You have probably seen him on tv in some of Kenya’s well-known tv productions. Papi OdeQ is an Actor, Singer, Songwriter, and Film Script-Writer. Over the years, he has not only played with various leading bands in Kenya but also starred in full-length movies, including; SHATTERED (Alongside Nigeria’s Rita Dominic) and leading TV Drama Series, among them WASH & SET and MALI, both on NTV. He has also acted in comedies like Kuku Inn. He has also featured in stage plays/musicals and some of them include Out of Africa musical – Europe tour 2012, Eric Wainaina’s Lwanda tour 2007/08 and Mumbi Kaigwa’s Kigezindoto European tour 2006.
Papi OdeQ is also the founder and lead singer of Tamasha Beats, a band he initially founded as an all-male-acapella band, but which now features and includes a full instrumental playing unit. The band has performed all over Kenya, and they have also performed in South Africa and Tanzania.
Papi OdeQ grew up in the sprawling Maringo Estate of Nairobi in Kenya. As a child growing up in the notorious Eastlands Area of Nairobi, Papi witnessed many young people being consumed by crime and drugs around Maringo Estate but he managed to escape all these vices by, diving head-first, into performing arts, way back in 2001, after completing his Secondary School education.
Papi grew up listening to lots of Benga, Rhumba and Kenyan-Folk Music that was always played by his father on the old gramophone. These genres of music have greatly influenced Papi’s writing and music recording. Papi calls his style of music BENGA-FUSION since he makes music that is a fusion of the contemporary Afro-Fusion, traditional Kenyan Folk music and golden Benga tunes.
Thinking back to childhood what was your first experience with acting? How long have you been acting?
My first acting experience can actually qualify to also be my worst. Let me explain. I was 7 years old in Std. 1 at St. Paul’s Primary School in Mbotela Estate, Nairobi. By the way, I’m yet to understand why my dad took me and my two brothers to St. Paul’s in Mbotela Estate (All my five sisters went to Our Lady of Mercy, Shauri Moyo) yet we used to stay in Ofafa Maringo Estate, an estate that had two primary schools; St. Patrick’s Primary School and Dr, Krapf Primary School. But I digress.
On this day in 1989 Mrs Nganda, our class teacher, was teaching us C.R.E. The story that the lesson was based on was the biblical story of Prophet Samuel. After brief discussions, Mrs Nganda told us to enact the part of the story where a young Samuel, while sleeping, hears his name being called (apparently by God (sic)) but he goes to the Priest who is Eli thinking that it’s him (Eli) who has called him. Some background: The bible says that Samuel was born to Hannah ‘miraculously’ and since Hannah had promised God that she would give her child to serve Him, Hannah sent Samuel to live in the synagogue (or was it a temple, or church?). Thus, Samuel lived with Eli like a son or something. The story goes that Samuel was called three times, all the while going to Eli until Eli told her to respond with ‘Yes, Lord, It is me your servant’ (or something close to that, I don’t know…) when called again. Samuel was called again and responded as aforementioned and that marked his call to prophethood.
So, I was cast to play the role of, you guessed it right, Eli. Now, this is where the ‘worst’ part rears its ugly head. After being cast, I assumed my character, and position as Eli, the Priest. Remember Eli was sleeping. So, I also slept. On a bench or desk, I think. Samuel was called and when he came to see Eli, Eli rose from his ‘bed’ so confidently and sat up. Samuel enquired from the priest if he was the one who had called out his name but instead of responding, all hell broke loose and this is where it gets worse and worst!
See, I stammered very heavily when I was a kid. It was so bad that I couldn’t even speak sometimes. On this day, due to some unexplainable tension, Eli, aka Odek, could not utter even a single word. Eli struggled to speak but the words simply ‘refused to come out’. The ‘audience’ which consisted of one Patrick ‘Charlie’ Oketch, currently of Citizen TV Hit Show Mother-In-Law, were all dying in fits of laughter. To make matters worse for me, my class teacher, Mrs Nganda, ‘de-rolled’ me, punished me for apparently, being rude and not ‘speaking’ when I should have spoken and ordered me to go back to my seat. She then took another boy to do the role. To say I was humiliated is an understatement.
