Interview By Julie Of Passion Magazine.
A few years ago, a rather hopeful editor put me on assignment to glean some answers from a list of questions he had put to Maina Kageni, the exuberant radio host who is increasingly becoming the ladies man, for his pro-women views.
Hiding my nervousness under a confident, but somewhat shaky exterior, I made first contact, immediately encountering a scheduling nightmare of ridiculous proportions. It took several phone calls and a similar
amount of weeks to pin the man down. Finally, I got him at the other end of a table and quickly realised that getting him to sit down had not been my greatest challenge. Getting him to speak was.
Years later, the man has changed. It took exactly one phone call, and a subsequent meeting to organise this interview. I might mention that while he answered my calls, he was not as courteous to my editor, but then again, anyone who listens to Classic 105 knows he is partial to the ladies.
Because we had begun on such a cooperative note, once again I was hopeful that he would be forthcoming with all the intimate details. Let’s just say I remain hopeful. But luckily with Maina, it is more about what he does not say than what he says.
Take for example our arrangements for this interview. I was not in the least bit surprised when he offered to buy me lunch at Buffet Park. It is something one would expect because while Maina might have more money than God, his feet remain firmly on the earth, and they can usually be found under that famed guava tree.
He is endearingly modest about his wealth. “Who says I’m rich? I earn enough and I try to live a quality lifestyle. I’m just rich at heart.”
That said, he owns a couple of condos in Miami, Florida, which he is quick to say were bought on a mortgage, and a couple of homes here too. He also has various business interests in Kenya and on the continent.
From the little he reveals about his commercial ventures, one might conclude that he is building a conglomerate. His enterprises are diverse, ranging from endorsement contracts to real estate and many things in between. He even owns a modelling agency in Lagos with one of the P-Square brothers. Incidentally, Uti Nwachukwu from the Big Brother All Star House is one of his models.
He is certainly a man of contradictions. Dressing him for the shoot was a quite a production. Few people have a problem with looking too smart, but apparently he does. “I don’t do suits! That’s not me. Tuxedoes maybe, but suits? No.”
For him it is either ultra-casual or uber smart, nothing in between. But even in his wardrobe staple -jeans, sneakers and a tee shirt – he looks laid back, but not cheap, or shabby.
With Maina, you do find that the pendulum swings from one extreme to the other. He is such a regular at Buffet Park that he is on a first name basis with the waiting staff. If you found him pouring libations under that guava tree, you might conclude that he is a simple man with simple tastes. Not so.
He tells a story about what was formerly known as Thika Road but is now just a labyrinth of dusty diversions. “I was just reappointed Guinness brand ambassador and we had a meeting at East African Breweries in Ruaraka. At 1 pm the traffic was a mess. One night I had an activation at Jambo Grill which ended at 5am. I imagined trying to navigate that road at that time and decided to sleep at Safari Park Hotel.” It is not every man who will fork out tens of thousands of shillings on a whim, just to avoid driving home, less than 20 kilometres away.
In Maina, you find a curious meeting of bourgeoisie and working class values. He will not wear a suit, but he will wear a tuxedo. He will drink at Buffet, but sleep at Safari Park. He watches Nigerian movies, but vacations in Miami. Obviously money does not define who he is, for him, it is simply a means to a very happy end.
But I digress. We had agreed to meet at 1pm but it is almost 2 when he arrives in the black Hummer that is almost as well known as Maina himself. He holds court as we sit on simple wooden benches with the breeze for a blanket and the sky as our shelter.
A bottle of vodka in hand, he gives audience to a steady stream of friends and fans that came to call. “I have been drinking everyday for 12 years. I don’t know what I would do if I stopped drinking.”
When I suggest that he might have a drinking problem he is not having any of it. “I can stop if I want to. During Lent I cut down even though I am not a staunch Christian. I only drank wine which is well within Biblical parameters!
Drinking for me is a social activity. What else is there to do? Life would be so boring because you would feel like you are not part of the party.”
His interactions with the public are so seamless, it is almost as if he makes a considered effort to treat everyone as an equal – women especially. I put it to him that he is a feminist. He is not too comfortable with the title but nevertheless readily admits that he does stand up for women. “Don’t you see how badly Kenyan women are treated? That is why I am on their side. Women are stereo-typed and everything is their fault. I was brought up by a very successful, strong woman and my sister is also a very strong character. Women deserve more than they get from their men.”
We launch into an extended dialogue about the comments men make on the Classic 105 Breakfast Show with Maina and King’ang’i, ultimately concluding that as a nation, we have issues. “As a matter of fact, we spend about sh400,000 a month on counselling some of our callers. It is that bad.”
