In Summary
  • At the time of his death at 52, De’Mathew had released a staggering 50 albums — about 300 songs, most runaway hits.

  • His malleability to adjust to read and interpret the times, and also his everyman deportment, De’Mathew endeared himself to fans.

  • The land where he grew up – Gatanga in Murang’a County – is considered the cradle of Gikuyu benga, with nearly all the best-known hit-makers having been born there.

Hardly anyone knew John Ng’ang’a, but mention John De’Mathew and you might as well have introduced a long and well-known friend. Demethiu, Dematthew, Demetthew – the intonation and spelling were frivolous; the music was the introduction; the glue; the camaraderie.

The lean, dark-complexioned man on the screen was a friend, a neighbour; the uncle who pulled you aside and asked that you fess up your wrongs.

MEMORABLE

And so when news that De’Mathew – one of the most beloved and versatile benga musicians – had died on Sunday night in a car crash just outside Thika town, a pall of sadness fell upon his fans.

For slightly over three decades, De’Matthew (a stage name he customised to mean (son) of Matthew), thrilled fans with an unparalleled catalogue of hit songs. Indeed, beginning in 1988 when, at 21, he released Peris Nduku – a nearly-believable elegy for a lover dead too soon, and one that shot him to fame, through the late half of this decade, De’Mathew appeared to own an endless well of music.

Love. Death. Gossip. Even the hidden potential of the mobile phone. Leadership and politics. De'Mathew had something to say.

But the land was always fecund: at the time of his death at 52, De’Mathew had released a staggering 50 albums — about 300 songs, most runaway hits.

With his signature cowboy-style hats, half sideburns and a memorable catchphrase, seiya! (Say yeah), malleability to adjust to read and interpret the times, and also his everyman deportment, De’Mathew endeared himself to fans.

The land where he grew up – Gatanga in Murang’a County – is considered the cradle of Gikuyu benga, with nearly all the best-known hit-makers having been born there – Daniel Kamau (DK), the late John Ndichu, Peter Kigia and Sarah Kiarie Gachathi Thuo, among others.

“He was saying something; you’d listen and say, ‘what did he mean?’, and then you’d understand,” said singer Simon Kihara (Musaimo).

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