Kenzo, Ugandan’s first Grammy nominee, had humble beginnings

KAMPALA, Uganda — Eddy Kenzo doesn’t know precisely when he was born, a quirk of personal history that goes to the heart of how the Ugandan singer sees himself: a humble man who is sometimes anxious about what will happen next.

And yet, Kenzo, who became the first Uganda-based singer to earn a Grammy nomination, continues to scale heights that defy his expectations and those of his fans and rivals in this East African country where they are sometimes question your work.

Some Ugandans dismiss his musical style as playful, saying that he is not a great singer. But others see in his experimentation the creative potential that marks him as an artist with original gifts.

For Kenzo, any recognition of his work is a reminder of how far he has come.

“Honestly speaking, I am so overwhelmed. I’m so nervous at the same time,” Kenzo said in an interview with AP, speaking of his nomination. “I thank God we made it.”

Kenzo’s “Gimme Love,” a collaboration with American singer Matt B that began with a chance meeting in Los Angeles, is nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best World Music Performance.

Kenzo, whose real name is Edirisa Musuuza, won a BET Award in 2015 for Viewers’ Choice for Best New International Artist, the first and only Ugandan to receive that honor to date. The award followed her breakout song “Sitya Loss,” accompanied by a video of dancing children whose energetic performance garnered the attention of global stars like Ellen DeGeneres.

That song was a nod to Kenzo’s humble beginnings in a remote part of central Uganda, as a barely literate boy who didn’t know where his next meal would come from. According to his own account, Kenzo spent 13 years on the streets after losing his mother when he was only 4 years old. He didn’t know who his father was and only discovered some of his siblings when he was a grown man.

He wanted to become a soccer player and even won a scholarship to boarding school based on his talents, but then he dropped out and went back to the buzz that he says made him a man.

“I’m a con man,” he told the AP. “This is a big step for me, my family and the people in the ghetto, the go-getters, the people who come from nowhere. It gives us a lot of hope that everything is possible.”

She recorded her first single in 2008 and rose to stardom in 2010 with the song “Stamina,” beloved by politicians, lovers, and others for its praise of youthful energy. In addition to winning awards, Kenzo is frequently invited to perform all over the world.

Three days before learning that he had been nominated for a Grammy, Kenzo held a festival in Kampala that was attended by thousands of people, including the Prime Minister of Uganda. It was a proud moment for a singer whose music is often ignored by local FM stations, which can make or break a song with the choices the DJs make.

Even for Kenzo there is a feeling that he is more appreciated abroad than at home.

“My biggest fan base is outside of Uganda, because the world is bigger than Uganda,” he said thoughtfully. “Uganda is just a small country.”

Andrew Kaggwa, an arts reporter for the local Daily Monitor newspaper, described Kenzo as an enigma who “has disrupted the industry in ways no one can explain.”

He spoke of Kenzo as the Ugandan singer “who refused to fail”. DJs may not like his music, but he has a loyal following and wins honors despite the odds.

“For some reason things happen” for Kenzo, Kaggwa said. “He just lets the awards, the accolades, do the talking for him.”


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