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A legend, pioneer, master thespian, hero

July 29, 2015 1 comment

“Next! Your name please,” St Peters said as he logged in the names of the evening arrivals at the Pearly Gates on Sunday 12, 2015.

“McDonald, McGregory, Ojwang’, Hatari, Ondiek, Mang’ang’a, Sibuor, Brrrrrrr! Hm Eh Otoyo, Esquire,” came the response that did not only capture St Peters’ attention but also brought a smile on his face. “How are you Sir?”

Mzee Ojwang Hatari. (courtesy of venasnews)

Mzee Ojwang Hatari. (courtesy of venasnews)

“That introduction brought a smile to many households back there on earth, Mzee Ojwang or shall I call you by the other unknown name Benson Wanjau,” St Peters quipped as he busied himself. “Some of your former colleagues and friends who came up here earlier have continued to be class acts. Amka Twende and Othoron’gon’go Danger never tire to remind us that “a cow boy never dies. And when he dies, he never rots. And when he rots, he never smells. And when he smells, nobody knows.”

“Those two were outstanding,” Mzee Ojwang said laughing heartily. “That phrase was always followed by their antics that endeared them to many. It earned them and our group a chance to do that Doom commercial— you remember that part where they would all shout “inaua mende wanakufa fo! fo! fooo!! and then make some really funny faces.”

This made them all laugh out loud. Mzee Ojwang continued the banter as he recalled some genius moments with his pals Masanduku arap Simiti, Wariahe bin Huu, Mzee Mombasa, Amka Twende and Othoron’gon’go. There were others like Mzee Pembe, Athumani Kipanga, Mzee Mombasa Mwambao

“How is my good brother “Lifingstone, Chonstone, Amachina, Tamaa pin Tamaa, Tiii Ti into pracket? also known as Peter Lukoye, Mzee Ojwang inquired. “When can I meet all these guys?”

“They are all fine and today they are doing a dress rehearsals of their next act that will be opening in a few days’ time,” St Peters told Mzee Ojwang. “It looks like your coming here this evening has caused a flurry of activities back there. Just come and see these screens. I think the comments can make very good scripts. What do you think?”

Celebration

“That exchange that followed Daniel “Churchill” Ndambuki aka Mwalimu King’ang’i’s comments can make a very good crowd scene,” Mzee Ojwang pointed out to St Peters. “He is a young man who has taken the art a notch higher and while we inspired him, he has strove to give others a platform to excel. The laughter industry is sparkling.”

Paying their last respect. A generation inspired by Mzee Ojwang

Paying their last respect. A generation inspired by Mzee Ojwang

“Indeed he is propping others in the same way he was offered a platform by the Redykylus Trio of KJ, Nyambane, Tony and others whom you inspired, mentored and supported,” observed St Peters. “These took the art of political satire to greater heights but they too had trailblazers like Joni Nderitu, who set Mbalamwezi Players one Saturday afternoon during the Harvest of Plays festival organised by the then vibrant Theatre Workshop Players.”

“Of course Joni Nderitu joined you up here a while back,” Ojwang observed. “He too was a pioneer of repute in the theatre scene.”

“He had a way with politicians,” added St Peters. “At the Festival, he played Mzee Jaramogi and had everyone in stitches and this same crowd almost bolted out or moved close the nearest exit when started his act of satirizing the former President arap Moi.”

“Pioneers also included Steve Muturi, Kachumbari ‘sugar n spice,’ and now he is known as Generali,” Mzee Ojwang said. “And oh yes there was also Shabbir Ansari, who “discovered” by Steve Muturi after he picked him from the audience, was quite an act.”

“Word has just come in that Churchill’s next show will be dedicated to you and the other legends. A celebration for legends,” St Peters informed Mzee Ojwang. “That young man called KJ has also made a compilation that is also very touching. Look at the exchange.”

KJ: A legend, pioneer, master thespian, hero. True legends never die.

