DK: A thousand songs down and still going

By Joe Kiarie

Daniel Kamau, popularly known as DK, proudly clings to the title of pioneer of Kikuyu benga music. At 60 and with over 1,000 songs to his credit, DK is unwilling to hang up his cherished guitar.

He is scaling new heights by not only producing music videos of his past hits but also releasing new songs.

DK (second left) with some of his band members. Photos/Evans Habil/standard

"Mrs Kabeberi directed me to musician David Amunga who co-owned a production studio. He helped me release my first record in 1968," he recounts.

The album contained the songs Mami Tiga Guthura (Mum don’t hate me) and Kenyatta wa Muigai. DK went on to release five other records with hits such as Surusuru ni ya ki? (Why the gossip) and Muiritu wa Thukuru (Schoolgirl).

But he felt short-changed when he was paid "a meagre Sh450" for all his toil. He shifted to Sokota Productions in 1969 and released three albums that fetched him Sh2,500.

He used the earnings to establish his own studio, DK Nguvu Sounds, which was located near Tea Room in downtown Nairobi. It is in this studio that he recorded hit songs Njika na Njika (Tit for Tat) and I Love You in 1970, with the latter getting cross-ethnic approval.

In the same year, DK made history when his maiden benga hit, Kanini, sold 9,000 records.

His studio became an instant hit, attracting then upcoming stars such as Kakai Kilonzo and Joseph Gicheha.

After just over a decade in music, DK had become an irresistible darling of the people in his home village and, inevitably, he says, he found himself entrenched in politics.

"I was under pressure to vie for the Gatanga Ward civic seat in 1979. I gave in to the people’s request, contested and won. I was thus forced to mix music with politics until 1992, when I quit politics to fully focus on music," he says.

Shooting videos

With the advance in technology that has made video production cheaper, DK has now turned his mind to shooting videos of his past hits, a move he says has been influenced by public demand.

He has already produced five videos of his past music, featuring Kanini, Ningwite Nawe (I have fallen for you), Kamugunda-ini ka Mahua (In the flower garden), and I Love You.

And looking over his shoulder, DK admits that he is today a worried man — all because of modern trends in the local music industry.

Georgina Wanjiru is recording her first album. Photos/Evans Habil/standard

He notes that while in the past he could only record four songs in one year, he is baffled to see some modern artistes enter a recording studio and come out with 12 songs in a day.

"It took time to record music in the 1970s through the 1990s as we performed as a hobby and our greatest desire was to hear ourselves on radio. Today, music has been turned into a business and this has badly lowered the quality. It is no a surprise that you need a presenter to say whose song is playing. In the past, the music needed no introduction," DK states.

He is furious about the high level of piracy in the country, saying he was recently shocked to learn that his music was being sold online to Kenyans in the Diaspora without his knowledge.

He is also bitter that a local ring tones firm has been illegally selling some of his top songs to mobile phone users for over five years without his consent.