BABA KAMAU - MY STORY
My baptized name is Erick. Mutunga is my African name, and my dad is called Mutua. So, my full name is Erick Mutunga Mutua. “Baba Kamau” is one of my nicknames which I got in high school. “Baba” means father in Swahili, and “Kamau” is a name of the Kikuyu tribe. For me, it’s a symbolic name that means “Father of many generations”. The generations of people that I meet along my way, and that I want to inspire. Through serving, or through my hard life.
“Teargas Ogutu” is my second nickname. Back in 2007 I was going to classes. It was the year of post election violence, and there was teargas everywhere. Still, we had to continue with our studies. At times, the smoke was entering our compounds and we started crying. That’s where the name “teargas” comes from. “Ogutu” is a Luo name. For me, it’s a combination of words. “Gusto” in English is energy or power. The same “Gusto” in our community means “Stone”. In the period of 2007, people were fighting and throwing stones at the policemen.
I was born on first of december, in the year 90, somewhere in Kibera. Our rural home is Ukambani, in the Machakos County. But all the life I can remember, I have spent here in Kibera. I am the second born in a family of eight. We were supposed to be nine, but one passed away just after his birth. Out of the eight, we remain now seven. My younger brother committed suicide back in 2015, when he was in his third year of university. He was in a boarding school where he spent the whole week, so we didn’t have the clear information why it had to go that way.
Success and pain in 2011
In 2011, I lost my mom. She had been sick for a while with a severe cancer, and she passed away in one of the main hospitals, the Kenyatta hospital.
I had begun my acting career somewhen back in high school. 2011 was the peak point of my career. By then, I was appearing in a national tv program called Inspector Mwala. Also in the Kenyan National Theatre, I was acting. I was going to do my very first show on national level. But two days before that, my mother passed away. We were supposed to travel across the country, so the show had to be pushed ahead.
Since then, it has been up and down. 2011 was a blessed year what concerned the acting, but a lot of pain came in. But what happened, happened, and I had to move on.
Time for education
I was acting professionally for some time, and then I decided to quit. I had not gone to college or to university. In my final exam, I had got a grade that would have allowed me to go to university, but there was no financial possibility by then. So finally, I invested the little savings I had made from my acting into academics. I paid my school fees for the first year. Then I thought: “Let the will of God happen.” Apart from school, I was doing some casual jobs and I received some little money from the government. At times, I was missing several weeks of class because I had to work and manage my financial situation. I didn’t want to ask my father for money, because he still had to support the remaining six of us. He was a gateman, and his salary was barely enough to get us through. Anyways, in the end I somehow got myself into the technical university of Kenya and completed the three years. I got a diploma in printing technology.
A diploma was not the best I was hoping for. Ideally, I wanted to get a degree, but the financial part just didn’t allow me to do this. I hope that someday I will go back and get it.
I wanted to do something that not many people understand, and I love the creative part of it. I chose something that would challenge my mind, make me think and think again. I like writing. Writing and publishing books, that was my world. I also like talking. Not random talking, but something meaningful. I love being a speaker, someone who can give a speech and deliver a message.
Back to acting
After university, I was working for the government press for five months. From there, I secured another casual job at a printing farm called Regal press. Plus, every Sunday for three years, I was working in a radio station. In 2015, after my brother committed suicide, I quit everything and never went back. After all this frustration, I just felt that I needed to do something that I love.
I had been my brother’s role model. Every academic standard I set, he broke it. I always inspired him to do bigger than what I did. I’m not the eldest, but I had been the first person in my family to step into a secondary school and complete it. The generation transition from home was something positive. After me, my brother kept setting new records. The academic records had now a new boss. And I decided to focus more on my acting again.
I wasn’t into the mainstream acting anymore since I had quit four years ago. But people told me: “Erick, we need you back.”
A football dream
By the time, I was also quite active in the football team. My football career wasn’t that bad. I had managed to reach only one step away from national league. But then I got a serious injury in my chest, and I had to be hospitalized for about a month. Another injury in my foot followed. This changed my football career and pushed me more towards acting and writing.
In the football team, we saw people losing hope. Some of us were very talented and in super good positions. But there was just no platform to become successful. As a consequence, some people turned to crime and drug use.
How I discovered the actor in me
Back in primary school, there were no arts. The school was more into sports, and I used to be the best goalkeeper. They knew: “If that guy is the keeper, you won’t have an easy day.” I grew up with that confidence. At the time, there was a tv program I liked a lot. I loved the two artists Mzee Ojwang and Olexander. I tried to act like them, and I made people laugh. From then on, it became a part of me.
Immediately after I entered high school, I was being branded. I was one of the shortest guys, and I was sitting at the back stage. Since I was so short, I was sitting on around six chairs on top of each other. I was determined to stay there, I didn’t want to move. Does it mean that short people can not sit at the back? It became a part of my identity. The teachers took me to the school’s acting club. So, in high school there was my first opportunity to get ahead with my acting.
