‘I wanted to choose to be better, not bitter’: How Uganda’s Eddy Kenzo went from sleeping in the street to historic Grammy nomination

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

On February 4, the Grammy awards announced the first-ever winner of the new Best African Music Performance, with South Africa’s Tyla taking home the title for her hit “Water.”

Yet African artists have been honored at the Grammys since fellow South African Miriam Makeba won for Best Folk Record in 1966. And even being nominated can be a life-changing experience.

No one knows that better than Eddy Kenzo. Last year, the 34-year-old singer and music executive became Uganda’s first-ever Grammy-nominated musician, for his collaboration with US artist Matt B on the song “Gimme Love.”

Born Edrisah Kenzo Musuuza, he spent 13 years of his early life sleeping on the streets, finding solace in music and football. It was sport that eventually served as his way out, but it would be music that became his lifeline.

Today, Kenzo promotes upcoming Ugandan artists through his Big Talent Entertainment record label, and advocates for fair royalties and digital copyright as the interim president of the Uganda National Musicians Federation.

The following interview was edited and condensed for clarity.

Eddy Kenzo: No. I’ve always known that I’ll make it in music because I could feel the creativity in me. I’ve always had music. The only thing I didn’t have was the support, the studio. But I knew that one day if I ever went into a studio, I would produce good music. I used to compose music even without instruments and stuff. I used to sing on beats, so by the time I went to the studio, I would already have my songs composed on other people’s beats. I hear the beat; I start composing my own.

So, by the time I go into the studio, I start doing great music for me. I started in 2007, I made it in 2008. And I made it so big in 2010 (when) I made a song called “Stamina.” It was a very big song in the country. It trended for over two years. It was even the theme song during the campaign for the 2011 elections.

LM: How did that song change your life? 

EK: “Stamina” was my official breakthrough. It changed my story. That’s when I started receiving a little money. I was able to rent a better house and then I got more friends, more experience. I started jumping on flights for the first time.

LM: Why is dance such a key part of your act?

EK: I used to dance a lot on the street, and I love dancing. My music is for joy. What I bring out is based on my story. I suffered a lot when I was a kid. So, whenever I go to the studio, I think about being happy.

I want to make people happy because I know someone somewhere is sad about the different things they go through. When I come to the studio, I want to heal that person because I went through the same thing for a long time. That’s why I do happy music.

LM: It’s so powerful that you make music for joy when it comes from a place of pain and all the suffering that you experienced growing up.

EK: I just wanted to choose to be better, not bitter. I went through a lot, but it does not mean that someone else should go through the same. So, it is my job to heal somebody going through that and I’m grateful it’s working.

When you go to the comment section of my music, people say, ‘I was going through depression, this song is changing my life.’ I’ve been living in the US for 20 years. When I look at this video, I remember my childhood. It’s so great.

LM: Your biggest award was the Grammy nomination. How did that feel?

EK: I couldn’t believe it. I can’t even imagine how I felt. If I start telling you where I come from, what I’ve gone through as a child who did not have anyone to take care of me. At that young age, I was the boss of my own life. Today to be here, to be in the Grammys! I couldn’t stop crying when I was seated at the Grammys, seeing all these guys perform, Beyonce, all these greats of all time. I cried the whole show.

LM: Tell me about “Gimme Love” and that collaboration with Matt B, which led to the nomination.

EK: I met [American musician] Matt B through a man called Greg. Greg loved my music online when he saw kids dancing. And then he texted me. He wanted to remix one of my songs to put it on his kids’ album. I gave him permission. When I went to the US for some shows, he introduced me to the Grammys people. He invited me to one of those parties where I met Matt B, who told me how he drove from Chicago to Los Angeles with his kids in the car, to look for opportunities. I felt touched.

I played one of the beats I had on my phone. He picked one. We then composed and did the song. I’m so grateful that at least it changed our story. A Grammy nominee is a Grammy nominee. I thank God for that.

LM: What do you still hope to achieve?

EK: We want to achieve different things on different stages. I just want to keep representing my people and inspiring. I want to see a generation that is going to do way better than me after seeing what I’ve done, and they don’t make the mistakes I’ve made. That will make me so proud. I really want to promote an artist.

This post appeared first on