It is past midnight on a rainy night and revellers at a popular pub in Machakos town have for the past 30 minutes been dancing to rhumba and reggae music.
Then the deejay changes tune, quite literally, to benga with a song that seems to have captured the nation’s imagination.
There are instant shouts of approval as those whose feet had no rhythm minutes ago take to the floor to dance to the song Fundamentals by Ken wa Maria. Love it or hate it, you cannot ignore it.
From FM radio stations and online platforms like YouTube to bars, Fundamentals is a huge hit. But why should a song whose video largely features the musician and a woman lazing on beach beds, and cameo appearances by a couple of dancers be such a huge phenomenon?
The most unique yet absurd thing is that the entire song has one stanza repeated in English, Kiswahili, Kikamba and Kikuyu!
Well, it appears its simplicity and Wa Maria’s pronunciation of the word “fundamentals” (foondamendoz) have made the lines, “these are the things/these are my things/these are your things/these are the fundamentals’’(sang, no less, as the musician correspondingly points at himself and the woman in the music video) irresitable to listen to.
Debate on social media and FM radio stations is varied as some praise Ken wa Maria’s musical artistry while others criticise the emptiness of the song.
“Real Kenyan with real Kenyan swag. Proudly Kenyan,” wrote Mue Muteti on Facebook.
On his part, Ronald Ooko thinks the song is “so funny, empty and nonsensical that it has become most watched for its unique nature. Keep up the fundamendo!”
Ken wa Maria is among the few millionaire musicians and has attracted a huge loyal fan base since he joined the industry 12 years ago.
When Lifestyle sought out the man of the moment, he was guarded in his responses. Asked what he had in mind when he composed the song, he said: “I just thought of a hilarious English word for the song and fundamentals fitted the bill.”
While the dictionary definition of “fundamentals” is “the most basic and important aspects of something”, the musician told Lifestyle he leaves its interpretation to what tickles one’s fancy.
It is a typical answer from the Kamba musician, who rarely gives media interviews and has a knack for stoking controversy.
The musician, who says he abandoned a law programme at the University of Nairobi to avoid defending criminals, chose the name of his late mother, Maria Nguze, as his stage name.
Growing up in Matuu, he says there were two children named “Ken” in his neighbourhood.
“One was an acrobat and the other one — that is me — was known for academic brilliance.
To make a clear difference between the two Kens, I became Ken wa Maria and the name stuck,” says the man who was born Kenneth Wambua Nguze.
He says he was inspired to venture into music by the then Kilome MP Tony Ndilinge, who was a close friend of his.
Mr Ndilinge was shot dead in 2001. Before then, Ken wa Maria was selling second-hand clothes at Nairobi’s Gikomba market.
Some of his great hits include Ndanu and Syindu sya Mutongoi.
And it appears the man is also rebranding. He shaved his trademark dreadlocks three years ago. “Every upcoming musician thinks that having dreadlocks makes them great,” he says.
Perhaps this change earned him a new job. The musician now sits on the board of the recently formed Machakos Entertainment Centre for the Film, Music, Media and the Arts (Machawood), among other celebrities appointed by Governor Alfred Mutua.
In 2007 he tried his hand in politics when he declared interest in the Yatta, seat but he didn’t run.
Contrary to the image in his music videos, where he frolics with beauties, Ken wa Maria says he is a down-to-earth family man who prefers to spend time with wife Angela and his daughters, Stacy and Pauline, in Donholm, Nairobi.