Back in the early day, African broadcasting in Kenya was a very exclusive club. In fact it was almost a private members club of the lucky talented few who had been identified for training by the mzungu experts.
Most of the pioneer broadcasters of that generation that include Elizabeth Omollo, Ali Mazoa and later the likes of Tom Kazungu, Victor Odak Omalla, James Ogoma King and Lenny Mwashegwa to mention just a few came through this state-sponsored programme.
Agawo Patrobas defied this order through sheer raw talent, ambition and passion when he burst through this tightly controlled establishment in the late 70s having returned from working for the defunct East Africa Community in Tanzania.
What stood him out from the rest of the wannabes was his unique talent for pronunciation accompanied with that deep throaty voice that is the dream of any broadcaster in the world.
The dawn news bulletin (six, seven and 9am) is the most important bulletin in any Radio station, for Agawo to be entrusted with this for so many years in the KBC English Service speaks volumes for the colossus figure he was in the airwaves then amidst a pool of serious English newscasters like Elizabeth Omollo, Catherine Kasavuli, Mathilda Waswa, John Obong’o Jr and Edmund Mudibo.
My memories take me back to the 90s when as the anchor of Radio Sports Club on KBC English Service he would hand over to me immediately after reading the 9am news bulletin, then he would stay behind just to make sure I was getting the dictions right as I took the country through the sports news of the day.
Later on, we would meet at our social joints in Eastlands for a review and a hearty laugh. Agawo was a mentor; always willing to listen to his fellow broadcasters and correct them on diction, pace and pronunciation. Many a times Papa, as he was fondly known, gave us a full lecture why you should say “Itly” for Italy or “Koprasion” for corporation. He was very keen on which words were silent and needed to be swallowed.
Agawo’s full talent in broadcasting was to be realised later when he moved to Ramogi FM the trailblazing Luo station as one of the founders. Here he had the opportunity to not only exploit his talent in news casting but also his other passion which was entertainment especially in Rhumba music.
One of his most memorable achievements at this stage was to come up with standard acceptable terms in the Luo language to refer to some new hitherto unnamed items and titles like the internet which to Agawo was simply “mbui” (spider’s web), the newspaper “oboke” (leaf) and the radio “nyakalondo”.
These terms are today widely used by all Luo broadcasters across rival stations. Agawo proved his prowess as a language maestro.
It is at this stage that Agawo started two musical programmes in Ramogi FM, Kamanene (oldies in Luo) aired on Saturdays and Rhumba Ramogi on Sundays which commanded huge audiences across the country that included non-Luo speakers.
Papa had a long list of friends from across the board who enjoyed being mentioned in these weekly programs right up to the time of his demise.
As a professional he mentored many upcoming broadcasters. Some of the leading Luo broadcasters like James Rabala, Charles Odhiambo and Josephine Sirega whom he mentored can attest to this.
Personally, in 2011 when I was tasked with launching the KBC-owned Mayienga FM, I relied on him for valuable advice especially for setting up the news unit and musical shows.
If you were meeting the late Agawo for the first time you would be forgiven to think you were dealing with a member of the security forces due to his imposing over six feet frame accompanied with broad shoulders and strong face which exuded authority.
However, after interacting with him for some time you realised that he was a gentle and harmless giant who had a knack for cracking jokes to his audiences.
When he was in his element in any of the social joints that he frequented in Nairobi’s Eastlands, Papa would crack a joke and when his huge audience was dying with laughter he would pick out whoever was laughing loudest and ask them, “Cant you laugh in English.” He then would go ahead to demonstrate how one should laugh with “decorum”.
To say that Papa loved his beer is an understatement… he loved to party with his friends and was very social and generous in such sittings. As his close friends like Simon Sunguti, with whom he shared a lot, will affirm he was a joyful company that would make sure all that were around him remained happy throughout.
In one of his many happy moments in social places, when one of his favourite songs was playing (most likely by TP OK Jazz of Franco Luambo) Papa would move to the floor for a dance and the crowd would stop to watch the giant who could display magnificent dance moves and sing at the same time.
At times Papa would improvise and turn the bottles on the table into drums for repercussions to sing along his favorite chorus… and the crowd would cheer. That was Papa Agawo Patrobas.
The 69 year old Agawo’s downside begun about one year ago when he was caught up in the downsizing exercise by his employer, Royal Media Services.
He was among the senior media personalities who lost their jobs but was retained to run his two weekly entertainment programs. It took him some time to come to terms with the turn of events. Those who knew him well could see an element of frustration had settled into the ever jovial entertainer.
Some of us in recent conversations suggested that he could move into lecturing to impart his vast knowledge in the profession to one of the media institutions. Though he welcomed the idea, it was not going to be easy to change the schedule that he had gotten used to for the last four decades.
It is indeed sad to imagine that he has exited the world without penning all that vast knowledge in a book for future reference.
Fare thee well Papa Agawo Patrobas… you truly lived well and enjoyed your portion of life. A giant voice has dropped the mic!