BY CAROLINE NYANGA
Modern music can get shaped by the most unassuming of influences. Award-winning music producer Timothy Boikwa from Kisii County is one such source. He is often unseen, but always very well heard.
A former house help in Kericho town for nearly a year, Bokiwa is the man behind popular gospel musicians among them Bahati, Christina Shusho, MOG, Daddy Owen, Ringtone, Dany Gift, Elsey, Saint Stevo, Kizo B, Mercy Masika, Mary Githinji, Elly Jamila, Geraldine Oduor, Sammy Ngare, Uncle Coniah‘s contemporary hit MeryMela and local rapper Rabbit just to name a few.
Spending some time with him in his Still Alive studio situated in Diamond Park, South B, and it’s clear that he always puts sound first. If you’re lucky, you will be there when Boikwa hears a song that he loves, wholly absorbed, the music literally moves him.
The 30-year-old Form Two dropout is an established figure within the East African music recording industry with a reputation for delivering high quality music. This includes producing, composing, engineering mixing and marketing.
Today the producer, who has enjoyed chart success across the years, is credited as being in the forefront in elevating local gospel across the borders.
Timothy was crowned Producer of the Year in 2013 and 2014 Mwafaka Awards; an event that fetes and appreciates exemplary individuals who are contributing to the growth of the gospel arena through their different talents.
“Nothing can go wrong if you serve God diligently. I would like to dedicate the awards to all Kenyans and everyone out there who is yearning to know and serve God faithfully,” he says.
Boikwa’s love for music stems from the early age of 14, during which he played guitar for a year as part of the AIC Church Choir in Kericho town.
Hailing from a humble family background in Nyamira County where poverty was the order of the day, it is hard to believe that the classy, confident and easy going figure ever had a difficult time growing up. It is almost unimaginable to link the talented producer to a life of want, under the care of his able uncle who turned him into a houseboy at the expense of promising to help him complete his education.
“My father the sole breadwinner was unable to pay my school fees besides being down with various unexplained ailments for a long time. When things got out of hand we sort help from various ‘witchdoctors’ to have him regain his health back in vain even as they made sure they took everything away from us,” he narrates.
Despite this, Boikwa could not sit back and watch his family sink into extreme poverty. As a result he did menial jobs in order to survive, including selling bread and washing people’s vehicles for a meager income of between Sh100 and Sh150 a day.
It was while living with his uncle in Kericho town that he met a physically disabled servant of God, Pastor Salim Juma, who introduced him to AIC church as a guitarist. Once there, he was able to learn all kinds of music instruments besides going on church missions.
“Juma took me in his home for a year. Luckily for me one day when I was in the process of performing in the church, I met two German women missionaries who were regular visitors at the church. Impressed with my work, they decided to sponsor my music education for nine months at Diguna College, Ongata Rongai.
Upon completion, Boikwa left for South Africa’s Greater Sounds in Johannesburg where he pursued a two year diploma course in music training before he returned to Kenya. Shortly after, he proceeded to Uganda, where he produced upcoming gospel artistes at Cool Sounds for a period of seven months.
However, when things proved tough for him considering the small amount of money he earned, he opted to return back to Kenya, settling in Eldoret, together with his wife and son.
Desperate, he sort for a job at Kapsabet Factory where he earned the sum of Sh15,000 every month.
“I worked in nearly every department of the tea factory for a span of three months. Although we started out as 20 employees, only eight of us were left considering the difficult conditions and the unfriendly environment,” he says.
His efforts were rewarded when his manager who also happened to be his close friend gave him the opportunity of being in charge of the sound equipment during various functions hosted by the company.
But that is not all. He went ahead to introduce Boikwa to an American Pastor Regono during a crusade held in Eldoret who later owned a big church in Sabatia.
One thing led to another and soon Boikwa secured a job as a music producer at Regono’s Fasco Studio, in Sabatia for two years earning the sum of Sh12,000.
“Although initially he promised to pay me the sum of Sh25,000 but he opted to change his mind the last minute. It was at that point that I decided to quit church. I wanted nothing to do with God anymore,” he says.
Boikwa’s decision to serve the world saw him join the once popular Jamnazi Afrika band led by Ongoro and Awilo as a base guitarist.
Besides being based at Wagon Wheel Hotel Eldoret the band famed for its I’m not Sober mega hit toured many places making lots of money at the same time.
“Aside from performing in the night, I would embark on recording contracts during the day where I earned close to Sh5000 a day. This arose my parents’ suspicions who were born again Christians even though I chose to remain silent about my new found faith,” he further says.
Although he quickly managed to curve a niche for himself in his career and thereby becoming a favorite among revelers, something was amiss within him.
“I consistently suffered silently. Yes I was going places. I was getting all the credit I deserved from men. Many would see me as a pace setter. But deep in my inner chambers I felt emptiness that caused lack of inner peace; which to me were treasures beyond what any human being, money or even career success could ever give me. I thereby considered all my achievements as total vanity,” he confesses.
His turning point came one day after staging a grand show at Kakamega Golf Club in 2006 when he informed the two bandleaders of his decision to quit. From then on there was no turning back.
Once in Eldoret, he met a businessman who teamed up with him to form Hillson Studio for a span of five months but also working on contract basis in studios like Sayari and Hosana as a freelancer.
The post-election violence took a toll on him considering he married a Kikuyu woman and lived in Eldoret.
But when things got out of hand he opted to move to Tanzania to buy his own music equipment assisted by a Pastor Mosoto.
He shortly returned to Kenya to organize himself before returning to Tanzania, when he met singers Ben Githae and Mary Githinji who advised him to stay in Kenya.
“Although I didn’t have anywhere to stay fortunately a distant relative Ben Angwenyi who is a businessman helped me to get a keyboard from Uganda. Upon return I found he had built me a studio at Uchumi Jogoo Road as per the sketch I made for him and named it Still Alive.
With time Boikwa became stable financially besides relocating his family to Nairobi.
But as fate had it the gospel producer who occasionally does secular music depending on the content got the shock of his life when thugs raided his studio last year March stealing musical equipments worth 1.7 million.
As a result he decided to move to South B in May 2015, where he is to date.
“I thank God that I managed to replace everything that I lost including much more. Today my studio can accommodate up to 50 musicians at the same time, many of whom I am always out to assist at any cost given their financial instability but have the what it takes to make it in the gospel and contemporary music,” he says happily.
His take on local gospel music: He admits that local gospel music has been commercialized and many are in it for money which he does not support.
As much as the message is relayed to different people out there, it is important for us to realise that at the end of it all, there is judgment day. This is when the farmer (God) will separate the chuff from the harvest.
“I believe the same standards apply to me hence the need to strive for the best according to God’s will,” he concludes.
Married to Phillis Wanjiru with whom they have a 6 year -old son Samwel, he is the third born in a family of seven born to Daniel and Florence Boikwa.