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Overcoming Odds - The untold story of Jalang'o
By Brian Oloo | Updated Jul 11, 2018 at 11:19 EAT
Jalango, Heavy J papa

This is the untold story of Felix Odiwuor alias Jalang'o

“Life is what you make it”

Many Kenyans perceive the celebrities they see on TV, listen to on Radio or read about in the Kenyan dailies as people with a soft landing in life, that their lives have been a bed of roses since inception, some really want to be like them in all aspects without focusing on what it took such celebrities to be where they are today, here is an inspiring anecdote that would change your perception about such celebrities and help you.

A good example that would answer the Kenyan with such perception is the story of a vibrant and renowned Kenyan media personality and a celebrity; he goes by the name Felix Odiwuor alias Jalas, Heavy J papa, the morning talk show radio presenter alongside Jeff Koinange on Hot 96, The Hot breakfast show. 

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. Many at times when many youths see him on TV or listen to him on radio, they think he just woke up one morning and found himself at the top of the game. Well here is the untold story about him.

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, they basically lived a pathetic life, even the basic were not basic to them. They could afford food today and miss the same tomorrow.

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, with all this adversaries Jalango remained focused in his studies never to give up at any given point of his life.

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.

A week later, 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.

It was an utter disgrace and disappointment to both the dad who did all he could to raise funds to bring his son to the school he duly qualified for to pursue further studies, Jalango stood with his box on his hands and fully dressed in a Maseno school uniform not knowing what to do next.

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.

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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, students who had done their exams the previous year where busy discussing the colleges and universities they were going to join and the courses they were going to undertake.at this point in time, on the other hand Jalango’s dad was so quiet and never touched any issue to do with his further education, Jalango got curious and 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 words broke his heart, he had no response nor further inquiries to his old man. This implied that he was to be at home as his fellow age mates joined institutions of higher learning, it was so unbearable to him but he had no alternative but to stay at home.

At home, he could not just sit and be provided with everything from A to Z, 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, he could be at the shore selling fish to business women who waited by the shores.

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, as you could gaze, this job was very tedious and only required those who could persevere, reason being, there was too much work and the pay were mere peanuts that could not sustain him. But he had no otherwise as at that time, so he did this work day in day out.

There came this fateful morning when Jalango work up in the morning set to go for work, His dad called him and told him, “My son I know this is not the best for you, take this my two shirts, two pair of trousers and 800 shillings, go to college and go be a man”.

Jalango set on a journey the following to Nairobi, he was received well by one of his relatives who resided in Lavington, he was oriented to the house and taught how to use various appliances in the house, 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.

Yes he had this passion and talent but did not really know where to start from, he had started making a few contacts with friends here and there, meanwhile Jalango in his strive to help his uncle in putting food on the table, 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.

And so 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.in arts we have the first cast-the veteran actors who play major roles in the plays and the second cast who are to chip in incase of any emergencies like sickness, absenteeism by the first cast. 

He played the role of a second cast for a whooping three years, going for rehearsals every single day after coming from work, Ochieng’ could sponsor his fare and miscellaneous that he could use during his rehearsals, he gave him the moral and financial support he would require to pursue his passion in arts, this someone he still appreciates his efforts to date, some of his uncles in Nairobi did not see the future in what he was doing at the Kenyan national theater but he stood determined and committed to the course, neither did he lose focus nor never gave up at any single moment.

At the Kenya National Theater, there were several renowned actors and cartels that owned the theater and could not allow any minnow like Jalango to get a place in the plays and set books they staged; they staged set book plays to high school students and also some commercial plays.

One day, the theater group went out to stage a Swahili set book titled “Mwisho Wa Kosa” in a school where several other schools had congregated to what they set book, the show was big because many students came, there was a huge gate collection, so each person was paid his share. It happened that one of the main casts went drinking and partying that night.

The next day, the team was to perform again, time came for the Swahili play to be staged, the director could not locate one of the main characters who was to start off the Swahili play, he was nowhere to be seen, probably still having hangovers elsewhere, 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.

The director was very amazed for there was none who had been given a standing ovation before. He was pleased with Jalango’s presentation, he decided to send away the main actor and have Jalango take his role henceforth, and indeed this was his first break through in theater.

After gaining experience in the theater they started acting vernacular commercial plays in the theater, more people could come to watch than never before, prominent leaders who loved art like Prof. Anyang’ Nyongo-current governor Kisumu county could not miss their plays. 

This motivated him and propelled him to do even more; he could nowscript and act out the scripts perfectly. He went ahead and produced his first Luo based film entitled “Kibrit Oluar E Pii”. This was a very sensational comical drama that was the talk of town at that time. He rise to fame had just begun.

One major attribute of Jalango that is not known by many is that he is one guy who doesn’t like being in comfort zone, waking up every single moment and doing the same thing over and over again. He decided to try something on television, fortunately enough this came at time when Citizen TV had just started airing local drama programs like Papa Shirandula, Inspecta Mwala, Tahidi High and the likes, 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, Jalango said to Otoyo, “this the chance we’ve been waiting for, if we lose it, even God himself will not forgive us, so when that camera rolls, let’s do anything possible to grab this opportunity”.

 And in deed, when the cameras rolled, Otoyo and Jalango did their own stuff contrary to what was in the script, they did it so well that the director of the skit had to find a way to fix them into the programme by saying that after the marriage, on their way back to Ugenya, Jalango and Otoyo jumped through the window and are somewhere in Nairobi. That’s how they got incorporated into the skit.

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.

Time came for the shortlisted applicants to face the interviewing panel, Jalango was in the mix, the panel requested the applicants with a degree to step to the left, remember at this point in time Jalango had no degree, but took the courage and stepped to the left to join those with degrees-confidence my friend. 

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.

Jalango left Kiss 100 for the same reasons he left the Kenya theater and joined Radio Maisha years later, when he joined, Radio Maisha was by then ranked position 48, Jalango made a collaboration with one Alex Mwakideu and together they put up the biggest morning radio talk show on which saw the station move from position 48 to position 1 in a span of less than 3years. Jalango having made a stride left for Hot 96 to co-host the veteran Kenyan journalist Jeff Koinange.

As we speak Hot 96 is making strides and forging ahead day in day out, Jalango’s day starts at 3.30 am every day, he has to be in office by 4.00 am for the preps for the show, they go on air for 4 hours from the studio he moves to his company-Arena Media to with his staff. From there he checks his diary for any gigs or events lined up for the day for which he makes preparations. He is a living inspiration to many youths.

Youths should learn from this experience that nothing comes on a silver platter, behind every success lies a series of struggles and challenges, this story should inspire our youths to rise and overcome all odds, stay focused, determined and achieve their dreams in life.

As someone would put it, “you never know how close to success when you opt to give up”. Youths rise up and make the future of your great nation much greater. “YES WE CAN!”

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