But he is not a bleeding heart gender activist. He just calls it as he sees it. As we speak, in a segue that seems slightly contrary to his on air persona, he alleges that women enjoy sex more than men. “It is a fact,” he asserts, looking me in the eye. Obviously, for Maina, hosting a radio show is much more than just a job. He takes it personal.
When we hear him speak with such conviction, it is not an act, it is straight from the heart. It comes so naturally that it has never dawned on him that by defending women, they would come to see him as a role model-a label he recoils from. “I am no role model. I drink alot!
But I know that I am here to fulfil a purpose. Everybody is, you just have to figure it out. Mine is to help a few people here and there, and so far everyone I have helped is doing OK.”
Ironically, the radio career that has opened so many doors for him, and many others by extension, was never part of the plan. “I got on radio by pure fluke. DJ Pinye and I had brought over some deejays from the United Kingdom and we went to Capital FM to book air time to advertise the gig. We were then asked for sh40,000 for the voiceover. We did not have any more cash so I offered to do it. John Wilkins liked it and offered me a job! Basically, if I had that money on me, I would not be on radio!”
Maina has no training in journalism or psychology but he gets by. “I guess my career comes down to not having 40 grand!”
But he is well-schooled having attended the prestigious Msingi Bora Kindergarten, before joining Westlands Primary School and later the Laiser Hill Academy. He then went on a working holiday of sorts to the UK and the US, where he started doing everything from washing dishes at McDonalds to driving delivery trucks and selling cars.
Before he settled at Classic 105, he worked for 96.4 Nation FM (now Easy FM) and for KISS 100.
Over the years, he has narrowed his on-air focus to relationship issues. “It is not about sex. It is about relationships, and they always touch on sex. There was an unfulfilled market and we went for it. We realised that whenever we did relationship stuff on Wednesdays and Fridays, the response was huge. So we thought, ‘…why not do this full time?’ I am glad we did.”
But now, with more than 10 years under his belt, he is ready to move on. “Hopefully, if my plans pan out, by next year I will be off the air. If not, you are going have to put up with me for a while longer!”
When he is not on the air, at the bar, on the golf course or in Miami, he spends his time nursing a very curious TV habit: Watching Nigerian movies. And cricket. He tried to explain to me something about wickets, innings and outings but I was not getting it, so we moved on.
“I would like to have kids, but a family? No. The institution of marriage has changed and I do not think I have changed with it. It is all good when you have a long-term sweetie you can marry, but I doubt I will find someone who will love me enough for me to say,’OK, lock me up in the jail that is marriage and throw away the key!’”
Marriage or no marriage his life is full. From the number of people who call him friend, he would probably make for a very popular politician for his adoring fans are legion, and they love him.
Despite that, there is still much speculation about his lifestyle choices. That niggling rumour about his sexual orientation refuses to go away. “I don’t know why people are so caught up about whether I am gay or not. Maybe we need more Nigerian movies on telly to occupy their time! I am not bothered about what they think because an opinion is like a bad tooth…most people have one.” I accept this nonchalant world view with a pinch of salt, because, with Maina, it is less about what he says, and more about what he does not.
Whether he is gay or not is neither here nor there, and certainly no one’s business but his own. But I cannot help but feel that he has grown weary of being a conversation piece, constantly discussed like an abstract painting on display.
Every so often, he gets a wary look about him, like an impala being circled by lions (which he saw for the first time in the flesh in Maasai Mara last month) not knowing when one among the ravenous pride will strike the fatal blow.
For me, he is the embodiment of loneliness, a man surrounded by people and yet very much alone. He gives some credence to my theory when he admits that he likes his own company. “If I have a bottle of whiskey, I can spend the whole weekend at home, watching Nigerian movies, cricket or golf. I can socialise with myself.”
Maina wa Wangui is a man of many characters but you would never tell for looking at his poker face.
Few of us will ever know the man behind the mask. His mum Wangui, is probably the only person who can reveal the secrets of his heart as she is the one woman that he loves the most.
His father died when he was very young. “My dad passed on when I was a toddler. It is sad but I never knew him. My biggest memory of him was one night when I was sick and he offered his palms for me to vomit in.”
Maina himself seems to live in the present, not seeming to have any definitive thoughts about the future. “If I get to 60, I will probably still be a Scotch guzzler. But if I do not, my epitaph might be something like, ‘…there goes the guy who could drink a bottle of Scotch in one sitting.’ Well if I am honest, maybe not. I hope I will be well spoken of.”
Time as they say, will tell. And as always, to quote him, his listeners might be the ones to have the absolute final word.
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