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When ordinary acts hand you instant fame

Sunday December 8 2019

CELEBRITIES

Kibera-based artiste Steven Otieno, alias Stivo Simple Boy, talks about his accidental fame during an interview on December 4, 2019. He said he had lost count of the number of interviews he has done since July on radio and TV stations. PHOTO | ELVIS ONDIEKI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

ELVIS ONDIEKI
By ELVIS ONDIEKI
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Search “twa twa” on YouTube and the results will show you a phenomenon.

They will show you that Pastor Susan Munene, whose talk about sex and marriage went viral for the use of the words “twa twa twa” as euphemism for getting intimate, has so far done interviews at more than eight media stations alongside her husband Joseph.

They will show you that at least five songs have been done by various artistes with “twa twa” in their titles, and that a number of actors have also done skits that have “twa twa” as part of their titles.

Pastor Munene, who was not famous until the weekend starting November 22, is the latest addition to Kenya’s list of accidental celebrities — people who made remarks in one occasion without the slightest idea that their message could later go viral and make them famous overnight.

From the Kisumu woman whose complaint about floods became a national punchline to the eyewitness whose description of a robbery became a message everyone wanted to ape, every so often a person comes out of the woodwork through a viral image and in within no time, he or she is a household name.

PASSING CLOUD

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Though he is reluctant to admit it, musician Steven Otieno, aka Stivo Simple Boy, rose to fame by chance in July.

Through Stivo’s appearance in a TV interview alongside his fellow artiste and friend, who uses the stage name Handsome Boy, comedian Vincent “Chipukeezy” Muasya dubbed them the Cute Boys Association and it was the trigger for something Stivo hardly expected.

Given his looks (which some thought were ironical when compared to the supposed name of his association) and his song "Mihadarati", Stivo fast became a talking point, and soon he was the subject of memes and the voice of messages in which a person wanted to tell another to show their sober selves.

There are those who argue that Stivo is just a passing cloud because of what he has displayed so far in terms of musical talent; that his fame is more because of his face than what he is contributing to music.

But in an interview with Lifestyle, Stivo said those notions are of no effect to him.

“All perceptions are OK; I will just do my work. If it impresses someone, fine. If someone hates it, it’s also fine,” said the soft-spoken 29-year-old.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Stivo said he had lost count of the number of interviews he has attended since July on radio and TV stations.

His new-found celebrity status has opened doors to places any upcoming artiste would die for, among them a recent project where he was incorporated alongside established artistes like Nameless, Big Pin and Jegede.

Taking stock of the rise of Stivo and other musicians who have the internet to thank for rising to fame, long-serving producer Tedd Josiah said social media is providing a new platform for launching careers.

“I would say it’s a new way of getting an audience and market without mainstream media interfering,” reasoned Tedd, who has been in the music industry for three decades.

Asked whether that kind of channel can produce a long-lasting star, Tedd said it depends on the artiste’s strategy.

What of Stivo? How is his nascent musical career likely to unfold?

“It’s very difficult to predict, to be honest. It’s not about looks. There are very many people who make a living from being not good-looking. And they make a lot of money, more than you and I,” said the producer, who kick-started careers of artistes like Nameless, Redsan, Kalamashaka among others.

“So you cannot predict based on that. It has to be on something different, which is: what gifts does he have and how is he maximising them in terms of making finances out of it?” Tedd posed.

GRAB YOUR MOMENT

This year also saw the emergence of Alvindo, a young man from Nairobi who sang a song to blow off steam after a break-up.

He ended up being an online sensation, not least because the song titled "Taka Taka" was banned by Kenya’s self-declared moral policeman Ezekiel Mutua, who heads the Kenya Film Classification Board.

To any upcoming artiste who might find themselves in a situation where the internet is propelling them to fame, Tedd advised that they grab the moment.

“Do your level best to get your name out there because your name will become your calling card. And once you have a proper calling card, then you can start to make moves in the various fields that you want to trade in. It’s that simple,” said the music producer.

Corporates have also been keen on some of the accidental celebrities, often involving them in advertising campaigns.

Safaricom, for instance, has had Jose “the witness” (Joseph Mburu) and the woman perturbed by floods (Jane Adika) on its billboards before.

Among the others it enlisted is Bonoko (Francis Kimani), who shot to fame after his account of an extrajudicial killing became the talk of the town.

According to Boniface Ndagwa, who is well-versed in the advertising field through his role as the general manager of Perfect Vision Group, an advertising agency, such persons are an “easy” option for corporates.

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Their biggest offering to advertisers, said Mr Ndagwa, is familiarity.

“With familiarity, there’s that head-start when they are trying to push a product or a service. Why this is important is because there is a big fight for brand relevance. What happens is that on average, you encounter over 3,000 brands a day: The car you drive, the pen you write with, the company you work for, and such,” he told Lifestyle.

