Today our Man Around Nairobi is Victor Gatonye. Victor Gatonye is a Kenyan actor/Director and writer. He says “I am a Kenyan actor/director and writer full of passion to tell the African story in its context first, to its people then to the world. I have mostly been trained on the job over the last 10 years. I have managed to work with many like-minded persons both regionally and from around the world to achieve a number of good TV shows/concepts and also having the honour of helping new talent come to fruition.” He is also a scriptwriter and script editor, stage manager and Emcee.
Victor has directed shows like Makutano Junction, Kona TV series, One In A Million, Changes, KERU, FIHI, Bypass, Borderline, Nyumba Ten and Sunrise. Victor also has an extensive CV as an actor. He has acted in numerous plays and series including Wingu La Moto, Makutano Junction, Shuga 2, Papa Shirandula, Nyumba Ten among others.
One of Victor’s productions Fihi has been nominated for the Best Show in Indigenous language – Swahili, Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards (AMVCA). This is not Victor’s first nomination. He has been nominated for various awards and he has also won quite a few including Best TV director Kalasha awards Kenya 2009, Best show in the indigenous language (Swahili) Africa viewer’s choice awards, Mama Duka. (Ruth Ndulu Maingi and Victor Gatonye) 2014 and Nyumba 10 and Fihi were in 2015 nominated Africa magic viewer’s choice awards in Lagos for the best TV show in an indigenous language.
1. Did you grow up in Nairobi?
I was born at Pumwani hospital and lived in the area for a couple of years as my mother had been serving in Kenya Army, Ministry of Defense afterwards she retired at Sergeant level. She then moved to Kenya Railways, and got stationed at Railways training school (RTS) in South B so we moved there. It is in “B” that I grew up, kicking off school at RTS kindergarten where after school I played in the railway workshops and mingled with college students from all over Kenya. Back then we had KECOSO games which were intergovernmental co-operation national games so there were teams like Railways, Kenya Post and Telecommunications, Kenya Police and many others. So at an early age, I had friends from all walks of life-shaping my worldview.
Life was simple and sweet. I went to a Harambee primary school just close to our home, Plainsview Primary school where later in 1994 I had my first lead in a play. I had been involved in a lot of art in church but this one was the first major performance courtesy of Mrs Andako my class seven teacher.
I loved keeping and training pigeons, at one point I had so many our roof was white in colour due to their poop. The birds would follow me as far as Madaraka estate as we loved taking long walks then. There was a growing social class division and every area had gangs, so like many other kids I did find myself in an estate grouping, “Ghetto boys”. Those were some naughty boys! It was the love for performance arts that would get me out of a near-crazy thug life. Funny enough the older boys in the gangs would end up being my biggest fans when I hit the national theater circles and up to now in my works on-screen.
Later at Highway Secondary School was when I would get the chance to fully exhibit my talent and I was awarded best actor in Nairobi province in 1999 at the Schools Drama Festivals. The People magazine (Peter Kimani) would later do an article on me propelling me to the professional theatre circles and later on to TV/Film.
Years later, I am now a company director/creative director at Zamaradi Productions, makers of 71 films and Nyumba Kumi on Maisha Magic, Fihi, La Msingi, Kwa JP, By Pass and Borderline (Star times), Sunrise and Trade centre (Zuku), KERU (K-24). Previously I had also worked on shows like Makutano Junction, Papa Shirandula, Changes, Tusker All Stars and Big brother Africa. I studied Marketing in Campus, and worked shortly as a marketing manager at Sterling Q but later I followed my interests in art. Ironically, I have never set foot in a film school, but I have attended numerous film, theatre workshops and also learnt on the job from serving tea on set to directing and creating. It’s been a time and a half.
2. What do you love about Nairobi?
Since it has always been main city in Africa and significant in the world, Nairobi is a fun place to grow up in. You will meet people from different places,it is easy to access information, and schooling was also fun and crazy. One grows up with multi-cultural nature and hence can be able to harness the best from these interactions with different people.
I have come to love the people in Nairobi and now as a Creative, a lot of my work is based on the average “Nairobian” working hard to survive the concrete jungle. I think I enjoyed too much fame earlier in theater that I quickly grew out of it and now I love mingling with everyone, anyone and everywhere so that my art can be as authentic as possible. I aim to tell my people’s stories from their eyes.
The best thing about Nairobi is if you are sharp enough you can earn a living doing what you love. My parents let me follow my dreams, of course after a few battles but they encouraged me to do whatever I wanted. My father having worked for the longest time at Kenya Railways had travelled widely in the 70s–90s in Eastern Africa and Mum being a former Kenya army Officer, were exposed parents so they let us find our ways early. I will forever be grateful to them for that!
3. What would you change about Nairobi?
I would change the style of leadership; we need people who encourage true investment back into the City. Nairobi people earn money only to use most of it in buying foreign products because of their so-called worldwide exposure. However, we need to invest in our Kenyan innovators, be fair to them and not reap them off in the name of investments into their businesses only to sell them off to foreigners. It is silly how so many companies go by the name “Africa this” or “Kenya that” or “the Nairobi yada yada” yet their ownership is mostly foreign. Good leadership will help protect our innovators.
Cleanliness should be a personal thing not the sole work of the county council. We need to love our environment more: the rivers, parks, and roads and do proper garbage disposal. We also need to use less polyethene bags when we shop, it is risky as they end up on the roads, choking the aesthetics of the City. I find there are so many religious, social, and economic groupings – they should have in their manifestos statements of environmental hygiene by law.
Security is a great thing for investments but it needs to be logical security. Due to the somewhat shallow understanding of terrorism and crime, there are at times many restrictions for no logical reasons in the City. People should be allowed to film, take photographs or have events like carnivals without being treated as if they are endangering the City. We need to find ways of making this happening within proper security operations and to educate officers on the need to sell our town not just by getting money through fees and taxes but by a good reputation worldwide. I would want to feature the Nairobi city skyline in each of my shows, and fly a drone to capture images but don’t make it look like I am a threat, I am selling my City!
4. As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
As a creative Nairobi offers a good place to develop concepts due to its diversity. Also to a great level financing is easier due to connections being made easier through technology. The city is also famous and when one travels just by saying you are from Nairobi people treat one with respect, even western countries.
However, industry-wise the City has too many unnecessary laws chasing away artists for no good reason. Filmmakers being free thinkers are often viewed as enemies of the state. There seems to be a silent fear in our minds, what will they come up with next? We need to bridge this gap of understanding. Creatives are here to stay actually we never die – someone, somewhere always picks up from your legacy so the City’s leadership and the region, in general, need to review its opinion of us.
The city also needs education on turning away from its “euro-centric” nature; City people need to be the first to buy from home innovators. They also need to stop unfairly comparing exports to homemade goods and services, we need to give support to our ideas. If City dwellers do that in time the rest of the country will follow suit – in time we won’t rely on the West but we will even be contributing to the world not just by consuming finished goods or refined services but by offering our versions of them to the world at a prime fee…Yes, I said it!!
5. If you had a tourist friend coming in from outside the country what three things would you say to sell them the idea that Nairobi is worth visiting?
Nairobi’s beauty is real and memorable! They must visit the rooftop of KICC, Drive on River road at 11 Am and enjoy the delicacies and fun of its nightlife!
I would take them to the Nairobi National Museum, then drop down to the KICC root top then go down to the carnivore for great delicacies then we can end the night by topping it off with a drink at the Ole Sereni… That’s it, I really never go out a lot in Nai.
If you would like to interact with Victor Gatonye you can find him on Twitter at @victorgatonye and also on Facebook.