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Man with a talking instrument

Wandindi may be a forgotten musical instrument, but John Kibe has for over 15 years breathed new life to it with his mastery

In the 21st century, children want to play the violin, guitar, saxophone, piano and the likes. It’s rare to find a millennial who can play traditional musical instruments. But for over 15 years now, John Kibe, a self-taught wandindi player has not only learnt how to make and play the instrument but also risen in the world of comedy and entertainment.

Wandindi is a one-stringed fiddle famous amongst the Agikuyu and Embu community. Kibe communicates with his wandindi literally, and this is what has made him a renowned artiste.

Creative mind

Kibe’s childhood rotated around Nyeri, Othaya and Dandora. He would visit his grandmother in Dandora during the holidays. He recalls being a creative child who always made toys, small weapons such as catapults, bows and arrows. He went to school at Nyamachaki Primary School in Nyeri and later on transferred to Kiria-ini in Othaya in 1998.

It is while he was in his primary school that he was exposed to children playing the wandindi that he got interested in the musical instrument. Their home was near Othaya Approved School and while other boys played football, Kibe on the other hand was curious to learn how the boys in the approved school played the wandindi.

“I’d watch the boys play it as they sang the National Anthem and got interested. The fact that they were my age mates made it easier for me to interact with them and I would borrow just to learn. Later on, I made my first one from rabbit skin,” he recalls. Kibe would practice it during his free time.

The passion for this traditional instrument continued even when he joined Karima Boys in Othaya. As he recalls, during his time and life in school was tough, marked with strikes all the time and the wandindi helped him to cope. “We used to be harassed by older students almost every day.

I was a bit lucky because my harassment was to play wandindi for them and in the process mastered playing it under that pressure,” he narrates. The conditions in the school not only made him tough but also polished him to become a leader in the school. He became a first aider right from Form One and a perfect later on. He participated in music and drama festivals and when he was not studying, he continued playing wandindi in church,  weddings and other events. 

John Kibe learnt how to play wandindi when he was a boy, and he has never looked back. Photo/Harriet James

After high school, Kibe joined Kenya Institute of Management (KIM) to study business management. But he never left wandindi even in his pursuits.

His first exposure came when he participated in a competition in Kameme FM  and won the top prize.

Winner

“One day, my neighbour informed me that Kameme FM  had a competition. I stepped out and won Sh100,000. This is when I began to look at the wandindi not just as a pass time thing, but as a job,” he says.

Kameme FM had organised a competition to look for talents in four regions: Central, Eastern, Rift Valley, and Nairobi. Amongst the competitors were poets, singers, comedians and other entries. They shortlisted 16 out of 200 and further put them in four clusters and let the public vote for one in each cluster. Kibe won in the Central region category when further voting took place.

Making money

“I remember when a friend saw me during the auditions and asked me what I was doing there. I jokingly answered, “I’ve come for the Sh100,000 that’s here” and I was shocked when what I said came to be,” he recalls.

With the money, Kibe tithed paid his debts and started an electronic business. “I began by selling women second-hand clothes. I would get my stock from Gikomba market. Later, I expanded my business to include movies, printing, general electronics and accessories,” Kibe says.

After performing in many people’s weddings for free for so long, Kibe discovered another talent: comedy. In December 2015, he came across a Churchill Show advert audition and he went for it. Luckily, he was shortlisted and performed during Christmas Day that year.

Thereafter, he was directed to join the team, which performed at the Carnivore Every Tuesday. “I’d travel to. Being on Churchill Show helped me grow, create new storylines in each performance and gave me potential clients,” he says.

For now, Kibe has begun teaching young people and those interested in how to play it. He feels that it is time the government reintroduces it back to the syllabus as it preserves heritage.

“I remember we learnt music in primary school and I wish it could be reintroduced. These instruments are our heritage and you never know, maybe one or two students may end up majoring in playing one as a way of life,” he says.

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