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The Ultimate Kenyan #ThrowBacks


In the 1980s, advertisements were a form of entertainment in households lucky enough to have a TV set, mostly models like Zenith, radios from Sanyo and a few VCRs (video recording machines) from a company called JVC, in the days when ‘Monopoly’ was collective family entertainment.

Datsun 120Ys, Mitsubishi Lancers, Opels and Peugeot 504s - beloved of the Special Branch - roamed the urban streets that were free-flowing with little traffic, this being the era before liberalisation.

The Standard newspaper had a really funky advertisement that went: “People, politics, sports and colour pics, top tunes, cartoons, who’s who, points of view ... new trends, big spends, money lends and God-sends, local news ... it’s all in The Standard.

We sang along to these adverts alongside the Calpols, even as we drank Andrew’s Cod Liver Oil as Michael Jackson - the King of Pop - became the absolute soundtrack of childhood with his three mega-albums ; Thriller, Bad and Smooth Criminal. And there will NEVER be another MJ.

Sitcoms were the original quartet of four - Good Times, Sanford and Son, Diff’rent Strokes and The Jeffersons - and every weekday came with its own 5.30 pm cartoon.

Sport Billy, Princess Choppy, He Man, Fat Albert and Spiderman on Fridays. TV was limited to VoK (Voice of Kenya) and the station opened and closed with the national anthem at 5pm and 11pm respectively, with ‘tuuuu” being the only sound for the other 18 hours of the day.

 Celebrated radio personality Jimmy Gathu back in the day

When you switched the television set off, its rectangular patch slowly reduced to a dot of light, that eventually blinked then winked out. One suspects this is how life will look just before we die - like a TV dot from 1983.

Kalasha is coming up next week at the IMAX with lots of locally made films, but back in the early 1980s, there were just a few big African films - Love Brewed in the African Pot, the late Joe Olita’s Rise and Fall of Idi Amin and the Oscar winning Out of Africa, long before Lupita was born. People went to 20th Century, Kenya and Nairobi cinemas in the CBD (Kenya Cinema was the place everyone met before a date) and the drive-in FOX theatre was the ultimate first-date outing, where Bud Spencer and Terence Hill starred in He Who Finds a Friend Finds a Treasure and Banana Joe. Back at home, there were weekend movies and epic television sagas like Falcon Crest and Dynasty.

Everything was standard in the controlled economy of the eighties - Kaunda suits, Kimbo (pika kwa), Blue Band, Elliots bread, Tree Top juice and the vitambaas with crocheted patterns that covered saggy sofas where visitors would sit and get entertained by fat family albums, with a member of the family (mums, mostly) explaining who the people were and what event they were attending in every sepia-coloured family photo, as the bored captives sipped a Tarino.

Outside, the kids would be beating the crap out of each other in estate battles, swimming in dirty streams, eating at the neighbours and if it was end of term, settling scores in the Wild West way of Wanted, a far cry from today’s pampered or fearful youngsters.

Lux was the international luxury soap, but there was also Palmolive, Cusson’s Imperial Leather, Dettol soap, Lifebuoy and Panga, as well as Princess Patra and the ‘perfume’ Bint-el-Sudan that urban legend had it was sprayed on corpses. Smoking was very cool - from 555 to Rooster - and the puff adverts were literally to die for.

Then came Man Toro

VoK ruled, literally! There was that constant face you saw everywhere. Then, the official photo of President Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi hang on every wall. It was pure joy to see the milk lorry drive into the school compound with free Maziwa ya Nyayo for school children and, boy oh boy, we loved school for milk.

Reading books was not work! It was such a pleasure, with books like Hallo Children, The Moses Series, Peter and Jane, Hardy Boys, Mwalimu Jini with his sharp-pointed shoes, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Ladybird series, Alladin and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe among others.

VoK (the only TV station at the time) brought families together in the evening after a long day with drama series like Tahamaki, and the legendary Nguatah Francis telling tomorrow’s weather through stickers! And talking of Nguatah!

