Grammy-ready. Gimme Love, a song for which Eddy Kenzo and Matt B are nominated for a Grammy award may not have blown up on airwaves in Uganda and yet here we are. With a BET already in the bag, Eddy Kenzo awaits to see if this weekend will be the defining time of his career. As Jacobs O. Seaman writes, it will be historical, an achievement for the books.
Eddy Kenzo will be staring at immortality inside the Crypto.com Arena in Downtown Los Angeles in California, US on Sunday night. Flip that and you are on the money still; it is immortality that will be staring at Eddy Kenzo.
From the moment he shook off the pangs of street life in 2008, the singer, real name Edirisa Musuuza, has only known not to fail.
He wins awards left, right and centre, and if the Grammy thought it was beyond Kenzo’s wild imaginations, it could be up for a humbling evening right from the centre of the US film and television industry.
But like in all the past productions, critics have axes reeking of blood upon Kenzo’s neck.
For Gimme Love, for which Kenzo and Matt B last November scooped the Best Global Music Performance nomination for the 65th Grammy Awards, it is more scathing.
Dennis Asiimwe, a music reviewer with The Kampala Sun, said Gimme Love is a little “simplistic, a light pop ditty with an electronic sound”.
“It is not bad per se, just a little underwhelming,” he added.
Dan Atuhaire, a music critic, agrees. “Maybe it got to where it got because of the video.”
But the Recording Academy tends to favour artistes who acknowledge their musical heritage. And in Gimme Love, Kenzo and his American counterpart Matthew David Benson, aka Matt B, have left little to chance.
In 2020, Matt conceptualised the idea of producing an Afrobeat Extended Play (EP) to pay homage to Africa and the Diaspora.
“It was about doing something impactful for the culture that would honour our people,” he says.
Matt B’s wife and manager, Angela, says the goal was always to create something that would “reflect positively on Africa, our ancestors, and our people” as a whole on a global scale.
Gimme Love is the first single off the Alkebulan EP. Angela co-produced the song with 2010 Grammy nominee and children’s songs legend Greg Scelsa, and Ugandan Isaac Owori, aka Asteyn.
“During the journey of trying to assist Matt in finding the right sound and feeling for the project, we discovered that “love” was the correct energy to tap into. That frequency translates globally and transcends all languages, and that was the energy I felt when Eddy Kenzo first played the instrumental for Gimme Love,” she told this paper.
Angela believes Gimme Love is a strong contender in the category that has past winner, Burna Boy, as a favourite for his Last Last.
Burna Boy, real name Damini Ogulu, said winning the Grammy was big for “generation of Africans all over the world” when he notched it in 2021.
“This should be a lesson to every African out there: No matter where you are, no matter what you plan to do, you can achieve it,” he told CNN then.
Kenzo was listening.
Matt B can reflect on the same – although he says the Grammy never crossed his mind when he started on the project.
“Getting a Grammy has always been a dream, but it never was the expectation. So when the nomination came through, I was surprised and humbled. It feels incredible to be recognised by my peers for the highest honour in music,” Matt B said.
“And since it is for a song that shines a light on the people of Africa, that is a win for me. So win or lose, I am content.”
The other contenders in the category are Udhero Na by Pakistani Arooj Aftab and British American Anoushka Shankar, Neva Bow Down by Ghanaian Rocky Dawuni ft. Blvk H3ro, and Bayethe by South Africans Wouter Kellerman, Zakes Bantwini & Nomcebo Zikode.
“All the artistes nominated in the Global Performance are absolutely incredible, and we are honoured to share such an amazing achievement in music with them,” Angela said.
Seeing the scorn from music critics and then listening to Matt B and Angela explain the concept, it becomes clear why Gimme Love has the nod – the team behind the song has placed it in the right place.
To fully grasp Gimme Love, one could slide into Gimme Hope Jo’anna by Eddy Grant. The Apartheid regime would never have allowed a song that calls on the South Africans to hold hope in Nelson Mandela.
Eddy Grant and his team had to get their message across and only creativity would work. A flip of the song into one of a typical love even as it highlighted deep social issues worked the magic.
There was Pat Shange, singing about his Sweet Mama in such romantic bliss that many saw raw sex in the air. Yet he was speaking about South Africa, the motherland giving its heart to the segregationist White minority.
Similar creative works were seen in another South African, Chicco, who renamed Mandela as Manelo. Or Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s Stimela, who rides on the allegory of a steam engine to bemoan the long wait it was taking to gain freedom.
Matt B and Kenzo might not have wanted to hide anything when they sat to write the song that has lyrics in both Luganda and English, but they got their punch strong.
Gimme Love might not have scored in the hearts of Ugandans, but like Kenzo continues to be frowned upon, it has already won awards.
In September, Kenzo and Matt B won two laurels – the Muse Creative Awards and Muse Design Awards – for the song.
A bet on immortality would not be such a bad punt for a song that peaked at number 36 on the Billboard US Afrobeats Songs chart last November.
