Jimmy Gathu, 52, is the king of re-invention, thanks to his Da Vinci-esque litany of talents. He has been a singer-songwriter, radio host, TV show host, actor, brand ambassador – successful at all of them.
Speaking during an interview with the Standard, Gathu revealed that he often thinks five steps ahead and is eager to learn.
“I joined KTN as a continuity announcer. That is somebody who says, ‘Coming up next is this programme’ and so on. I was lucky as a continuity announcer I was also a presenter on a show called Show Time."
He does not remember how he figured it out, but he quickly realised being a continuity announcer would not last long. He had to move to the next level, so he decided to learn how to produce.
His boss showed him the ropes. Six months later, he had a confirmation letter as a production assistant on a salary of Sh8,000. Just as he had suspected, after two years, the role of continuity announcer was dropped. He would have been out of a job.
“Ever since I have had this thing of always re-inventing myself,” he says.
While he was running several of KTN’s music shows, the most popular one dubbed, Kass Kass, Coca-Cola got on board as a sponsor, he became their youth brand ambassador and it occurred to him he was growing older.
“Two years after I became the Coke youth ambassador, I had a family. I made a choice: Am I a father and a husband, or am I Jimmy Gathu the public figure, and which one means more to me than anything else? So I chose being a father and a husband,” he says.
“The detriment of that was that there was a very high possibility my brand would stagnate or completely disappear, so I had to reinvent myself,” he says, a decision they talked about with the late Lorna Irungu.
“We did one big show for Club Kiboko where we toured the entire Coast, historical places. When we came back, we redesigned Club Kiboko to what you are seeing now. We gave it to the children and then we pulled out,” he says.
Do not be afraid of starting from scratch
FM radio stations then came up, around 1996, and by 1998, Gathu was working in radio. “Imagine, I have built a brand for over 12 years and FM stations come and take you back to square one. I had no clue how to be a radio presenter, so I had to learn. Yet another re-invention.”
He was poached by another radio station, where he realised their music strategy was very different, and he could not do things the same way, so he had to re-invent himself again.
Shortly after, a completely new political dispensation was coming in with former President Daniel arap Moi’s retirement, so he saw an opportunity in it, and launched a show where people could talk about politics.
My listeners called it Our People’s Parliament. That is the line he has largely stayed along since then, tweaking it and adding his own flair to fit the essence of Gathu – mixing music, satire, serious talk, the way forward, albeit making it comfortable enough for the listener to tune in to political discourse while being entertained.
He’s now back on the airwaves, on Spice FM Saturday afternoon, 2 pm to 7 pm.