Toronto

Uganda's Eddy Kenzo grew up on the streets - now he's making his first Canadian appearance at Afrofest

Musician Eddy Kenzo has won BET awards and International acclaim. He partnered with Ghetto Kids dancers for music videos and concert tours. They play for the first time in Canada at Toronto's 30th Afrofest this weekend.

Kenzo and the Ghetto Kids perform at Woodbine Beach on Sunday for Afrofest's 30th anniversary

Edrisah Musuuza, popularly known as Eddy Kenzo, was orphaned and lived on the streets of Kampala for more than 13 years. Now an internationally known award-winning performer, he says his experience on the street will always be part of his music. (CBC)

Edrisah Musuuza knows all too well what adversity is. After all, he faced it at a very early age.

Orphaned as a child, he lived on the mean streets of the Ugandan capital, Kampala. He says music became his safe haven as he learned to survive.

"I have a humble background. I lost my mom when I was, like, four years old," the East African pop star told CBC Toronto before making his first Canadian appearance this Sunday at AfroFest in the Beach.

"Then, I started dancing on the street. I stayed on the street for 13 years ... But I got a lot of inspiration from the street and I got a lot of experience and it made me who I am today."

Who he is today is Eddie Kenzo, as he became popularly known after his breakthrough single Yanimba in 2008.

It became a hit not just in Uganda, but across East Africa. Since then, his music has reached an international audience through YouTube where his videos get an average of 10,000 views per day.

Triplets Ghetto Kids, Uganda's top dance group, began performing on the streets of Kampala. They became international stars after performing at the 2017 BET Awards. (tripletsghettokids.com)

Kenzo won the Viewer's Choice Best New International Artist at the 2015 Black Entertainment Television (BET) Awards held in Los Angeles, and this year he won BET's Best African Entertainer award.

He is looking forward to playing at the 30th anniversary of Afrofest along with his dance crew, the Triplets Ghetto Kids 

"I love Canada, although it's too hot right now," said Kenzo. "I'm so excited; I'm looking forward to the concert. It's going to be a new sound for them."

Kenzo often brings the Ghetto Kids as back-up dancers on his tours. The three girls and six boys, range in age from six to 16.

"These kids, I saw them in the ghetto; they are my neighbours. They had a dream, they trained to dance and they dance nice."

We started from ghetto on the streets of Kampala. Our dance style is different," said Patricia Nabakooza, 13, who dances with the Ghetto Kids. 

"I'm so happy to come to Canada. My first time. I am so happy," Nabakooza said.

Patricia Nabakooza, 13, is one of the nine-member Ugandan dance group Triplets Ghetto Kids. (tripletsghettokids.com)

"The way that we started our life, we did a song with our papa Eddy Kenzo that went viral and made us famous and that's how people got to know us."

The Ghetto Kids haven't forgotten where they come from. They've set up a foundation to help Ugandan street children get an education.

Peter Toh, president of Music Africa, organizes Afrofest, one of the largest free African music festivals in North America. He booked artists from all over Africa and Toronto to perform this year. 

After playing Afrofest this Sunday, Kenzo and the Ghetto Kids will play African music festivals in Edmonton, Vancouver and Ottawa .

Toh says landing Eddy Kenzo and the Ghetto Kids for their first Canadian performance was very important.

Peter Toh, president of Music Africa, who organizes Afrofest, says it's an honour that Eddy Kenzo and the Ghetto Kids will be making their first appearance at the 30th anniversary of the Toronto music and cultural festival. (CBC)

"It is their backstory. What they have been through and who they are is representative of many Africans' experience. And they play good music," said Toh.

"The orphans in Uganda, they see him and they say, 'You know what? Even though I'm on the streets I can become like Eddy Kenzo,'"

About the Author

Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with two decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for CBC Toronto on television, radio and online. He is also a National Reporter for The World This Weekend on Radio One.