Eddy Kenzo has no idea when he was born, a personal history oddity that goes to the heart of how the Ugandan musician views himself: a humble man who is occasionally concerned about what may happen next.
Despite this, Kenzo, the first Ugandan-born musician to receive a Grammy nomination, continues to soar to heights that exceed his own and the expectations of his fans and rivals in this east African country where his work is frequently questioned.
Some Ugandans view his musical approach as childish, claiming he isn’t much of a singer. Others, however, perceive in his experiments the creative potential that distinguishes him as a unique artist.
For Kenzo, any recognition of his work is a reminder of how far he’s come.
“Honestly speaking, I am so overwhelmed. I am so nervous at the same time,” Kenzo said in an interview with The AP, speaking of his nomination. “I thank God that we made it.”
Kenzo’s “Gimme Love,” a collaboration with the American singer Matt B that began with a fortuitous meeting in Los Angeles, is nominated for a Grammy in the category of best global music performance.
Recalling their meeting, Kenzo says he felt a connection with Matt B’s own commitment to success, finding the “Gimme Love” refrain when the American singer brought his family with him to the recording studio.
“I looked at these kids and I’m like, man, everyone deserves love. You know, these people deserve support and love so their dreams can come true,” he said “That’s why I told him that you know what? Let’s do give me love. Yeah. And then I started that intro, ‘gimme love’.”
Kenzo, whose real name is Edirisa Musuuza, won a BET award in 2015 as the viewers’ choice for best new international artiste, the first and only Ugandan so honored to date. The accolade followed his breakout song “Sitya Loss,” accompanied by a video featuring dancing kids whose energetic performance captured the attention of global stars like Ellen DeGeneres.
That song was a nod to Kenzo’s own humble beginnings in a remote part of central Uganda, as a barely literate child who didn’t know from where his next meal would come. By his own account, Kenzo spent 13 years in the streets after losing his mother when he was only 4. He didn’t know who his father was, and he only discovered some of his siblings as a grown man.
He wanted to become a soccer player and even won a scholarship to boarding school based on his talent, but he later dropped out and returned to the hustling that he says made him a man.
He recorded his first single in 2008 and achieved stardom in 2010 with the song “Stamina,” beloved by politicians, lovers, and others for its praise of youthful energy. In addition to winning awards, Kenzo is frequently invited to perform across the world.
Three days before he found out he had been nominated for a Grammy, Kenzo held a festival in Kampala that was attended by thousands, including Uganda’s prime minister. It was a proud moment for a singer whose music is often ignored by local FM stations, which can make or break a song with the choices DJs make.
There’s a sense even for Kenzo that he’s more appreciated abroad than at home.
“My biggest fanbase is outside Uganda, because the world is bigger than Uganda,” he said thoughtfully. “Uganda is just a small country.”