From that not-so-good experience as I child, I must have told myself, albeit subconsciously, that I will become one of the best actors in this country if only, to prove Mrs Nganda wrong. That silent and anonymous voice seems to have urged me on and from that day, through my acting escapades and as Drama Club Chairman in Nyang’oma Secondary School, Bondo, where one of my junior members was Phelix ‘Jalang’o’ Odiwuor, until today, 2018, when I will be celebrating my 17 years as a professional performing artist. Performing Artist because I am a multi-disciplinary performer. I act (screen & stage), dance (started off as a traditional dancer at Chelepe Arts) and sing (I am the founder and bandleader of Tamasha Beats – a relatively successful band since 2008).
Who are your acting influences? Which actors do you look up to?
Honestly, other than the cast whom I may be acting alongside in a particular production, and whom I normally credit with helping get the best out of me, I have never thought about other actors’ performances as influencing my craft. However, there are actors with whom I enjoy their various works. Tyler Perry – The Master Film Maker, I love him and his works because of his ability to write, act, direct and produce a production all at the same time, and successfully so. I want to be like him someday. I also love Damian Lewis’ performances in the American TV Shows Life and Homeland. Jim Caviezel is also an exceptional talent. I’m particularly impressed with how he’s able to take up the challenging roles he plays. Michael Emerson’s performance in Person Of Interest, alongside Jim Caviezel, endeared him to me.
3. What made you first realize that you wanted to pursue a career in acting?
I never chose to pursue acting, or, for that matter, performing arts as a career. I was in no position to choose anything because I never had any clearly marked choices. I grew up in Ofafa Maringo Estate in Eastlands area of Nairobi city. Eastlands was, and is still, known for its notoriety. Crime is rife in Eastlands. When I was growing up it was worse. I have friends who were felled by the bullet. Opportunities were limited in Eastlands because of both perceived and real reasons. One reason was that most of our parents could only afford income barely enough for subsistence use. But we had a refuge in arts. Performing Arts. This was the best way to escape being involved in crime. The other choice we had was sports. This explains why some of the best sportsmen and artists emanate from Eastlands. I found myself in the arts. Arts chose me. Arts became my refuge.
What advice would you give to acting beginners who are nervous?
I think that if you’re nervous then you, certainly, are doing the right thing in your life. Nerves are okay because they are channelled as adrenaline during the performance, thus powering any performance with positivity. Do not fear when you have nerves. It means you care so much about what you are getting involved in, or doing, such that you wouldn’t want to mess it up. Keep on!
What do you think your biggest break or greatest opportunity has been so far in your career?
I can’t really put my finger on any single ‘big break’ in my career. Ask any performing artist and they’ll tell you that they yearn for the day they shall be able to showcase their craft abroad to an audience that is hearing about them, and what they do, for the first time. In 2006 I managed to perform in the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy. I was part of the cast of KIGEZINDOTO, a musical-theatre production by renowned actor and playwright, Mumbi Kaigwa. In 2012, again, I toured Europe (Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark) for 3 months performing the musical theatre show, OUT OF AFRICA! By Peter Ultee Productions B.V Amsterdam and Meerkat Productions. Part of the cast that we toured with included; Amileena Mwenesi, Silayio Silayio (Neema Ntaalel), Anto Neo-Soul, Patricia Kihoro, Charles Ouda, Mkamzee Mwatela among others.
My first gig on TV, Wash N Set (2008) also defines a big break for me. In 2011 I was featured in my first-ever full-feature film, SHATTERED! Which featured Nollywood superstars Rita Dominic, Robert Burale, and Ojiambo Ainea among others superstars.
6. People may know you for your acting but not for your scriptwriting skills! What other stuff do you do?
I was the lead writer at Zamaradi Productions for the TV Shows; FIHI and Trade Centre among others. I’m also part of the team that conceptualizes and writes scripts for Inspekta Mwala.