“So, it’s a real battle for brands. What these guys would do, because of the accidental, sensational fame, there is already that familiarity. So corporates will always try to fight for a head-start. The introduction part is already sorted,” added Mr Ndagwa.

He also reasoned that the matter of costs makes the accidental celebrities a prime product.

“Why are celebrities paid a lot of money? It’s because there is the familiarity aspect and they have a big following. So you will realise that these accidental celebrities, or what you’d call newly-acquired fame that is short-term, are good alternative for a brand to put out a service or a product at a really, really negotiated cost,” said Ndagwa.

He added: “They reduce the amount an advertiser would normally splash for consumer attention and quarter the price they would pay an established celebrity. Imagine the value Pastor Sue of the ‘twa twa’ fame would bring if she were to be the face of safe sex (campaigns) going into the festive season.”

BRAND AMBASSADOR

Should a person who has gained quick fame be approached by a corporate for an advertising deal, Ndagwa advised that they pounce on it because the fame is likely to fade away as quickly as it came.

“Take up the opportunity and see what you can make out of it,” he said. “But don’t look at it as (long-term) fame and fortune.”

There could also be some element of giving back to society when corporates choose to work with the emerging celebrities, but Ndagwa is not convinced that that is the top priority for any firm seeking to have a deal with such people.

Stivo, for instance, is now a brand ambassador for Lake Basin Orthodontic Centre, a dental facility.

The hospital has already attached braces on Stivo’s teeth, and the artiste — whose not-so-common tooth arrangement is among the features that have been attracting ridicule — proudly displayed them during the interview.

The dental facility based at Thika Road Mall, he said, is among the few firms that have brought money his way through a three-month ambassadorial role.

“There are others on the way. We are yet to talk to them,” said Stivo.

POLITICAL BAIT

With the fame he has been basking in since July, Stivo said he has been doing all he can to launch his musical career on the right footing.

One of the toughest decisions he has had to make, he told Lifestyle, is to turn down an offer from the Office of Deputy President William Ruto to perform at a campaign rally in Kibera ahead of the November 7 by-election.

“There are people who called me, including Mheshimiwa (His Excellency) Ruto, but I refused,” he said.

“You know, I’m an artiste and everyone looks up to me. If I join politics, people will regard me as a politician. And I’ll never be that way.”

Before July, Stivo — a Standard Eight dropout — was not a person anyone would think of inviting to any high-stakes event.

Then, most of the people who knew him as an artiste were in Kibera’s Laini Saba (where he records his music) and Siranga (where he lives).

In fact, his main occupation was a security guard, which he did between 2010 (the year he sat KCPE) and mid-2018, when the security company that had employed him folded up. After that he dabbled as a manual worker at construction sites.

BUTT OF JOKES

On the streets of Kibera when we visited him on Wednesday, every so often someone could shout “msanii” his way.

“People call him msanii (artiste) because if you asked him to perform right here, he’ll do it right away,” said music producer Philip “Phlexible” Oyoo, who has produced most of Stivo’s songs, including the breakthrough track "Mihadarati".

So is Stivo an accidental celebrity? The artiste does not see it that way. To him, it was all God’s doing. “This is God’s plan. God does things you cannot expect,” he said.

He has long accepted the fact that his looks are a source of ridicule. He noted that he has been a butt of jokes from when he was a young boy, growing up in Oyugis, Homa Bay County, then later in Kibera where he lived with his father.

“It began a long time ago, but I’m not about to hate myself. We leave it to God. He had a reason for creating me this way,” said Stivo.

To those who have been making unsavoury remarks about his looks, “I tell them not to judge others; you never know how that person will help you in days to come.”

A few days ago, Stivo was announced the winner of the 2019 Mashujaa Awards, where he had been nominated against the big names in Kenya’s entertainment scene.

ACCOLADES

Though he never applied for nomination, he is glad for the accolades received. “I felt great because my fans who voted decided that I had to take it,” he said.

One major criticism levelled against Stivo’s music is that it is highly didactic, in that it preaches rather than package messages like conventional art does.

But according to Phlexible, his producer, the target audience requires directness.

“He’s just good because he doesn’t go much into metaphors and such. He’s just straight to the point,” he said.

“With his simple Kiswahili, it’s not just Nairobi that’s getting him but people in all parts of Kenya.”

For the pastor who became famous for her message on intimacy, it has been the other way round.

With her husband, they have used media interviews to market their church, Overcomers Hope Ministry in Nairobi’s Kasarani, where they have been ministering for 15 years.

In their interviews, they have been sharing the secrets to happiness in their 20 years of marriage, how they value intimacy.

“We do not regret for that word having come out. If it is going to save some couples, if it is going to give us a platform to empty that which is in our hearts, to God be the glory,” said Pastor Susan at an interview with a local TV station.

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