Kikuyu musician, John DeMathew, dies in fatal road accident

Tuesday, August 20th, 2019 00:00 |
John DeMathew was widely regarded as the greatest Kikuyu musician, until death struck through a fatal road accident on Sunday.

Elly Gitau and Wangari Njuguna

Just moments before his untimely demise on Sunday evening, Kikuyu benga maestro John DeMathew, fondly referred by his adoring fans as Ithe wa Ciku (Ciku’s dad), urged members of his community to fully support the proposed Constitutional amendments.

He said: “As a community (Gikuyu) let us not be lied to that the Prime Ministers’ post belongs to Raila Odinga. The post can go to anybody from any tribe in Kenya because it is a national post. Even after making the proposed changes in the Constitution, it will remain a national post, regardless who get’s to it first. After all, they will leave it some day for someone else. It will be a seat to help peace prevail in Kenya.

“The system of governance we are clamoring for will enhance cohesion and that will be effective only if we incorporate a Prime Minister’s position in the Constitution. It is the only way to deal with the ‘winner takes it all’ mentality.”

In 2010, the singer courted 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 elections. Senior Principal Magistrate Ellena Nderitu acquitted him in June 2014.

“After perusing through the file and listening to submissions by the prosecution and the defence, this court found no evidence to link the accuser’s song to the hate speech charges levelled against him as he never mentioned any tribe in his song,” ruled Nderitu.

DeMathew was in his own right an opinion maker, whose influence surpassed the confines of the studio. His lyrics were not just words hurriedly crafted to just make a song, but he cleverly selected them to deliver home his intended message. 

The journey

Talking to our sister station Kameme TV on July 5, this year, DeMathew said even his own parents didn’t immediately appreciate his love for music.

“I composed my first song called Rekereria Wendo (Let Love Reign) while in Standard Seven. But my parents didn’t readily accept I had a talent in music. At some point, my father threatened to chase me away from home,” he said, adding he almost gave up on music after his first song, Jenifer, failed to take off as he had expected.

He said: “But I didn’t give up. I went to a producer called Wamaitu Productions who produced my second song called Peris Nduku, which propelled me to great popularity. I can’t say I am the biggest amongst others or I see things others cannot, but God brings to me such things and I pursue them.”

DeMathew’s vision was to make a change in the society. He said his aim was to share his vision for a better life with other people and help the less priviledged.

“Young people should never give up on anything; we will always be there to help them,” he said.

His song, Urathi Wa Ma, is regarded as his most deepest, with a meaning that was hard to decipher. It literally distinguished the iconic Kikuyu benga musician from the rest of the clout. 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 tackled issues of the HIV/Aids scourge and devil worshipping in the country, among a myriad of other issues. In a proverbial manner he was known for when composing his songs, 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 featured a young video vixen known as Sabina Chege, said to be his then lover. By the time of the video’s release, Sabina was a radio presenter. She is now Murang’a Woman Representative.

DeMathew met his untimely death through a fatal accident at a ‘black spot’ near Blue Post Hotel, along Thika Road. He was pronounced dead on arrival at Thika Nursing Home. He was from a fundraising event towards footing medical expenses of his fellow musician Peter Kigia’s daughter, Esther.

The tributes

Kenyans led by President Uhuru Kenyatta have mourned the music maestro, with President Uhuru describing him a mentor to other artistes.

“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 Uhuru.

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.”

Former Prime Minister and opposition chief Raila Odinga described DeMathew as a man who had spent his lifetime fighting against illicit brews as well as promoting Kikuyu culture among within his community.

“He did a great job as an artist. He enlightened young people against illicit brews while also educating his community on culture and current affairs,” Raila said.

Murang’a Governor Mwangi Wa Iria hailed the late singer’s effort to help other artistes through the Talented Musicians and Composers (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.

Gatanga MP Ngugi Nduati said his death was a great blow to the people of Gatanga pointing out that he was a unique person who not only entertained people but was like a seer too. He said DeMatthew had put a lot of effort to nurture upcoming musicians from the area by giving them guidance and mentorship.

“He was a dedicated person with a promising future. Too bad that death robbed us a champion and a star. Music is our ‘cash crop’ in Gatanga and it’s a major setback when we lose such a person,” said Nduati.

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