King Kaka: ‘I was a slave to money, now I’m living’

Kennedy Ombima aka King Kaka

Kennedy Ombima aka King Kaka is a businessman, a musician, a poet and a scriptwriter. 

Photo credit: Pool

Perhaps Kennedy “King Kaka” Ombima’s journey to stardom is a metaphor for the road I am taking to meet him. I am on Mombasa Road, joining Outering Ring Road, making my way to Tassia, through a tarmac road or what used to be a tarmac road, several axle-breaking potholes, human traffic and parts of a road that don’t look like parts of a road at all.

If this sounds like the road to success, then you will be right on the money. He grew up here, in Eastlands, and the city kept its promise to him: a businessman, a musician, a poet, a scriptwriter; this is Kaka Empire.

Fame, however comes with its shadow twin, shame. And he almost lost it all when he tangled with death some time back and “my money couldn’t save me.” He lost his appetite. Lost weight. The king, was, well, naked. Now he leaves nothing to chance. “I laugh more. I watch more movies. I am doing what I want,” he says. “I am a genius.” Clearly, he is not struggling with self-esteem.

It is fitting then that we hold our interview in the backdrop of an open-air crusade, seeing that he was born again, a resurrection from the jaws of death—the Grim Reaper, after all, is not known for his affinity for cash, but souls.

What makes you, you?

I have a unique eye; I see things differently and always have. This ability has served me well in my career, allowing me to explore various opportunities.

What got you here?

Working with a goal and crafting with intention. It’s about transforming what's in your head into reality. That’s wise; right? [chuckles].

What did you know then that has helped you now?

That poverty is a big motivation. When you lack, you have all the time to think about the things you don’t have. That propelled me. I would credit my zeal and vision, but largely it is poverty. I lacked and so I wanted to conquer the world.

You are a businessman, an artist, a father, a husband, and now a film producer. Do you ever feel like a prisoner of selves?

This may be cliche, but Eliud Kipchoge's famous quote “No human is limited” resonates with me, it's become my life mantra. With vision, you find a purpose to face the future. It’s all about what you want for yourself.

For instance, yesterday I slept at 4 am, I was up by 7 am, and I was on set by 8.30 am. I have been shooting all day and now I am in the studio. I have two other meetings to attend, which means I will get home at around midnight. It’s all about what you want for yourself.

What are you chasing, or rather, what are you running away from?

Haha! I am running away from poverty, not just the lack of finances, but also of a state of mind. I believe in continuously evolving. I am almost 40 years old. I have lived through the VCR, cassette, CD, DVD, VCD, flash drives, and streaming platforms. I have experienced that kind of evolution. The question is what is your Lego block toward evolution—in any field that you pick?

What does money mean to you now?

Money is a tool to realise dreams. It helps execute ideas and prepares you better for opportunities. There were times I had crazy ideas, but I didn’t have the money, so it seemed impossible. Now that I have money, when I have a dream, I go to one of my accounts and execute it. I will put together the initial budget, and by the time I approach potential partners, I already have a base. My strategy is to always walk into the room more prepared than the previous guy or the next guy.

Can one have it all?

Yes, but balance is key. My health scare (over four months of hospitalisation) taught me to value life more, work less, and enjoy time with loved ones. I was a crazy workaholic—now, I don’t work on Mondays and Thursdays. I was a slave to money but I realised it is never enough. Now I hang out, go on road trips, and travel. This year, I am taking two vacations; one in Rwanda and the other in the US. When I was hospitalised, I realised that no matter how much money you have, it is nothing. I could not walk, nor eat, but I had money. And it could not help me. Now I live.

King Kaka at the Cannes Film Festival in France in May 2019. 

What does living life look like?

It is experiencing love and spending time with those who matter. I am intentional with family and friends. I hang out with my wife, and children and do movies with friends.

How do people show you love?

[Pause]. Genuine care, loyalty, and wanting the best for each other. You don’t even have to say it.

In showbiz, it is easy to be taken advantage of, fake friends and whatnot. How do you handle your kind of loneliness?

In Geography, there was a module that talked about contours. The first contour for me is God, then family, and colleagues. I place people in different levels of importance based on the love they show me. Nameless (Kenyan pop artiste) is my mentor, we meet and discuss family and business and I learn quite a lot from him.

What does fun look like to you?

Movies, travelling, and exploring new places. I love long drives and discovering the world.

Where have you gone that has stayed with you?

America, Estonia, London, and Sandton in South Africa.

What memory takes you to a particular place?

A few years ago, I started to doubt myself. Things didn't seem to work for me and people in the industry even reached out to me. Then a French alcohol brand reached out asking to work with me. I don’t drink but that didn't put them off. That event reinforced my belief that whatever is in your head just execute because someone is watching. I don’t hold back when it comes to dreaming.

What do you want to leave in your children?

Happiness. Each child has their path, and I want to support them in finding it.

What has being a father revealed to you?

The importance of being present. My children have a say in what I do.

What’s a special treat you do for them?

We have a special morning prayer which I hope they pass down to their children. I take walks with each of them, individually to find out how they are doing. I am teaching them the value of money. I learned that from my mother—she used to sell fruits, and I would help her count her money.

How are you raising your children different from how you were raised?

With more dynamism and awareness of modern challenges like social media. I focus on their happiness and adaptability.

What do you miss most about your childhood?

The carefree spirit and the simple games. We'd play games like dufa mpararo, feya, and sweets—the games. Childhood was worry-free. Now you have to be calculative.

How are you remaining childlike in your life?

I stay grounded and enjoy life without letting fame get to my head.

What’s your insecurity?

I’ve learned to stop seeking external validation. Happiness comes from within.  You don’t have to seek validation from anyone. You cannot please the world. Appreciate yourself.

What would I be surprised to learn about you?

I am partially deaf, and my left arm twitches.

Is that where you got your ear for music, if you can forgive the pun?

Yes, I hear everything, haha!. I protect my hearing at all costs.

What do you go through that few people get to see?

My mom is sick with lupus. She’s my best friend and raised us after my dad died when I was in Class 7.

How does growing up without a father affect your relationship with your children?

It made me more intentional. I had no manual, so I focused on the basics and what was right and wrong.

What are you apologising to yourself for?

Every struggle was worth it. The mistakes taught me hard lessons.

What are you thanking yourself for?

Never giving up and acting on my dreams. Extending my love and resources to others.

What is an absurd thing or habit that you love?

I collect alcohol, which I don’t drink, and snow globes.

When you think of the weekend what food comes to mind?

Chapo ndondo [chapati with beans] and kuku kienyeji.

What never fails to make you laugh?

I love standup comedy and documentaries. My favourite comedian, Njugush, always cracks me up.

What’s your superpower?

My mind and my heart.

What do you know that I should know?

You can do anything. Dream big and don’t be afraid to act on it.

I was in the ghetto today talking to a few guys and I could tell they are not ready for a paradigm shift. If I had the same mindset I would still be in Jericho and Kaloleni, just chilling. Dream, don’t be afraid. Now I am doing movies and heading to Hollywood for classes. This is just a child from Jericho saying if you dream you open more dreams for possibilities.

What will that boy in Jericho tell this man?

You are living the dream. You look impossible.

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