EXCLUSIVE: Irungu Kang’ata, the poor man’s Senator who loves reggae – VIDEO
He is the Deputy Chief Whip of Senate. He is a PhD student at the University of Nairobi and a full time lecturer at Catholic University. His law firm, located in swanky Upper Hill next to the Japanese Embassy, is top-notch dealing with major corporations in Kenya.
But he is a reggae fan, music associated with uneducated and rough ghetto youth.
Meet Irungu Kang’ata, the 40-year-old father of three who is the current Muranga Senator. He is known for fighting for the poor. His Facebook account is full of ideas which can assist the vulnerable during this Covid-19 pandemic. Most have been adopted by the Government.
It includes a proposal he made to have top civil servants dedicate part of the salaries to help fight the Covid-19 pandemic. He was the first one to propose parliament that travel budget should be redirected towards the fight against the pandemic, which Senate speaker recently adopted.
He is celebrated by many for the numerous free medical camps that he has held in various parts of Muranga.
He is a devout Catholic who always attends church. His friends say he is very gifted academically. They say he always topped in high school where he scored a mean grade A in KCSE but never one to do a ‘trans-night’ reading.
Kang’ata’s wedding was graced by His Excellency President Uhuru while Deputy President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga have attended his other social functions.
Nairobi News caught up with him recently for an exclusive One on One interview.
How did you fall in love with reggae?
“I was raised in Muranga town in a low-income neighborhood .The genre was popular among male youths in the neighborhood. I was academically minded and good in history. When I got to standard 6, I became very good in history. We then learned about injustice in South Africa meted upon blacks. In standard 7 we learned about slavery. I then asked myself, how come other genres weren’t concerned about that injustice? How come other pop stars in South Africa like Pat Shange, Chicco, and Yvonne Chaka Chaka didn’t sing about that injustice except for reggae artistes? I realized these Jamaican singers weren’t even from Africa!
I realized it’s music with a conscience. That made me switch strongly to the genre. Of course, my elder brothers, who loved the genre, particularly two who passed on (Mindo and Michael), did influence me also. But it was more about its message.
You were once a reggae hype man. Shed more light on that
I joined the University of Nairobi in 1999. Being a great fan of the Reggae Time program airing at KBC English Radio back then, I decided to visit its studio which neighbours UON. The idea was just to send “greetings” to my pals back in Muranga and friends in UON but Jeff Mwangemi instead gave me a chance to attend recording and pass “big ups” live on the radio. We became friends and by that, I started inviting him for gigs in my town (Muranga). When I was suspended in 2000 due to student leadership politics, I decided to become a DJ to get myself busy. By sheer good luck, that endeavor endeared me to youths who then elected me as a Councillor in 2002.
You mingle freely with citizens at reggae events. How comes you are never in the VIP section despite your status?
I don’t have an answer really. I think that’s how his genre is meant to be – Equality and Love. Though I no longer attend many reggae events as before as I am now a family man with three children to care for.
Who is your favourite reggae artiste and song?
Peter Tosh. His song I will not give up. He sings that he will not give up until Africa and Africans are free. He says Africa is the richest place but it has the poorest race. He says being poor is a shame and we are not lame. And that is why he will not give up because the slave driver doesn’t want Africa betterment. I live by that message.
What is the best reggae concert you have ever attended and the worst?
Culture’s (Joseph Hill) first show at the Ngong Racecourse in 2007 was big. It was very well attended and he played his best songs. I was happy to see Burning Spear at Kasarani in the same year but he didn’t play good songs. It seems he wasn’t well advised by his promoters.
Who is your best Kenyan reggae deejay and why?
DJ Ronny Boy. He has a very good taste of music and very good mixing styles. Ghetto Radio’s DJ Double Trouble and DJ Bling have a good taste of music as well but they talk too much. Most DJs have two problems. First, they play the music that they love, not what the people want. Second, they play songs for a few seconds. They don’t give ample time to songs to run.
What is that one thing you’d wish to change in the Kenyan reggae industry?
Concert promoters need some training. Some promote their shows using social media or one station and think that’s enough. They forget that media has become too fragmented hence one needs a variety of publicity tools to mobilize. Best shows demand support by at least one mainstream media group.
Secondly, they seem not to know who commercially viable artists are. For me, a good artiste in this era needs to have videos. Finally, they must know the core values of this genre. They are about simplicity, spreading peace and love, fighting for the poor and oppressed. And talking about Africa. And recalling great men, like Marcus Garvey, Reverend Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Jomo Kenyatta and other great leaders who fought for the emancipation of the black man. If the genre moves away from these principles, it loses its uniqueness and allure.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievements so far?
I thank God I have served as a student leader at University of Nairobi, Councillor at Muranga Municipal Council as a university student, Member of Parliament and now Senator.
In my legal practice, my most redefining case was when I successfully represented Rebbecca Kerubo, a poor guard, against the then Deputy Chief Justice Nancy Baraza. It was a case of David and Goliath that embedded constitutional principles of equality before the law.
As an MP, we lobbied government and several roads were tarmacked in Kiharu Constituency. We did key water projects and ensured fairness in bursaries allocations. We rode on this platform and Kiharu gave us the greatest support when we went for Senatorial elections.
As a senator, I successfully moved a bill that seeks to establish a ward development bill in the senate. It got stuck in the National assembly though I am happy the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) has taken up the proposal. If passed, it will address several developmental gaps that exist in devolution, including governors’ tendencies to do skewed development in counties.