I’m also a singer. I founded and lead a band Tamasha Beats. I have two studio albums out. UNVEILED (2011) and WATU SIMBA – Kilio Cha Kenya (2017)
I also, recently, added the title ‘Vlogger’ to my name. I host a vlog called BENGA CHRONICLES on YouTube where I speak about the music I’m passionate about BENGA MUSIC.
Are you that funny in real life?
Lol! I must admit, as a person I have a very good sense of humour. People laugh a lot when I’m around them and in a good mood. This is what has also enabled me to become a successful EMCEE for all kinds of events.
8. How long does it take you to internalize a performance after reading the script?
It depends on how intense the role is. Whenever I get a new script, mostly for lengthier lead roles, I will read the first batch of scripts (if it’s a TV series) or the whole script (in case of a movie) twice or thrice before shooting day 1. I also ‘gather my thoughts’ around the character and decipher the several facets of their lifestyle. But most importantly I get the role as expounded on by my director. But for supporting and featured roles it is possible to be given the script while on set, read and walk on set in 10 minutes to deliver the performance.
If you had a chance to change something in the entertainment industry what would it be?
I would increase the percentage of local content aired/shown on local TV networks, radio channels, theatres and cinemas by up to 70%; be it music, TV Drama shows, movies, or plays, and also give subsidies for their production.
What are the challenges of being an actor?
Minimal, or lack, of recognition by the state authorities, thus lack of required subsidies to boost the actors’ craft and their earnings
An audience that is non-receptive and overly critical of the actor’s performance.
Media bosses who put a very minimal premium on works by performing artistes.
Weak regulatory and welfare bodies/organizations that are charged with streamlining and governing the operations of matters performing arts.
Non-availability of training institutions (and opportunities) that may contribute to the capacity development of actors. The few institutions that are available are mostly very expensive and unfordable to many performing artists.
11. Describe yourself in three words?
Confident, decisive and patient
12. What would you be doing if you weren’t an actor?
I would be a medic (Most probably a nurse) in the military. If I were to turn back the clock and the option of being a performing artist is taken off the table, then I would go to nursing school and seek admission into the military.
13. Where do you hope to see yourself in 10 years?
As a singer; in 10 years I will be part of the biggest international touring band and music project from Kenya. The music project, SOKO HURU, is a Benga Music project that is a brain-child of Ricky Nanjero (renowned bassist and band leader; Ricky na Marafiki Band), John Were (Renowned Lead Guitarist) and myself, where we seek to get back Benga Music to the glory it enjoyed in the 60s, 70s and 80s as Kenya’s most successful and foremost music genre.
As an actor; in 10 years I should be in a position to write, act in, direct and produce my own movies and TV Shows.
Can somebody learn how to act, or it has to be inborn?
Passion and willingness to learn are the foremost prerequisites for anyone who wants to learn anything. Thus, one can learn how to act if they have the passion and are willing to put in the work. However, possession of natural and inborn talent is an added advantage. Inborn talent makes learning easier and quicker, plus there are qualities like confidence, artistic intuition and artistic intelligence that can never be taught or may take too long to instil in someone who doesn’t naturally possess them.
What are your thoughts on the future of the Kenyans acting in the global space?
I am an optimist. I choose to look at the future with a positive perspective. With the liberalization of the airwaves (read Digital TV Space) and the embracing of the digital spaces provided by YouTube and other new media platforms, it is safe to say that most artists shall continue to create content, which shall then be aired through all these channels and which, eventually, shall turn the focus of the ‘telescopes’ of the mega producers, who have ‘mega monies’, to Kenya.
The achievements of Lupita Nyong’o and, by extension, the likes of Eddie Gathegi in Hollywood may just arouse the interest of Hollywood producers in Kenya.
The African continent continues to experience cross-border collaborations in the production of films and TV Shows. This trend is bound to continue and even increase in frequency.
Kenyan producers shall continue to produce more award-winning movies and TV Shows.
Potentash Founder. A creative writer. The Managing Editor at Potentash. Passionate about telling African stories and stories about the inclusion of minorities. Find me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We're all stories, in the end.” ― Steven Moffat