Kikuyu benga hit ‘Mariru’ singer dies in Nairobi
Legendary Kikuyu musician Albert Gacheru Kiarie alias Gacheru Wamaitu of Mariru hit song who died on Monday at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) was a crazy dream chaser, an astute businessman and benga maestro.
In his music career that spanned more than 35 years, he produced 188 songs, some of which are hits for decades now.
Done in 1988, Mumunya is a hit in Kikuyu entertainment circles. Gacheru died while receiving treatment for a new strain of pneumonia, his elder brother Julius Kanyoora told the People Daily.
At first, his family thought he had Covid-19, but six successive tests came out negative.
By the time of his death, Wamaitu had running hardware shops in Nairobi downtown, a ranch (Mariru Farm) in Nyandarua and a family man with a wife and three children.
Founded Wamaitu Productions
The singer and one of the pioneering Kikuyu benga producers who founded the Wamaitu Productions, was born in 1962 in Boiman, Nyandarua county. He was the sixth in a family of 12 children, born to George Kiarie and Zaweria Wairimu.
Their father Kiarie died 16 years ago and the mother Wairimu is now 88 years old.
He started composing songs at a tender age, something that his father Kiarie was strongly opposed to.
For eight years, Gacheru sang and composed songs in secrecy to avoid his father’s wrath.
He composed his first song in 1977 while herding cattle, but kept it a secret and he could not produce the song until 1983. His elder siblings also helped to hide the singing talent from their father.
“Our father believed that singing was for drunkards. He could not allow any of his sons to be seen moving around with a guitar entertaining people in clubs,” said Kanyoora.
Their father, a disciplinarian, believed that secular music was for non-cultured rebels.
For eight years, he unsuccessfully fought Gacheru’s music talent only to give up when his son was beyond control.
In an earlier interview with Kameme TV, Gacheru said his father beat their elder brother until he chocked the music talent out of him.
After his early education, he went to Njabini Boys High School and later to Shimo La Tewa for his A-levels, after which he enrolled on an accountancy course.
In 1996, Gacheru enrolled for a professional course at the United States International University - Africa (USIU-Africa), but he later dropped out due to financial constraints.
In his music life, he also helped other artistes to record and produce, including the late John DeMatthew and John Ndung’u of the Gatheri hit song. Themes in Gacheru’s songs revolved around love and happenings in the contemporary world.
In his popular Mariru song, which he produced in 1988, Gacheru praises his lover Mariru.
Mariru is also Kikuyu’s name for mystery and he symbolises the girl with mystery. The naming of his Mariru ranch in Nyandarua was inspired by the song.
His fight against music piracy
One of Gacheru’s music highlights was his vicious battle against music piracy. As his friend and benga singer Julius Kang’ethe alias Bylaw told us, Gacheru fought music piracy with all his might.
In 1999, Gacheru’s studio and hardware business burnt down. It’s believed that the fire was an act of arson by music pirates who Gacheru had vowed to fight.
Nevertheless, he picked up his pieces together and started all over again. The fire inspired Gacheru’s ‘Indo Ciakwa Ikihia’ song.
The 1999 studio and business fire pulled him back. It affected him so much that he almost gave up,” said Bylaw.
Gacheru alongside Zoe Waweru alias Joe Wamathina hunted down and raided music pirating dens across the country. As Joe Wamathina recalls, the raids almost cost them their lives.
“One day while driving from Embu, our car was hit by an unknown assailant at the present-day Blue Springs hotel on the old Thika Road. That was in 1998. A few weeks earlier, Gacheru had received a telegram message warning him against touching piracy. A few months later, his shops and music studio were burnt down. Two months after the arson, thieves broke into his shop to steal the remaining assets,” recalled Wamathina who told us he had switched off his phone upon receiving
the news about Gacheru’s death.
Gacheru mentions Wamathina severally in some of his songs.
In 2010, Gacheru enrolled for a Law degree course at Mt Kenya University.
He graduated in 2015 and he has been representing himself in the High Court in piracy- related cases. High costs of hiring lawyers and low success in court cases pushed Gacheru to study the course.
He puzzled his classmates who couldn’t stitch pieces together on why a successful businessman with tangible wealth could join youngsters in a law school.
Gacheru also vied successfully as a director at the Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK) all in the battle to fight piracy.
He also made contributions to the ICT Committee of the National Assembly (11th Parliament) that was chaired by Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria where he made grievances on music piracy.
The MCSK chairman Japheth Kassanga described Gacheru as a determined singer and mentor to other artistes. In his brief stint at the MCSK as the chairman, Gacheru was intentional in fighting piracy.
“He was a mentor to many people. Although he was a secular artiste, he was critical in the production and promotion of Mary Wambui’s Ahadi za Bwana song,” said Kassanga.
He added: “When the Attorney General sponsored my training in South Africa to study music copyright, I came back and told Gacheru how he could go about in tackling piracy, both legally and technically. It is from our interaction that he went for his law degree.”