Grammy-nominated Ugandan Eddy Kenzo extols triumph over tragedy

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Kampala (AFP) – Orphaned and helpless, Eddy Kenzo suffered to convince the hosts to broadcast his songs on radio shows. But Ugandan’s first Grammy nominee says his success offers hope that anyone, even the poorest, can make it.

Nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Global Music Performance, Kenzo, whose real name is Edrisah Musuuza, says the announcement left him “speechless.”

“I can’t express my feelings, it’s like his dream,” the 33-year-old artist told AFP during an emotional interview at his studio in Kampala.

“The nomination should give hope to the underprivileged,” he said.

“Even the poorest and most humble can achieve it (…) If I could, they can too.”

Born to a Ugandan father and a Rwandan mother whose family was part of the victims of the 1994 genocide, Kenzo’s childhood was marked by tragedy after his parents died of illness when he was four years old.

By the time I was a teenager, I was sleeping on the streets of Kampala, often starving.

Eddy Kenzo says the announcement of the Grammy nomination left him speechless © BADRU KATUMBA / AFP

“I suffered as a child,” he said.

His love for sports and music kept him going, and by 2008 he had raised funds to get off the street and release his first song, “Yannimba” (“He Fooled Me” in Luganda).

beacon of hope

But it was a fight. With no sponsors, radio hosts ignored their requests to play their songs on the radio.

But two years after her debut, her single “Stamina” was a hit that came to dominate the radio and was a must at private parties and nightclubs.

In 2011 he won the Best New Artist award at the Perla de África Music Awards.

His global profile grew with the release of “Sitya Loss” (“I’m Not Afraid to Lose”) in 2014 – an upbeat track that recalls his traumatic childhood and exalts the power of resilience.

“My dream was to make people happy. When someone dances or is happy, they feel good, laugh, feel loved, shake off stress and forget how depressing the world is,” she says.

“I also wanted to be a beacon of hope to desperate people that no matter their current problems, anyone can succeed in life,” he said.

In the following years he won several awards for his mix of dancehall and Afrobeat.

Eddy Kenzo is the founder of Big Talent Entertainment who trains and mentors boys and girls from slums to develop their musical talent.
Eddy Kenzo is the founder of Big Talent Entertainment who trains and mentors boys and girls from slums to develop their musical talent. © BADRU KATUMBA / AFP

When the Grammys are announced on February 5 in Los Angeles, she could take home some new recognition for “Gimme Love,” her English-Luganda-language track featuring American Matt B.

In the same category, Nigerian Afropop musician Burna Boy is nominated, among others.

“If I win it will be an honor for my fans, my culture and everyone who has touched my life,” he said.

open paths

Despite his meteoric rise, the father of two does not forget his humble beginnings and says he wants to lead the way for others like him.

That is why he founded Big Talent Entertainment, a recording studio located in a poor neighborhood of Kampala where he helps boys and girls from neighboring slums to develop their musical talent.

The day AFP was there, a dozen children on a break from their music lessons were eating rice, meat, vegetables and stew from metal plates.

He’s far from the glitz and glamor of the Grammys, but Kenzo says he’s determined not to let international success change him.

On the one hand, he plans to continue producing music in his native language, despite the fact that he would have a wider audience in English.

“I want to promote my culture and my country through music,” he says.

“It’s not that I can’t sing in English, it’s that I want to be who I am.”

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Grammy-nominated Ugandan Eddy Kenzo extols triumph over tragedy