David Mulwa is a living legend among thousands of Kenyans who have been blessed to be his students over the years.
Best known for his roles on TV and film, his stage performances have been magnetic and have inspired countless youth to take up acting as a career simply for having seen and felt the soulful passion of this consummate performer and award-winning entertainer.
Yet Dr Mulwa has been equally passionate about his teaching in the Theatre and Film Department at Kenyatta University where he’s taught thousands of students the art of acting and the craft of creative writing.
Scores of those appreciative Mulwa alumnae attended the Kenya Theatre Awards early this year where the elder statesman of the Kenyan stage received a Lifetime Achievement award for the huge body of artistic work he has performed, specifically in theatre, as not only an actor but as a director, producer, and playwright as well as a pedagogue and mentor.
It was the Chairman of the Kenya Theatre Awards and former Mulwa student, Benson Ngobia who invited all ex-Mulwa students to come on stage to congratulate their Mwalimu.
The Kenya National Theatre stage veritably shook from the shock of so many Kenyans rushing up to greet Mulwa who many had not seen since their last class with him, except on national TV in series like ‘Family Affairs’, ‘Nairobi Law’ and ‘Heart and Soul’ to name a few.
“It was then that I began to think about organizing a gathering of his former students to pay Mulwa a visit,” Dr. Emmanuel Shikuku told BD Life at the event that finally occurred on Saturday, July 16th.
Mulwa was deeply moved by the receipt of the KTA award, but even more so by all his former students who appeared as if by magic on stage with him.
What was clear on that occasion was that the ex-students were equally thrilled to be in the presence of the man who had mentored them when they had most needed assurance that their love of the theatre arts wasn’t a waste of time or a useless career pursuit in life.
“One thing I found most inspiring about Mulwa was the fact that he didn’t just talk about acting; he was also acting on stage or in the film while he was teaching us,” said Sheila Masinde, one of the multitude who showed up at Mulwa’s new home in Ruia.
At age 77, Mulwa only retired from teaching in KU’s Theatre Arts and Film Department in 2021. He hadn’t been in perfect health for quite some time.
Yet he never let the physical challenges he faced get in the way of his coming to class and teaching the Principles of Acting, Directing, Stagecraft, or Creative Writing. Nor did it stop him from acting in roles for Television or Film until recently.
Following the KTA awards night, Dr. Shikuku, who is also a former student of Mulwa (1999), went to see him at his home. That’s when he decided that the idea to plan a kind of ‘pilgrimage’ to their mentor’s home would be a pleasure not just for his students but for the man himself.
Shortly thereafter, a WhatsApp group was formed, inviting all the former Mulwa students to go together and see their Mwalimu. After that, the open invitation went viral and the numbers of Mulwa alumnae that joined the group soared.
And even after Shikuku suggested that members of the group contribute to a fund to deal with the logistics of the meet-up day and another to donate for a gift to the Mzee himself, the numbers continued to grow and so did the donations. Funds even poured in from the Diaspora, from Europe and US.
“Ultimately we raised over Sh300,000 as our gift to Mwalimu Mulwa,” Dr Shikuku said. “That’s not including the additional Sh70,000 we raised to cover everything from tents and chairs to cooking utensils, 15 chicken and the sheep that we slaughtered and ‘choma-ed’,” he added, noting there was more than enough food.
“It was a feast!” said Kevin Kimani, who’s now the Program Director at Kenya Cultural Centre as well as founder of the KIT Festival.
The plan originally was for there to be performances of some of Mulwa’s plays. But his students were so keen to share their feelings of affection and gratitude to the man that most of the day was spent with their taking turns telling how their Mwalimu had influenced and uplifted their lives.