Sawa… The fame game

| October 5, 2012 - 14.09UTC
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In Kenya, the line between fame and fake is so blurred that celebrities can be made – and unmade – in the twinkling of a camera’s flashbulb, says Josaya Wasonga.

Kenya has exported athletes, doctors, alien absconders and ‘domestic personnel’. Surely we could do likewise – and make 
a killing in the process – with celebs. And I know how we can package this, er, going concern: with three chasing, triangulated arrows – ‘recycled’.

Why, we’re the only country with a college that churns out celebrities. KIMC is renowned for producing media practitioners. Kenya Institute of Mass Communication, right? Wrong. That’s so old-school, I’m told. Nowadays it’s cheekily referred to as the Kenya Institute of – guess what – Making Celebs. Puh-lease.

It’s only in Kenya that one becomes an instant ‘celeb’ by being in the background of a standupper. Which explains why, during dry runs, wananchi jostle for that one precious film frame. What about frogs-in-their-throats types, who audition for singing reality shows then raise a stink when they’re canned? That has ‘celeb-seeking’ written all over it.

The idea of ‘15 seconds of fame’ must’ve come from my motherland. Take Mbonoko, for instance. Before the other Easter he was just another guy who’d witnessed an extrajudicial killing. Next thing, some smart DJ put beats to Mbonoko’s feverish sound bite, and it went viral. Now the dude’s a radio presenter… my bad – celeb.

Still, celebrity is relative. A few years ago, a member of one of Kenya’s leading boy bands was sharing his North American experience. “One day, while driving, we saw P Diddy coming from a store… before we reversed to go and holler, he was gone.” 
Baby, that’s how our glitterati can turn, pretty damn quick, into Tinseltown groupies.

In Kenyan celeb circles, telling wannabe from real McCoy can be tough. Apparently, being a celeb’s bud, bodyguard or kin – heck, even name-dropping – almost makes one an equal. Remember the ‘Obamania’, and how supposed relatives materialised from thin air, each claiming a piece of the POTUS?

Anything goes, man. I know a fop or two who’ve scored because they know someone, who knows a one-hit wonder, who’s scouting for video vixens. Seems like familiarity, however vague, breeds contemporariness.

Recently on Citizen TV’s breakfast show, the hosts, Mutegi Njau and Jimmy Gathu, were doing a newspaper review. One of the features in the entertainment pullout was on Shaffie Weru, a drive-time DJ on Kiss FM.

Mutegi is old-line, and couldn’t cotton on. “What does he do?” the presenter growled, as Jimmy hemmed and hawed.

That’s the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question. What does a celeb do, really? I’m not too sure about ‘do’, as a verb. But the noun – shindigs and all – are the hallmarks of a local celeb. Hobnobbing with the café society. That’s more like it.

The definition of a celeb is, basically, someone who’s famous in their lifetime. In Kenya, though, celeb is anyone who ‘makes’.  Makes music, pictures, the cover of a mag, the A list, prime-time news, gossip columns or mad moolah.

That’s code two-five-four’s celeb culture, sawa?

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