Some Ugandans consider his style of music rather playful and say that he is not a very good singer. But others see in his experiments the creative potential that characterizes him as an artist with original gifts.
For Kenzo, any acknowledgment of his work is a reminder of how far he’s come.
“Honestly, I am so overwhelmed. I’m so nervous at the same time,” Kenzo said in an interview with the 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 Worldwide Musical Performance.
Kenzo, whose real name is Edirisa Musuuza, won a BET award in 2015 as the viewers’ choice for Best New International Artist, the first and only Ugandan to be so honored to date. The accolade followed his breakthrough song “Sitya Loss,” accompanied by a video featuring dancing kids whose energetic performance caught the attention of global stars such as Ellen DeGeneres.
That song was a nod to Kenzo’s own humble beginnings in a remote part of central Uganda, as a barely literate child who didn’t know where his next meal would come from. By his own account, Kenzo spent 13 years on the streets after losing his mother when he was only 4. He didn’t know who his father was, and he didn’t discover some of his siblings until he was an adult.
He wanted to be a footballer and even won a scholarship to boarding school based on his talent, but he later dropped out and returned to the hustle and bustle that he says made him a man.
“I’m a scammer,” he told the AP. “This is a very big step for me, my family and the ghetto people, the scammers, the people who come from nowhere. It gives us a lot of hope that anything is possible.”
He recorded his first single in 2008 and rose to fame in 2010 with the song “Stamina”, loved by politicians, lovers and others for its praise of youthful energy. In addition to winning awards, Kenzo is regularly invited to perform all over the world.
Three days before finding out he was nominated for a Grammy, Kenzo held a festival in Kampala attended by thousands, including Uganda’s Prime Minister. It was a proud moment for a singer whose music is often ignored by local FM stations, who can make or break a song by the choices DJs make.
Even Kenzo feels that he is more appreciated abroad than at home.
“My biggest fanbase is outside Uganda, because the world is bigger than Uganda,” he said musingly. “Uganda is just a small country.”
Andrew Kaggwa, an arts reporter at the local Daily Monitor newspaper, described Kenzo as an enigma who “has disrupted the industry in a way no one can explain”.
He spoke of Kenzo as the Ugandan singer ‘who refused to fail’. DJs may hate his music, but he has a loyal following and wins credit despite all odds.
“For some reason things happen” for Kenzo, Kaggwa said. “He just lets the awards, the awards speak for him.”
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