OFF-DUTY: Thespian saving Lake Victoria

David Ojondo is well known in the music and festival arenas as a production manager.

He helps artists and organisations set up events like launching their albums and showcasing their work. He works backstage, pulling the strings.

Ojondo ( nickname Ojay) has worked with popular Kenyan artists like Eric Wainaina and Juliani.

Earlier this year, he was involved in the production of the KAN Festival in Arusha, and the People Dialogue Festival held in Nairobi in March.

Ojondo’s upcountry home is by the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya. He says it no longer resembles the lake of his youth, as it now looks more like a football field due to the hyacinth covering the surface as far as the eye can see. So he decided to something about the environment, and share his experience.

Why do people call you Ojay?

Many people could never pronounce my second name properly, so they nicknamed me Ojay.

I am a descendant of the people of Alego Usonga in Siaya County who live on the shores of Lake Victoria. However, I was born and raised in Nairobi.

Did you always want to be an environmental activist?

No. I wanted to be a thespian, much to the disapproval of my parents. While I have always been artistic, my parents never viewed it as a viable career choice. So when they passed away, I decided to pursue something that they would have been proud of me for; and that is how I ended up in journalism.

What happened to your journalism career?

Well, brown envelopes. When I was new to the scene, we were being paid low salaries. So sometimes a politician sent money to kill a story and I accepted it, even though I did not really want to.

The money was tempting and I was either too ambitious or too impatient, but it burned my conscience until I chose to quit.

What did you do then?

I took four months off and went back to my first love — theatre. I began from the bottom, doing basic production design tasks in costume design, stage management, set design and acting occasionally.

I went for a tour with Eric Wainaina and Mumbi Kaigwa to the Netherlands and Italy for the World Musical Theatre Festival in 2006, with a Swahili play called Kigizi Ndoto.

So how did an ex-journalist and thespian end up being an environmental activist?

When I came back from the Netherlands and Italy tour, I wanted to get into production management full time.

I worked with GoDown and Sarakasi for the Sawa Sawa Festival, and also with Hugh Masekela, Black Uhuru, Burning Spear and Baba Maal.

The experience opened opportunities to work with Africa Unsigned, where I was charged with scouting unsigned talent from the continent.

I was based in South Africa and Senegal. In the course of my work, I was sent on assignment to Mali to cover the Water Festival along Niger River.