Two months ago, tragedy struck the Mwatia family following the passing of their patriarch, Josephat Mwatia. Mwatia was the father of two of the biggest gospel musicians in Kenya, Owen Mwatia alias Daddy Owen and Roy Smith Mwatia alias Rufftone.
Speaking to local tabloid Buzz, Daddy Owen spoke candidly about how painful losing their dad was.
Asked how he was dealing with the loss, he said:
“It was so hard, he was my inspiration in so many things. My dad never went to school but he struggled, came to Nairobi and worked hard for himself and us. He was among the first people in our village to go to Nairobi, he was about 14 then, he was a hero, and his nickname was ‘mzungu’.
“The thing that hurts me the most is that when I last talked to him he had gone for a medical check-up, I had processed medical insurance for him and it’s just the other day that the guys from the insurance company called and told me ‘your dad’s insurance is ready,’ after he died. It was so painful because I wanted him to live a good life.
“I don’t know whether this is a good or bad thing; my father brought us up to be strong men, that even when you’re suffering you power through it. I wish he would have opened up more because even when he was going through something he would suffer in silence. He brought us up to be tough, to not complain all the time.
“He kept so many things to himself. Sometimes as men we get into this “cave” in our heads and tell ourselves we will solve whatever’s going on then come out, but it gets deep and dark and you die inside there. I think my dad died inside his “cave”. There’s so much he didn’t tell us.”
Daddy Owen also spoke about the Malaika Tribute Awards which celebrates the remarkable talent of people with disabilities that he founded five years ago.
You founded the Malaika Tribute Awards which celebrates remarkable talent of people with disabilities, five years ago, it must feel like such an achievement right?
Five years! You know what, I follow up every year, if for example a winner gets Sh100,000 I must check up on them, I want to see how that money has helped them and what more I can do. There are some that the prize money has really helped and I think, let me find some donors and sponsors and take this further.
Have you found donors or sponsors?
For so many, there is one that I started paying fees for when he was in Class Five and right now he is in high school, he got a sponsor on the day of the awards. I feel my success comes from this-helping people with disabilities, not from music.
But it’s not easy to work or live with them because sometimes they demand more than what you can deliver, at times you may want to lend a hand and they end up leaving everything to you and if you don’t carry their baggage you will be on the wrong. It’s hard, but you have to stand with them.
In you experience working with disabled people for these years, what values do you feel they have added to your life?
One thing I know is I’m learning to understand them and I’ve learnt to be very patient. I’ve also learnt to manage people’s expectations and what I can deliver. And I know a few things in sign language to get by.
People say disability is not inability, how true is that?
If you are a disabled person you must believe in that statement, if you don’t it won’t work. There are some disabled people who believe in handouts, the moment you do that and think you are owed something it becomes an inability. But I know a few who are amazing.
There was a boy we awarded last year, has no hands and is at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture (JKUAT). He studies computer engineering and has already built his own software using his legs, he’s really talented, and you will be amazed.
Someone like that proves he wants to be more, and then there are others who take pity on the disabled and appreciate them not because of their talent but because they are disabled. There’s another one called Fred who we’ll be awarding this year, he’s a serious economist, brilliant guy and it’s not until he stands up that you will realise he’s disabled.
Was it hard getting sponsors for the first edition of the award show?
Very hard, but there are good people on this earth, there’s someone who gave me sh800,000 for the prize money from his pocket, not a company, then I paid everything else from my pocket as well. There were no sponsors. This is my passion. So many people didn’t think it would work.
Do you think society is more aware and accepting of disabled people?
We are more aware, I remember when we started we really pushed for companies to have parking spaces for disabled people. When Mongolo was a nominated city councillor I told him we needed to change the Nairobi parking lots, get them painted even if it was just for the disabled people and they were.
How is married life? That’s a hard question, (laughs) do you want my version or Pastor Maboya’s?
Yours of course. Let me tell you about Pastor Maboya from Tanzania first. He says, ‘ndoa ni kisima kirefu sana, na ukuta zake zinateleza sana, wale walio ndani wanajaribu kutoka lakini hawawezi toka na wale wako nje wanang’ang’ana kulikimbilia hicho kisima. Wale walio ndani wanapigia nduru walio nje ‘msiingie msiingie!’ lakini lile shimo ni ndefu, wale wako ndani hawawezi skika. (Laughs) My wife and I dated for about four years before getting married, we’d already known each other so now we are making things work as a unit, things like investments… I can’t complain, I find it’s almost the same as when we were still dating because we still do the things we used to before getting married.
Do you have date nights? Every Friday. We have movie nights. I always make sure I’m home on Friday night, so don’t book me for anything on those evenings. (Laughs)
I’m a Luhya so I’m going upcountry. (Laughs) We usually go for vacations in November then to upcountry in December but this year was hectic because I lost my dad.
Do you want to be a different father to your children in future than the one he was to you?
That’s a very good question. I wonder about that a lot. I was raised to be a tough man, but now, should I translate the same to my children? What if being that tough man becomes too much and you fail to get out of the “cave”? But then as a man you can’t be whining all the time.
If my dad would have told us he was sick it might have been easier, he suffered in silence, instead of asking his children for money to buy him medicine, he would do it himself. My dad wasn’t one to call you all the time but my mother will call you all the time. I knew his way was the right way but when he died I started second guessing it.
Are people asking when you will get children? Society really puts pressure on someone. Children will come along, very many, watch this space. (Laughs)