By Lisa Osiako
Known for his leopard print shirt and green suit is Felix Odiwour, popularly known as Jalang’o or Jalas if you like. The man who is one of Kenya’s most sought after comedians has not had it easy in life. As a director, radio presenter, actor, and comedian, this man has endured a lot to see him where he is at now.
Born in Homabay County over 30 years ago to native farmer parents, Jalang’o and his family had to go through numerous difficulties to ensure they survived. The basic needs were hardto come by, and many times they would sleep hungry. Jalang’o had to wake up at dawn to walk barefoot to school. During lunch, he would walk back home only to find no food, and opt to take a glass of water before returning to school for the afternoon classes.
Despite it all, he was able to post 427 marks in his KCPE and was called for admission to Maseno High School. Unfortunately, his parents could not raise the fees. After calling for a Harambee, his father raised enough fees and a week after the date he was to be admitted, Jalang’o and his father walked into Maseno School dressed in full Maseno uniform. He was however told that since he was late, he could not be admitted his chance had already been given to someone else.
Left with no choice, they returned home and he was enrolled at Bar Kanyago secondary school, still in his Maseno uniform as there was no extra money to spend on another pair of uniform. During his first year there, school fees was still a problem and he eventually had to move to Nyangoma Boys High School in Bondo, where his elder brother was studying. His elder brother thus had to drop out of school to enable him to study.
In order to pay for his fees, his father had to supply the school with maize, beans, and firewood. He eventually finished and managed to score a C+, which was a good grade considering the school circumstances.
As other students were busy discussing what universities they wanted to join, Jalang’o approached his father to inquire whether he would be joining. His father’s reply crushed his spirit. He could not join the university as there was no money to pay for his fees. This then meant that he would stay home while others went to school.
As he could also not just sit at home and wait to be provided for, Jalang’o decided to be a fisherman. He did this for a while before leaving it to become a fishmonger at Capital Fish Company, in Homabay.
One morning, as he prepared to go to work, his father called him and gave him his two shirts, two pairs of trousers and Ksh 800. His words then were: “go to college and to be a man”.
He set out to Nairobi the following day and stayed with his relative in Lavington. Here, he was shown all he needed to know about the appliances in the house and how they worked. Then his relative sent every worker away and Jalang’o had to be the houseboy. He one day woke up to the realization that this was not what he wanted. This is when he left that house and went to stay with his uncle in Embakasi, whom he says he is indebted to date.
While there, he decided to venture into arts. While trying to make contacts, he decided to help his uncle put food on the table by doing manual jobs. After work, he would go for each and every theatrical audition. Even after failing several auditions, he did not give up trying, until the day he was given a chance to audition at the Kenya National Theater. He eventually landed the role of a second cast, which is like being an ‘extra.’ He was however very diligent in going for rehearsals after work. His uncle Ochieng gave him all the financial and moral support he needed.
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It was during a setbook play at a school when one of the actors did not show up, and Jalang’o, being an extra, had to come in. Everyone was waiting for him to fail, However, to everyone’s surprise, he took to the stage and did so well. After that, he was taken as the main character, his first break in the theater.
After doing other commercial plays, he decided to try out TV. This is when he landed the role of Jalang’o on Papa Shirandula. The actual plan was to have him and his colleague Otoyo, appear in one episode. At the back of their minds, however, they wanted to make it the very best appearance they made.
After a while, Kiss 100 came calling for a presenter. Those with degrees were asked to step on one side, and although Jalang’o had no degree, he too stepped to that side. To cut down on those shortlisted, the interview panel narrowed the search down to those who had a degree in a media-related course. Again, Jalang’o confidently joined that group.
When it was time to present his papers, he amazed the panel when he said: “Thank you so much, I don’t have any of the papers but I think am the person you are looking for.” The manager loved his courage, and that is how he got the radio job.
Jalang’o later left and joined Radio Maisha, pushing its rank from 48 to number 1 in a span of fewer than three years. He later left and joined Hot 96, co-hosting the morning show with media veteran, Jeff Koinange. Now, he is at Milele FM, still doing a morning show.
He also started his own company, Arena Media, which offers different services such as marketing, brand launches and hosting various events.
Jalang’o is a true epitome of hard work and never giving up on one’s dream. With determination, anyone can succeed.