, Murang'a county some 50 years ago. He was the son of Matthew and late Wanjiku and fourth born in a family of eight siblings.

DeMathew was married to two wives, Sarafina and Caroline Waithera, and is survived by three children.

He went to Githambia Primary School before proceeding to Naaro Secondary in Kandara and then transferred to Igikiro Secondary School.

Before venturing into music as a career, DeMathew used to hawk vegetables before starting to sell meat in Kariobangi and then shoes in Nakuru.

Following his death, shock and grief engulfed Murang’a county.

Kamau Gathigi, Nairobi Business Community chairman, said they had spent the day with DeMathew at musician Peter Kigia’s fundraising ceremony and had just parted ways 20 minutes before he lost his life.

Gathigi said the artiste gave a deep speech at the function held in Thika town and was very jovial when he left.

He contributed a lot of money at the fundraising then told me to continue working towards uplifting the community.
Nairobi Business Community chairman, Kamau Gathigi

Starehe MP Charles NJagua said he grew up listening to the artiste and that his music helped shape him into the man he is today.

“I am deeply saddened by his untimely demise through a road accident,” he said.

Gatanga MP Nduati Ngugi said his constituency has been bereaved saying he put the area on the national limelight with his popular hits.

Nduati said DeMathew helped many budding artistes and was until his demise, the chairman of the Talented Artists, Musicians and Comedians Organization (Tamco) sacco that seeks to uplift artistes.

Governor Mwangi wa Iria said DeMathew was not only seen as a popular artiste but a seer.

“We have lost a modern prophet, just the same as when we lost Joseph Kamaru last year,” he said.

Wa Iria said DeMathew had just taken the mantle from Kamaru and brought together musicians who decided they did now want to continue living in fame and dying in poverty, and formed a sacco.

DeMathew was elected the chairman while Wa Iria is the patron.

He said after only seven months, the sacco has managed to buy a parcel of land at Kenol town worth Sh8 million.

The county government, he said, has helped design a modern building using government architects to be set up on the land and waived all local charges.

“He has died when the foundation of the building was just being established. He has left a seed by bringing all regional artistes together and the only way for them to honour him is to ensure the sacco succeeds,” he said.

Wa Iria said the county government will work together with artistes and his family to help in burial preparations.

He expressed hopes that another artiste will rise and take after him.

Thousands of his fans took to the social media to express their shock over his demise, eulogising him as a legend that will never be replaced.