Grass to Grace: The untold story of Jalang’o

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Felix Odiwuor alias Jalas, Heavy J papa, the morning talk show radio presenter alongside Kamene Goro on Kiss 100.He is also the C.E.O of Arena Media, the company that brings you The Luo Festival thrice every year. He is also the Kenyan top Emcee.

He was born and raised in Homabay town in Homabay town; he was born in a family with a very humble background, both parents where native famers who could toil to provide for their children.

Jalango attended his primary school in Homabay Lake primary school, waking up at dusk walking all the way to school for eight good years bear footed in the morning dew and when the sun was overhead scorching ,he walked on the heated ground bare footed, pupils would always break for lunch when the time comes, Jalango would at times go back home for lunch only to find nothing to eat, he would opt to drink water and get back to school.

Hard work seldom goes unpaid, Jalango indeed gave his O level exams his best and passed with 427 marks that saw him getting a calling letter to join Maseno National school in Kisumu county, but again there was a problem at home, despite his exemplary performance in the O level exams, the dad could not afford to pay his secondary school fees, worse still, it was a national school whose fees and entry requirements were slightly demanding than the local schools around. The father then had to call a few of his friends and relatives and organized for a fundraising to finance his high school studies.

As if fate was not on their side, after organizing for harambee and soliciting funds for school fees, things never went as planned. Jalango and his dad travelled several kilometers from Homabay town to Maseno School, almost 200kilometers, only to reach the school and be informed that Jalango’s chance has already been given to another student and that Jalango could not get admission into the school since they were a week late from the official admission date.

They had no option but to travel back to Homabay town to try and look for another way out, the dad then decided to take him to Bar Kanyango secondary school in Siaya County, where he joined with the Maseno school uniform since the dad did not have any extra penny to buy him a new school uniform. Here still, school fees was a problem in the first year, it forced his father to transfer him to Nyangoma Boys in Bondo where his elder brother George was schooling.it therefore meant that George had to drop out of school to enable his younger brother Jalango to continue with his studies.

The dad could pay fees with virtually anything he had, he could supply the school with maize, beans and firewood, Jalango often felt embarrassed when his father came to school during the assemblies and every one could stare at his father carry the cereals to school, other students could mock or even make fun of him or the father, something that pained him dearly at heart, but he endured all that pain.

He toiled through the high school life and finally managed a C+ in KCSE exams, by that time a C+ was an equivalent of an A plain in a National school like Maseno School, the school had no resources, from teachers to learning aids like the laboratory, one had to toil by himself to pass, things like Bunsen burner were news to them, they only came to see it during the KCSE examination which they did in a neighboring school which had those equipment, you can now imagine how hard the young man had toiled to get that result.

A year later Jalango approached his dad to inquire on whether he was to join an institution of higher learning just like his other colleagues who had qualified just like him. His dad had never laughed like that before, his dad then looked at him and said unto him “My son, you have just seen the toil and struggle I have gone through to take you through your high school studies, what in your same mind thinks I can afford to pay your high school fees?” This implied that he was to be at home as his fellow age mates joined institutions of higher learning.

He became a fisherman in Homabay, fishing in the great Lake Victoria, As others were sleeping at night, Jalango was out the in the cold at the middle of the lake fishing, bare chested, with mosquitoes all over the lake, casting their nets into the lake and at dawn.

Jalango did this for a while and left it for fish mongering at Capital Fish company limited in Homabay, It was a company that was buying fish from fishermen, processing and packaging it for transportation to Kisumu for airing to other parts of the country, Jalango got a job of packing fish into the large coolers used to transport them.

Jalango set on a journey the following to Nairobi, he was received well by his uncle who resided in Lavington. After two weeks, he was well conversant with the everything in the house, his relative then sent away everyone and converted him to a houseboy to do virtually everything in the house. Jalango one day thought to himself “look, this is not what I wanted” he left Lavington to go and stay with his uncle, Ochieng’ who resided in Quarry, Embakasi right in the slum.

While staying with his uncle, Ochieng’, Jalango ventured into arts which he had loved and embraced since he was in high school, in high school he was virtually in every co-curricular activity, be it music, drama or sports, the fact was that Jalango could do anything possible to go out on functions and it became a common knowledge that the school bus could not leave without Jalango inside it, this is where the passion for arts all started. He did all manner of manual jobs anyone could ever think of, most of which were so weird, be it “Mjengo”-construction jobs, car wash, counting and packaging of sweets at an Indian company, ideally Jalango did any job he could come by to put food on the table.

After work, he used to go for each and every theatrical audition he could come by, he tried several auditions, failed and still went back without giving up, after all this trials, he got a chance to audition at the Kenya National Theater and luckily got a chance for the second cast.

One day, the team was to perform a Swahili play but the director could not locate one of the main characters who was to start off the Swahili play, he was nowhere to be seen, because time was moving so fast and the students were also anxiously waiting to watch the play and set back to their respective destinations, the director had no option but to give Jalango a chance to take that role in the play.

He took to the stage and was to narrate the intro to the play, the other members of the grouped stood by the windows, some peeped by the curtains and behind the stage to witness how Jalango was going to spoil their play, and to their surprise, he articulated the lines so fluently in Swahili that he got a standing ovation from the teachers and the students in the audience when he was done with the intro.

Citizen TV had just started airing local drama programs like Papa Shirandula where Jalango got a chance to appear on TV on the popular show-Papa Shirandula The actual plan was that they were to appear on a single scene where Wilbroda-Papa Shirandula’s wife was to get married and relatives from Ugenya would come to grace the occasion, that’s how Jalango and Otoyo got to TV.

Events unfolded at an alarming rate, while still on the Papa Shirandula TV programme, Nyambane had just left Kiss 100 and the management had to find a perfect replacement for him on the morning show with Caroline mutoko.so they advertised far and large for the vacancy. The applications came in their thousands.

The panel narrowed down to only those who had a degree in media related studies, Jalango again took to the left, he did this with much confidence having in mind that the worst the panel could do to him was to sending him away for not meeting the threshold for the interview, they could not kill him, moreover he was very much interested to know whatever goes on in such interviews, this factors gave him the confidence.

It was time to present the papers to the panel, when it was Jalango’s turn to present his papers, he said confidently “Thank you so much, I don’t have any of the papers but I think am the person you are looking for” the entire bench went silent, the manager of the Radio Africa group loved his courage, he said “I think I like this guy, as others were walking away, he remained, let’s try him on air”. And that is how he got into radio.

The sad point is that, the same day he got the appointment letter for the job at Kiss 100 was the same day his father passed on it was so sad, but all in all his father left him a letter requesting him to take good care of his younger siblings and also build his mom a nice house, and indeed as we speak today he has accomplished all of his dads wishes and that’s why he is in school today pursuing a bachelor’s degree in community development, an important element that he says would help him achieving his dream for vying for the parliamentary seat of Langata constituency in 2022.

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