Still during high school, I was involved in the catholic church. There were some competitions going on every year in august. We prepared in advance. This continuous training helped me improve a lot.
After high school, it was hassling time. And acting became my hassle. Acting was my main activity, and all the little income I got came from there. I got some opportunities to appear on national tv and on other national stages in Kenya. I’ve travelled across the country through acting. Not because of any profession, but because of a gift inside.
Acting and writing are two of the greatest things. You feel what other people are going through. You can step into anybody’s shoes. You can be a gangster, kill so many people and feel it. It will help you understand some things better.
Another discovery: I can write
Along the way I also discovered the writing part in me. In the beginning, I was only an actor, but I discovered that I love writing my own poems. I started writing choral verses. It’s like a poem but spoken by many people at the same time. I developed from my own writing to solo actor’s poems and poems for groups. People asked me to write for them. At some point I started doing script writing. I had so many stories on my mind. My first play was performed in 2013.
In 2014, something inspiring was happening. That script passed to all the higher levels and won so many prizes: The best script, the best actor, the best actress… For me, this was the peak of it. It motivated me to write even more, up to today. There are a lot of scripts in my archives, and I’ll release them one day.
Starting to be a mentor
For several years I supported people on their professional way in acting. I also worked closely with the catholic church. They gave me several certificates for my acting and my scripts. As much as my dream of being a footballer was disappearing, the gift of acting and writing was still intact. And the passion of the community was there.
Around 2012 I officially began nurturing other people. There were some interested people from the other side who came, and we trained each other. I had gained some skills from the theatre which I was passing on to them, bit by bit. Our team was growing strong. In competitions, it was hard to beat us.
I started joining Kica, which was not known as Kica yet. We did several activities with the community and tried to give back hope to people. By 2015, at the same time that I quit my job on the other side, for those people who had committed themselves to this art vision, we told ourselves: “Maybe it’s time to rebrand.” And that’s when “Kibera Creative Arts” got its name. We tried to add some more professional elements to it and go for it, full-time. We dedicated ourselves to this journey.
It wasn’t always easy to get what we needed for basic needs. You can’t just go home and say: “Dad, can I get something to eat?”. We had to survive.
Mostly, I help with words. I try to give advice to the artists about how they can package themselves, how they can present and behave themselves. I try to motivate and to encourage them. If we don’t encourage each other along the way, we might lose several. Also with the little income with get, we support each other. Every now and then someone approaches me with a problem they are facing. If they go out of their comfort zone and leave their privacy to talk to you, that means that they have seen something in you. These are the moments that inspire me.
What keeps me going
My mother, my brother and me, we were partners. In my new world without them, I thought: “Now, people want to see that mother and brother in you.” I had to give it to everyone.
Up to today, we are thankful to everyone and everything. It’s giving me peace seeing that we can make people happy. I have this driving force that tells me: “It’s not about me. It’s about them.” Can I leave a mark on their lives? Maybe just a word that can change a life. My biggest happiness is when someone tells me: “Erick, maybe I am where I am today because of what you taught me.” Not all of us are going to be big actors. But with the self confidence and with what you have learnt about yourself through the acting, you can apply it somewhere else and make it.
My biggest dream is that some day, there will be someone appearing on a big screen. He will be interviewed and he will say: “I am where I am because I have met these guys. They have inspired me to do better than them.” I hope and believe it will, some day.
My important people
Important people in my life are my parents and my super grandmother. She is 88 years old. This lady has been a pillar in my life. She is the one who brought me up. My sister and me were born with almost no time difference, so my grandma picked me up to help my parents. She has been like a mother to me.
And of course my brother who passed away. He was the best friend I ever had. He is someone you could just pour your heart out to. He was younger, but he was listening. He was also the one that would run up to you any time. The bond wasn’t just about family.
Since the beginning of this year, I’m planning a comeback. For a long time now, I’ve done much more of mentoring people and less of acting. Officially I’m registered as a kenyan actor. There are so many opportunities and I’ve been turning them down until I was ready. I’ve prepared my own profile and I’ll use it to go to auditions. Soon I’m beginning some shootings with the team to complete the profile with some videos. I know my abilities, and I hope to be back on screens in the next months.
If I could change anything here in Kibera, I would start with the basics. That is the employment of the people. Education: offer them the opportunity to take further education. With the increased number of high schools in Kibera, the high school students are more than before. But the number of people joining college or university is not going hand in hand with the number of high schools. This is something I would change. And then, the art in Kibera. We need to appreciate the art. I would like to give this bigger picture of art.
My message to the community
We have been brought up in a community that is full of stereotypes. The one who looks at Kibera, his first image will be poverty. The whole negative package: Crime, drugs, early pregnancy, abortion. But we people of Kibera, we know: We are not that. We are super beyond that. We are a brand, and an expensive product made out of love. So, we need to understand that we are beings that can do anything, as long as we believe in the great visions we have and act upon them.