KB: Thanks for this KJ! This guy and his crew (Othorongongo, Amka Twende) made our childhood awesome.

KJ: That elaborate signature greetings routine complete with high fives, fist bumps, leg tags and hip bump.

JW: KJ Asante. Huyu ndiye Baba yetu.

KJ: The original king of comedy. This guy and his generation of thespians opened the doors!

WAA: Awesome tribute KJ. Ojwang was our first childhood celeb actor that we knew of, together with his crew. A true legend indeed. May he RIP.

DMK: Merci beaucoup mon ami KJ for this! Singekosa vitimbi. …childhood memos. May our HERO RIP till we all meet him again!

KJ: Tulikuwa wengi maRegular kila wiki. “Artists don’t retire, they just step down” – Benson Wanjau, in an interview.

JKT: It’s unfortunate after all these year’s because I have known him since I was 4-years old; that he had to die of a treatable disease, you humour will forever remain in our heart R.I.P Mzee Ojwang.

CW: What a legend!…to make people laugh, from his stage names, to his gestures, with everything he had, he made us all happy. May the Lord keep his soul in peace.

 

Thespians-- a generation that was inspired by Mzee Ojwang to take up acting and comedy

Thespians– a generation that was inspired by Mzee Ojwang to take up acting and comedy

“The observations that have been made after you left are insightful,” St Peters remarked as he scrolled up the screen and double tapped to enlarge the messages for Mzee Ojwang, whose eyes were still recovering after the treatment several months ago. “Not so many people know or recall your real name as Benson Wanjau. People are fascinated by this. Look at what was written on twitter by Mutahi Ngunyi.”

“It is NOT a tragedy that Ojwang Hatari has DIED. It would be a TRAGEDY if we let DIE what he left ALIVE in us—a KIKUYU best known as a LUO.”

“It is called embracing and living the character,” Mzee Ojwang chuckled.

“Indeed,” St Peters remarked. “Would you consider what this oral artist called Kimingichi Wabende says? He says that when the late Okot p’Bitek wrote his book Artist the Ruler, he had you (Ojwang) in mind. “With his tongue and smiles he won people. He needed no army to enforce loyalty. Thinking…every great man needs a controversy: Ojwang is known more by his stage name, do you think he should be buried in Kisumu….just thinking.”

“That is an interesting question and observation,” Mzee Ojwang stated. “My opinion is that perhaps this can be discussed broadly and possibly look at the question of people who can be considered as national icons. People who belong to the whole nation and not just their communities.”

Mama Kayai (Mary Khabere) Mzee Ojwang's "partner" and friend.

Mama Kayai (Mary Khabere) Mzee Ojwang’s “partner” and friend.

 What Values?

“My good man, you used your talent well. You didn’t go and bury it in some corner,” St Peters remarked. “But these comments have not just been about your success. It wasn’t easy for you as a pioneer. Why did you do it? Was it for the money? The fame? The good life?”

“We loved our trade,” Mzee Ojwang answered after reflecting for a while. “As human, we have our weaknesses. We triumph over many obstacles. We sacrificed many things to remain in the trade that was our first love. And it is often said, love makes you do many crazy things.”

“There is a strong debate that has come up Mzee Ojwang,” said St Peters. “Look at this thread generated by a pioneer theatre artist, just like you.”

Njeri: Ojwang Hatari…RIP. He was not overlooked. He was a pioneer. And pioneers live a hard life. He should have won an Oscar. He did not. But he pioneered Lupita. Everything and everybody has a season. He did what he had to do and so celebrate his life’s achievements and not bemoan his not being a millionaire. I liked him just the way he was.

Jane: Well said Njeri

Rashid: Ata wewe Njeri Luseno ni pioneer. Whether they know it or not, Lupita and other budding stars are standing on your shoulders. Asanteni pioneer artists, no amount of money can repay what you so selflessly gave the people of Kenya. God bless you all. Amen.

