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Chief’s daughter who grew to become Queen

By | July 1st 2010

By Kiundu Waweru and Caroline Nyanga

Benga songstress Jane Nyambura, known more famously by her grand stage name, Queen Jane, lived to the full meaning of the alter ego, securing a legion of fans for whom her music reigned supreme.

Queen Jane, who died this week from meningitis, forfeited her natural inheritance as the chief’s daughter – the eldest of nine children – to pursue music, the road less travelled, and lesser so by women.

Yet, that chance meeting in 1984 with other Murang’a singers on the campaign trail for her maternal uncle, Environment Minister John Michuki, would put her on the steady road to fame in which she produced over 200 tracks in a career spanning two decades.

Her songs, some of which became barometers of social mores and moods, presented unvarnished truth about the unequal nature of gender relations in her society, were eloquent as they were honest.

"Secular music is about verbal slurs, lewd speech and dance moves," Queen Jane told The Standard in her last Press interview last month about what she perceived as the decadent state of Kenyan music.

Queen Jane in her element: This picture, taken by ‘The Standard’ last month, captured a hale singer whose death on Tuesday has devastated her fans. [PHOTO: JONAH ONYANGO/STANDARD]

Queen Jane remained active to the end, recording and making live performances to a growing fanbase. Her last album, Gikuyu Giitu (Gikuyu, Our Language), was released early this year.

Deceptively Minor

Her health started failing last month in what her husband James Kariuki recalls was a deceptively minor illness from which she would never recover.

"I am still in shock but God has done His will. Last month, I took her to Kikuyu Mission Hospital and I was surprised when she was admitted as her condition had not seemed serious. However, she was discharged after a week."

She would relapse after a week, and was admitted at the Lang’ata Hospital last week when she fell into a coma.

"On Thursday, she was okay, even talking. But come Friday, she fell into a coma and a brain scan showed that she had meningitis and her brain had been affected," says Kariuki.

The music fraternity responded with shock. "Her demise is unfortunate and untimely. I have lost a long standing friend and music partner," mourned Simon Kihara, popularly known as Musaimo.

Musaimo met Queen Jane in Kangema 1984 while on the campaign trail, and later urged her to join his band, the Mbiiri Stars, where she stayed on until 1992 when she left to pursue a solo career.

By that time Queen Jane had composed Queen ya Musaimo (Musaimo’s Queen), the song that firmly entrenched royal stage name, as well as her growing reputation as a rising star.

By Queen Jane’s own account, tongues were soon wagging she was Musaimo’s entanglement, and she felt frustrated enough to leave.

Sweeping Fans Away

"Feeling cheated and exploited, I opted out," Queen Jane told The Standard last month.

She further lamented that in her earlier days veteran musicians frustrated her efforts to record music, "fearing that my captivating voice would sweep away their fans."

Her rescue, she added, came in 1991, when producer Kimaita Magiri introduced her to Lemanco Productions that handled Them Mushrooms.

"Mushrooms are the ones who assisted me record my debut album Ndorogonye in 1991 under my band name Queenja Les Les. The song scooped the Music Copyright Society of Kenya trophy," Queen Jane recalled.

Since then, there was no turning back. Her second track Mwendwa KK (My Dear K.K) was an instant hit, scooping the Song of the Year Award in 1992, paving the way for what would be an illustrious career.

Benga maestro Daniel "DK" Kamau has fond memories of Queen Jane.

"She was the first female to gain fame in Kikuyu music. As a leader of the Women in Music lobby, she has left a gap that cannot be filled. I feel saddened by her sudden death and I send my condolences to her family, friends and fans."

Queen Jane’s first recorded song was Mwana wa Ndigwa (The orphan) that was followed by Wendo wa Mahatha (Twin Love).

Now that she is gone, her music is all her fans shall have to cherish.




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