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Remembering 'Vitimbi' comedian Baba Zero

 Baba Zero

Popular comedian Baba Zero died last Sunday aged 84. Baba Zero, real name Omar Salim, was best known for his roles in Vitimbi and Kinyonga.

For a generation of Kenyans, Baba Zero and his team of actors was the ultimate entertainment for those lucky enough to own a TV set. This was before a new generation of entertainers took over in the late 90s.

In an interview on the Churchill Show in 2018, he was asked in jest where he sees himself in five years, and he replied, "...naomba Mungu tu." As fate would have it, he bid the world goodbye roughly five years after that interview.

His death comes after the death of veteran Vioja Mahakamani 'prosecutor' actor Gibson Gathu in December last year after a battle with diabetes and kidney complications.

He died a day after being discharged from Kenyatta National Hospital, where he had been undergoing treatment.

His son Salim Hassan said his father died in his hands while he was trying to feed him.

“Dad had suffered but we tried all we could but his time had. He is gone but we will live to remember him,” said Hassan, who is also an emerging artiste.

Some of his contemporaries who are still alive and active in the profession include 'Judge' Lucy Wangui of the Vioja Mahakamani show, Ondiek Nyuka Kwota, and Vitimbi’s Mama Kayai (Mary Khavere).

Baba Zero was laid to rest at Kariokor Cemetery on Monday afternoon. Colleagues from the acting community attended the solemn ceremony to bid him farewell. He is survived by two sons, as his wife passed away four decades ago.

He gained fame in the 1970s through his comedy shows on KBC Radio and television programs. In a previous interview with KTN News, conducted four years ago alongside fellow actor Shikwekwe, he shared that he started acting during his school days and had appeared in numerous shows and films, including "Out of Africa" and "Idi Amin."

At home, Baba Zero's family found joy in his acting, as he had a natural ability to make them laugh. He emphasized that in their time, comedy aimed not only to entertain but also to educate the audience.

However, he acknowledged that financial struggles were prevalent during his era, as the pay was quite meager. "Pesa zilikuwa ndogo sana (money was very little)," he recalled.

Leonard Mambo Mbotela, a veteran broadcaster, described Baba Zero as a man filled with humor, whose vast experience in the arts industry left a lasting impact.

“His actions and humour in programmes he featured in left KBC’s viewers glued on their TV screens,” said Mbotela.

Daudi Kanja, a veteran KBC broadcaster said, “I am one of his staunch fans. I liked his humour in the programmes he featured in at a time we also adored actor Mzee Pembe.”

Sakina Mohammed, who worked with Baba Zero at KBC said she was saddened by his death and had planned to pay him a hospital visit.

“I have been his fan for the longest time. When he acted in the Kinyonga Group before he joined KBC and thereafter we became neighbours at California Estate in Nairobi,” said Mohammed.

Baba Zero's contemporaries, including Mzee Ojwang' Hatari (real name Benson Wanjau), Othorong'ong'o Danger (Joseph Anyong'a), Amka Twende (Benjamin Otieno), Mzee Pembe, and Mzee Tamaa bin Tamaa (Peter Lukoye), all of whom he collaborated with on various TV shows, including the popular KBC programs Vitimbi and Vioja Mahakamani, have sadly passed away.

Wangui, who offered her condolences to the family, shared that she knew Baba Zero during the late 1970s when he was a member of a group called Black Golden Stars. This period marked a significant time for the Kenyan entertainment industry as it was beginning to take shape.

"When I first started working at KBC is when I met Baba Zero in a number of shows that included Zuberi, Kivunja Mbavu and later Vioja Mahakamani," Wangui told the Sunday Standard.

She said despite losing some talented pre-independence comedians, it had not deterred their efforts to retain and maintain credibility.

"The credibility of this industry is only sustainable when our actors concentrate their efforts on local content as opposed to young artistes who ape Western culture in all their work,” said Wangui.

She said actors today are not interested in local content, thus lowering the standards of the creative industry.

“The comedies and plays we presented were full of moral teachings and had real-life experiences, as opposed to the current generation which likes quick fixes,” she said.

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