Over the past few years it has become almost standard practice for nearly all TV stations to feature, at the bottom right of the TV screen, a sign-language interpreter to enable hearing-impaired viewers — a sizeable, yet ignored section of the viewing public, keep abreast of the world around them.
Relatively new in Kenya, the trend has helped tap into a hitherto neglected segment of the market, enhancing inclusivity in news viewership. However, this new dispensation is yet to fill an important gap: music.
But a young man from Waithaka Town in Dagoretti South Constituency plans to turn the volume a decibel higher. Collins Mutindi, a music producer who owns Collins Mutindi Productions — an outfit that, besides producing music incorporates artiste-management and event promotions, has released what is admittedly a new concept in music viewership: incorporating a sign language expert in videos produced by his studio.
The single, titled "Mingi Mingi" (Swahili for many) by a relatively new artiste, Jane Iguri, is an upbeat song that encourages people to focus on their goals and expect many (blessings).
To make the video versatile with the barest of intrusion, the interpreter is cast as part of the characters, thus giving the impression of a conversation between insiders.
Syncing the lyrics with sign language was an arduous task, Mutindi says, but that’s not all.
“To hire an interpreter is very expensive. Through friends, I was able to connect with an expert, but he was living in Kitui (County). To have him come over for the video shoot we relied solely on text messaging!”
Another hurdle resulted from the fact that sign-language in Kenya is not offered in Swahili, yet "Mingi Mingi" is done entirely in the language.
“We rehearsed over and over again to get it right,” Mutindi explains.
“But it paid off, and we learnt. More videos are on the way.”
It almost never happened; this life, that is. Mutindi, 33, knows what it means to stray off the path. Born in Eastlands, the father of two — a boy and a girl, nearly got sucked into trouble that, in retrospect, could have led him to jail or death.
“Some of the friends I grew up with ended up in prison, while others were killed,” he says.
In primary school, Mutindi, a fairly bright boy, was involved in petty crime — stealing from his classmates, truancy and barely into adolescence already knew how to chimney cigarette smoke out of his nose.
Wary of their son’s dalliance with delinquency, Mutindi’s parents shipped him off to their rural home in Luanda, Western Kenya, for his secondary school education.
“Looking back, it was the best thing that could have happened to me,” Mutindi says. Sure, it was hard at first for a lippy city slicker to adjust to a fairly slow life, but over time he became a model student.
Indeed, it is partly on account of his past and the unsettling thought of ‘what if’ that led Mutindi to open his recording studio located near Dagoretti town.
He tells me a story about a young man — barely 16, who approached him after a music concert at Gilgil.
As one of the promoters of the event, Mutindi was harried, bogged with logistics and pressed for time, but the shabby boy hounded him, begging to perform a song to close the event.
Eventually, Mutindi gave the boy the microphone.
“We were amazed,” says Collins.
“This kid blew everyone away with his song. I scribbled down my number and told him to call me. He did and we put him in the studio, for free. When it’s all done, he will be a hit musician.”
“It’s life,” Mutindi says with the air of someone who has seen it all; who has been there. He has lived in the Waithaka neighbourhood for seven years now.
“I am fortunate I didn’t end up a failure. Who knows…,” he trails off.
Now and then, several people shout a greeting. We walk down a road to a big plastic water tank.
It’s a car wash lot, the tank bought out of Mutindi’s own pocket. Three young men stand by waiting for business.
A young, slender man sporting dreadlocks waves and jokingly asks that we go sit for “a plate of chicken shipped from Mombasa”.
Not too long ago, Mutindi explains, the young men were on the cusp of being statistics. With the car wash, they are earning an honest livelihood.
Mutindi hopes that his music will continue reaching the deaf: those who, through no fault of their own cannot hear, but also those who choose, like he once did, to hear and yet choose not to listen to counsel.
Mutindi, who manages popular comic-gospel singer Stigah who, together with fellow singer Kaymo introduced the refrain, Thitima! (electricity!) hopes to create a made-for-TV talk show that will address and tackle on-the-ground life issues, especially those affecting the youth such as crime, drug abuse, unplanned pregnancies among others. The project is at the pilot stage and expected to be launched within the year.