California-based online music magazine, Buzz-Music, said in their review that the Gimme Love music video immediately draws one toward “this display of unity and expression.”
Angela said she wanted it to be colourful, vibrant, energetic, and full of love.
“I wanted the same energy captured in the studio that day to be immortalised on film,” she said of the video shot in the Topanga hills in California.
She had handpicked Nyakim Gatwech, an Ethiopian-born American model of South Sudanese descent who has attracted attention for her dark skin complexion.
Kenzo’s magic wand
Eddy Kenzo is the most decorated artiste in Uganda. With a string of awards, his Grammy nod is the first by a Ugandan, although Abayudaya, a folk group parroted by Western outfits in Mbale, got the nomination in 2005 – for Best Traditional World Music category for their album, Abayudaya, a collection of religious songs and traditional music.
A win for Kenzo would be the second for East Africa after Kenya’s Owuor Arunga scooped the first for the region at the 56th Grammys in 2013. Owuor, a trumpet wizard, is celebrated as a producer, music director and trumpeter.
Kenzo, 33, is the only artiste from East Africa to win a BET award in 2015. He also won the African Entertainer of the Year award in 2019.
Starting off as a karaoke singer in 2006, Kenzo abandoned his football dream in 2007 when he released his first song, Jangu Tuteese. No one can raise their hand on knowing that one. Or even the second song, I Love You More, in 2008.
But a collabo with Mickie Wine at the tail-end of 2008 titled Wanimba worked a bit.
Kenzo did not get the fame. The answer for his music not appealing to the ears and hearts came forth on September 30, 2010. On this Thursday afternoon in Nkuke in his hometown, Masaka, Kenzo stepped on stage with Big Eye.
Alintuma Nsambu, a politician and businessman, was launching his radio station and he had brought in almost everyone who could sing and let in anyone who wanted to enjoy their performances.
Kenzo sampled Nategede, Bogera and Yanimba but got no appeal. Then he announced that Ronnie Julian was stepping up for Stamina, the song that had given him instant fame in the year.
The crowd went wild. For a year or so later, many argued that Ronnie, whose ‘stamina dance’ had popularised the song, was the force behind Kenzo. But that was not it.
Ronnie left and Kenzo released Sitya Loss in 2014. This time the magic was in the Ghetto Kids. Dancing with such free abandon, the video lifted the song beyond Kenzo’s imagination.
American rapper and entertainment mogul Puff Daddy shared the video on his social media accounts and his thumbs-up was felt in Beverly Hills, the home of the A-Listers of Hollywood.
“Eddy Kenzo has been international since 2014 with Sitya Loss and this nomination strengthens his international presence and opens more doors of opportunity,” Martin Beta Muhumuza, Kenzo’s manager, said.
Entertainment lovers will hold their breath late into Sunday night for the awards, a long night for Kenzo and Matt B and their team.
Muhumuza said it is an exciting moment in the camp but also a “moment of too much tension.”
But Kenzo, he says, is already a big winner.
“Not winning will not affect him, it will hurt, of course, but that is what a race is all about – we always have one winner. But a nomination is already a win for our music industry and country,” Muhumuza said.
Kenzo and Matt B already have another project in the studios.
“Should we win, Matt and I definitely plan to visit Uganda and celebrate with Eddy Kenzo and the Ugandan people,” Angela said.
Nation to reap
A Grammy for Eddy Kenzo is one for Uganda. It does not get any better.
Matt and Angela plan to be in Uganda to celebrate with Kenzo and the nation should the coveted award come their way. At State House, President Museveni, who hosted Kenzo when he won the African Entertainer of the Year award in 2019, will host him.
Mr Museveni’s spokesperson Sandor Walusimbi said it was too early to commit anything.
“Obviously, whatever and whoever promotes Uganda to the global audience will always be accorded a high-five,” added Ofwono Opondo, the government spokesperson.
Lilly Ajarova, the chief executive of Uganda Tourism Board for which Kenzo is an ambassador, said a Grammy would be a “very good thing for destination Uganda.”
“To get one of our own, to be part of it, is rewarding not only for him as a person but Uganda as a country. It gets the name of Uganda with positive PR and hopefully it will cause interest in others to visit Uganda,” she said.
US-based Ugandan tourism entrepreneur Abbey Rafsanjan Tatya said Uganda has not been doing well to market its immense tourism potential.
Tourism adds up to 7.7 percent to the GDP, according to Uganda Investment Authority.
“I will not exaggerate and say Eddy Kenzo winning a Grammy would send a million more tourists to Uganda this year, but it would surely increase the value of his music and the attention on Uganda,” said Rafsanjan, the chief executive of Lush Africa Safaris.
“Tourists ask me every day about the music of the country and they ask that I include a music jam session or a music event or music museum in their itinerary,” he said.
He challenged the government to start regarding music as an infrastructure and investing in it to reap from it.
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