Those stickers of manyunyu ya mvua would fall even though the real rain was never experienced! Others programmes, like the comprehensive review of the news every weekend in Dunia Wiki Hii and shows like Omo Pick A Box were a delight to watch.

For sports lovers, there was Football Made in Germany.

Additional programmes included Simon Templer aka Roger Moni, The Baron, The Fugitive, Mzee Pembe, Mama Toffee, Cheka na Kipanga (an earlier version of Churchil live) and Leonard Mambo Mbotela with Huu ni Ungwana? Where is Freddie Obachi Machoka, by the way?

Remember Mr Reddy Killowatt! He was the loveable Kenya Power mascot who made blackout announcements less annoying. Others included Bic, Kilometric, Bwana Msafiri (Sigara ya Sportman), Cofta, Aspro and Goodmorning lung tonic, not forgetting favourite drinks like Pepsi, Tarino, Fanta and Tree Top that made children salivate. Another popular advert was for House of Manji biscuits – the only company at the time which produced biscuits locally. Most television programmes concluded by 9pm after which children were supposed to be asleep.

Back then, radio was serious household entertainment and a source of information especially on Saturdays, Sundays and every morning while going to school. There was this song called Kinky Farmer that would encourage everyone to take up their role in the society – students would be asked to study and look forward to the future.

The most popular and only radio, DJ Abdul Hack, entertained listeners with Benga, Rumba and Swahili songs including a few funk and soul tunes from the 80s.

During his shows he would often give out free Toffee sweets to winners. Imagine!

The most popular club was Club Boomerang in Nairobi with legendary DJ from Spain Paco Perez. He still comes around to Galileos in Westlands.

Another popular joint was Visions situated along Kimathi Street. Others were Beat House, Anabel, the classic Sombrero that was later named Hollywood, Lips, Brilliant and Monte Carlo. With famed deejays like Alois Gor Biro, Boka, Mdosi, Yellowman, Stone, Adams and Papa Lefty.

In Kisumu, clubs like Aquarius discotheque, Flamingo Casino, Friends Paradise and Beograda were a force to reckon with, not forgetting the only mobile disco in Kenya, Omega Disco. Florida 2000 also rocked.

Dance styles were mainly breakdance, cha cha cha, soukouss, madiaba, kwasa kwasa and benga. Entertainment theme nights were a tradition held strongly by every club with Wednesdays being Ladies night , Fridays, Members Day and Saturdays, Boogie night.

Afro and punk hairstyles dominated - unless of course one was bald-headed. The dress code for men was mainly piped trousers, in the Michael Jackson style (often referred to as achwiti), with moccasins and white socks that had to be seen considering the short length of the trousers.

Most women wore minis with blouses and high heels. A few others donned baggy skirts popularly known as guole with plastic Sandak shoes. Hairstyles ranged from hot combing to the wet-look curly kit and occasionally braids. Oh well, one would go to the phone booth with pockets full of coins. But life was easy, if you didn’t have any money on you would just talk to the operator and they would reverse the call for you! And what about the free ‘tap tap’ calls?!

Transport was an orderly affair, with Kenya Buses that were readily available at stages with a specific time table. I’m sure a few people would love to see parking meters return and say goodbye to the county council officers! What about that camera man who used to take family photos? The delayed gratification the photos brought once the camera man returned with a bundle of pictures and their negatives! Most of the pictures were done on Christmas day and one had to do a booking a month before because the cameraman had to buy film from Nairobi.

Then there were games like kati, shake and hopscotch. Remember Goody Goody – the brilliantly-named toffee that got stuck in your teeth? Others were, coo, Tropical and Pussycat chewing gum.

Kenya doll was the best toy ever. A beautiful doll with gorgeous African American features made by Tyco, she was black and came with a ton of beads and hair lotion. Another was the soft-bodied baby doll named Baby Kiana who came with hair-styling products like little ribbons, twistesr and clip barrettes. And how about the Win A Car competition that took place between 91 and 92. It began at Boomerang, went to Ainsworth and concluded at KICC.

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