What you need to know:
- The restrictions imposed by the government in an effort to contain Covid-19 have stifled the entertainment industry, forcing entertainers like Rodgers Ng'inja to look for multiple streams of income.
A Tiktok video shows a smiling heavily built dark, sharp suited man with a stubble on his chin humming to the soothing tune of Madilu System's ageless jam "Colonisation" in a poorly lit living room. The video has garnered over 1,000 likes and 99 comments so far.
In another video, this time a television commercial, the man is wearing a dark green vest, a large cream cowboy hat, and is happily lost in conversation on phone alongside screen actor Julius Nyamberege, better known as "Mogaka".
These are just some of the many faces Rodgers Ng'inja, popularly known as Ng'inja the Entertainer, wears. When he is not making funny and catchy videos online as he sings to his beloved Rhumba music jams or making iconic commercials for various companies with his touch of seamless acting, he is busy stringing his catchy voice in the State House Choir, entertaining high level dignitaries and diplomats in state functions or directing musicals. But this is not all, he is also a master of ceremonies, MC if you like, which is what he loves most. This is the job that puts food on his large table, this is what he loves doing, what he lives for.
"It (being an MC) is the best job ever. Seeing people dance and smile fills me with joy, of course the money is key, but going to a wedding and you see the bride, the groom and the guests having fun and they tell you "MC Ng'inja the Entertainer, you have done a good job, you are the best", that is more important to me," he says.
But Ng'inja has not always been an MC. Before he took the plunge into the industry four years ago, he was an actor, he still is, at the Kenya National Theatre. Since his boyhood, the MC was always full of drama and there were no guesses as to where his future lay.
"When in high school, I was very involved in the school drama group and I just loved being in character. I knew that this was what I wanted to do in future, so when I finished school, I enrolled for a course in mass communication before I eventually turned to film and editing," Ng'inja explains.
As an actor, he was part of a group called Next Level Productions, which was directed by accomplished playwright Cleophas Malala, now senator for Kakamega.
"The fickle nature of the entertainment industry forces you to be a sort of a Jack of all trades. Sometimes, you can stay even for three, four months without an emceeing gig, which explains why I am also an actor, singer, director and other things at the same time to supplement my main hustle," he observes.
But the MC has fallen victim to Covid-19 containment measures, which have been put in place by the government to stem the spread of the disease since last year. The pandemic has seen the number of events held across the country plummet, while the night curfews mean many entertainment activities cannot be conducted. He has since gone four months without getting a single emceeing gig.
"Things were very good before Covid-19. You could have two gigs in a week, one on Saturday and another on Sunday, and there was no restriction on the number of attendees. But now things are tough because I do not work alone. When I do a quotation, I include a DJ, a public address system and others, it's a full unit. But I have gone four months without a job, which means the other people in the unit are also sleeping hungry," the MC says.
"Our rates have also gone down to between Sh30,000 and Sh40,000 per gig from Sh60,000, and instead of bringing a full system as before, you now bring a small unit for a small gathering.”
This is why the MC has moved to online platforms to engage more with his fans, which has seen him build a solid following which he says helps spread the word about his work. He is an avid user of the popular short video sharing platform TikTok where he has built a legion of followers, and also uses Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to market his work.
But what kind of person makes a successful MC? Ngínja says that three things are critical for one to become a successful master of ceremonies. First, he says, you must be resilient and working hard because nothing good comes easy.
Second, the MC says, your quality must stand out as it is what sells you to potential clients who will only pay a good rate for a standout job.
Third is trustworthiness.
"Being trustworthy means that your word is your bond. When you are given a gig, your client gives you a deposit so that you can put your things in order, but we have a number of MCs who never show up after being paid. To be a successful MC, keep your word and ensure that clients get good value for their money.”