A Tribute To John DeMathew, The Lyrical Genius Of Kikuyu Benga Music

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By Mukurima Muriuki

John DeMathew and his lover Peris, as portrayed in the song Peris Nduku, were involved in a road accident somewhere in Limuru. DeMathew was on his way to Gatanga to visit with the future athoni when the accident occurred.

DeMathew goes on to sing that Peris died a few days later while undergoing treatment at the Aga Khan hospital. The lyrics go like this:

“Twathiaga Gatanga kuona aciari…,ngari ti ciama na citiehokekagwo…twakinya Lîmuru karîmainî, ngari itû îkîgariûka maita matatû…… (we were on our way to Gatanga. But you know vehicles are man made and accidents are bound to happen. On reaching Limuru, our vehicle rolled 3 times….)

DeMathew then reveals the last words Peris whispered to him as she took her final breath:

“John, come kiss me, for my end is nigh. Do not be sad, for I am going to heaven to prepare a home for you.”

I do not know whether the song was based on a true story; maybe. It could also have been a case of DeMathew simply executing his unique ability to put into song real life tragedies that befall ordinary men and women. His parting shot to Peris:

“When my day comes, I know I will find you in heaven. Wait for me, I am on my way. “

The song Peris Nduku introduced me to DeMathew. That was in the early 90’s. I remember that whenever my mom’s best friend called Nduku visited our home, I would, at the top of voice, sing: “my dear Ndukû î î my dear Ndukû…” I was a little rascal then and this used to get me into a lot trouble….

A few years later, John DeMathew had another chat bursting song called “Njambi.” By then, he had moved on from the Ndukû tragedy, heck heartache and fallen in love with a girl called Njambi. Things weren’t working out in the new relationship (maybe his heart was still with Nduku) and Njambi decided to leave him. In the song, DeMathew serenades Njambi, beseeching her to go back to him.

“Njambi î my dear Njambi, iiii…..okoro ûri Mombasa coka iiii…..okoro ûrî Kapenguria coka îî…..okoro kurî mahetia ndekire njohera….”

 

In the 90’s, and even today, a girl by the name Njambi, and who fits the description in DeMathew’s song : “Muiritu mukuhi wa fiti inya na nuthu, waheto njarûmi hindi iria ciaheanagwo” draws a lot of attention.

I will remember DeMathew as a lyrical genius, a man who loved the Stetson hat 🎩 and whose signature sound in every song was a page borrowed from CDM Kiratû’s book: “Ceeeeiiiiiyaaaa”

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