Njeri: Thank you Rashid. I live for those days. Best days of my existential search and growth. Nothing passes me but for my third theater eye!

Kimani: Spot on Njeri…sadly our national psyche is based on the premise that success and a great legacy is a monetary thing…

Wanja:  Well put Njeri and Kimani. Success is not always monetary, driving latest models of cars, etc. It is deep in our hearts – it is satisfaction that you are doing what you do as best as you can and in what he did, there was no one like him.

Njuguna: Words of wisdom Njeri. Lets respect his life but ensure that a policy is formulated which will take care of others.

Rosemary: Well put Njeri. And you are a pioneer too! There are many pioneers whose names should be scrolled on the National Theatre walls!

Charity: People l support fully….Njeri you are a pioneer too, all that old theatre group. Remember the late Stella Awinja ,late Anne Wanjugu or late Jerry Okungu but they are the great living ones like you Njeri wa Luseno ,Wakanyote, Odi,…All and many more….l pray God gives us a chance to celebrate this year..

Nzioka: Njeri you are spot on. Ojwang Hatari did his thing and did it very well. However we must ask some questions…now following your statement, I beg to ask…is it not Lupita’s time (As an individual) to help government to create a marshal plan for the arts in Kenya?

Maria: He may not have been a millionaire, but his popularity was 2nd to none. For years he generated so much love and laughter to generations of Kenyans….he has left behind an amazing legacy!

“These are deep reflections by my country mate,” observed a reflective Ojwang. “As artists, we played our part of entertaining the country. This debate on intrinsic values is equally important but it often seems to be ignited at times like this.”

The Judge (Lucy Wangui).  Pioneers, alongside Mzee Ojwang

The Judge (Lucy Wangui). Pioneers, alongside Mzee Ojwang

“These are deep reflections by my country mate,” observed a reflective Ojwang. “As artists, we played our part of entertaining the country. This debate on intrinsic values is equally important but it often seems to be ignited at times like this.”

“Indeed,” St Peters interjected. “This debate came up when guys like Tamaa bin Tamaa, Wariahe bin Ho, Mzee Pembe, pioneer musicians like Fundi Konde, Daudi Kabaka, Fadhili Williams etc. all left. While they used their talents, they brought joy to many. They were a success. However, many didn’t have a lot of that earthly possession and have often been viewed as unsuccessful. What is the measure of success?”

 Ironies of Life

“Those are the ironies that we have lived with, St Peters, those are the ironies,” said Mzee Ojwang in a rather gloomy voice that seemed to underscore these paradoxes in their lives. “St Peters, it is said that to those whom much has been given, much will be required. Many people who can change this narrative right from the President, his deputy, ministers, governors, senators, leaders in the opposition who were in government, the former President, former ministers and many other places where they can make a difference have talked glowingly about the joy me and many others like me brought. The media and many commentators have offered their advice. But much is required to make it better for those who come after us and even the talented team that is still keeping the wheel going.”

“That then puts these remarks in perspective,” St Peters said while looking at the comments on the screen that he had just opened. “Look at the comments on this screen by Suzanne and Mutisya.”

Suzanne: Forgive me if I take the Daily Nation editorial on national celebrities and stars deserving better with a pinch of salt. A national endowment fund for the arts is all very well. But coming from the establishment that has fought tooth and nail not to pay intellectual property rights to the CMO’s, let alone airing more local content on its airwaves…. Well – methinks you should take the log out of your own eye.

Mutisya: Ma artist wetu bado ni masuffara. Ojwang died a suffara! We need to do something about this especially now that everyone is talking about the youth. This is the time to have a sustainable intervention in the creative industry.

“Ah look at me now engaging you in all this discussion when we have the whole eternity ahead of us to catch up and compare notes,” St Peter quickly added. “Welcome past this gates. Let us find someone to show you to your new quarters and make you comfortable.

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