The first Ugandan Grammy nominee makes music videos of poverty, not glamor

Most of his videos, shot in slums and rural Africa, carry a touch of originality, humility, and aesthetics
Kenzo wanted to be a professional soccer player and even won a scholarship to boarding school based on his talent before he discovered that music was his trade.
Kenzo wanted to be a professional soccer player and even won a scholarship to boarding school based on his talent before he discovered that music was his trade.
Photo: Frederick M. Brown (Getty Images)
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Eddy Kenzo is the first Ugandan musician to be nominated for the annual Grammy Awards.

What makes him stand apart, even in the glamorous crowd of Grammy nominees and winners, is that, unlike the others whose videos mostly reflect an affluent world with vintage cars and designer clothes, Kenzo usually throws light on destitution, paucity, and privation.

His visuals, a constant reminder of his difficult childhood, are shot either in rural Uganda or in the shanties of the capital Kampala, where he spent 13 years in his youth.

The artiste, whose real name is Edirisa Musuuza, lost his mother at the age of four. Now 32, Kenzo still doesn’t know his father or where he himself was born.

Time in the streets instilled tenacity in the singer. Besides, he was also inspired by musician-politician Bobi Wine’s rise from the same slums to the international stage.

“This is a very huge step for me, my family and the ghetto people, the hustlers, the people who come from nothing. It gives us a lot of hope that anything is possible,” Kenzo told AP.

Kenzo’s spirit of hope

He remains Uganda’s only singer to have won a BET Award, back in 2015. He’s now living his Grammies dream.

“When I interviewed him in 2017, I was curious to know why he had a photo of the Grammys as his phone’s screen saver. He told me his dream is to be mentioned in the Grammy Awards even if he does not win, just once in his lifetime,” Andrew Mayiga Kaggwa, an entertainment reporter for Kampala’s Daily Monitor, told Quartz.

Nevertheless,  the songster’s rise to stardom is mystifying.

He was unable to fund the production of Sitya Loss, the song that first put him in the spotlight eight years ago. Yet, the track found its way to social media and the US audience.

“That brought him fame and money to release it officially,” Kaggwa said. With 48 million views on YouTube as at Nov. 25, Sitya Loss is the most-watched among the songs of all Ugandan artistes.

He might only be Uganda’s second-most popular musician, according to Kaggwa, but his YouTube numbers tell a different story. Kenzo’s channel has 2.1 million subscribers, five times more than fan-favorite Jose Chameleone’s (403,000). They are followed by Bobi Wine (279,000), Bebe Cool (227,000), and Juliana Kanyomozi (150,000).

Why fans love Eddy Kenzo

“People love his style of producing videos. They can’t get enough of poor children with some of the best dancing moves in Africa. They resonate with millions of Africans who have poor backgrounds. That’s also why he supports the dancing kids from the slums,” Sinda Matiko, Daily Nation’s entertainment reporter in Nairobi told Quartz.

In September, Kenzo and his US counterpart Matt B won two laurels—the Muse Creative Awards and Muse Design Awards—for their song Gimme Love. A month earlier, it had also won a film award in New York.

African music stars who have won the Grammys over the years include South Africa’s Soweto Gospel Choir, Wouter Kellerman, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Nigeria’s Burna Boy and Wizkid, Mali’s Tinariwen and Ali Farka Touré, Kenya’s Awuor Arunga, Senegal’s Youssou Nduor, and Benin’s Angelique Kidjo.

These achievements, coupled with the high demand for entertainment, have been attracting investors and streaming services to the continent over the past five years.

And now, Eddy Kenzo is taking over.