Joseph Kamaru (Kangema, Kenya, 1939 – 3 October 2018) was a Kenyan Benga and gospel musician and political activist. He was a leading Kikuyu musician, who has sold about half a million records. He was notable for his politically motivated songs either praising or criticising the government.
He was known for his friendship with President Jomo Kenyatta, but after writing a song condemning the murder of Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, they ceased to be close. He also wrote songs praising President Daniel arap Moi.
Kamaru was from Kangema, Muranga District. In 1957 he moved to Nairobi where he got a cleaning job. His first formal job was working as a house-help and a nanny, earning enough money to purchase his first guitar. He started pursuing music in 1965.
Kamaru made his first breakthrough in 1967 with Celina. The height of his musical career was between 1975-1985 due the release of the adults-only cassettes, all dealing with Kikuyu folk songs. In the late 1980s he was the first Kenyan artist to play at the Carnivore Restaurant, then only hosting foreign artists. According to Martin Dunford, the owner of the restaurant, Kamaru's vibrant performance opened doors for other Kenyan artist to perform at the venue.
His popular songs include "muhiki wa mikosi" and "muti uyu mukuona" among others.
Many of his songs were political, either praising or criticising the government. Initially he had a good relationships with president Jomo Kenyatta, but after writing a song condemning the murder of Josiah Mwangi Kariuki in 1975 Kamaru fell out with him. After Kenyatta died, the next president Daniel arap Moi was close to the artist. In 1980 Kamaru toured Japan as a part of President Moi's entourage. After the visit he composed Safari ya Japan praising the president. But the President was not pleased with Kamaru's support for multiparty democracy in the late 1980s.
In the 1990s, Kamaru announced that he had been “born again” and would no longer perform the secular music on which he had built his career. In 1993, he turned to gospel music and disbanded his previous group, the Kamaru Supersounds. The change saw a plunge in his record sales.
Kamaru was once the chairman of the Kenya Association of Phonographic Industries (KAPI), and owned a church ministry in Nairobi. He also ran two record stores in Nairobi.
In April 2018, after a circulating death hoax, Kamaru confirmed his good health in an interview with the Daily Nation. In the interview, Kamaru said "God could not take me until I oversaw changes in the music industry and mentor upcoming musicians to get the best songs for their audiences and in return get a better pay".
Kamaru died on October 3, 2018 at the age of 79 at a hospital in Nairobi from complications of Parkinson's disease. He is survived by four siblings and a son.
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