“A living legend. Coolest dude of the 90s. A radio trailblazer. A pioneer in Kenya’s hip hop. One of Kenya’s greatest media personalities. A national treasure. Underrated.” The list of words used to describe Jimmi Gathu could go on, and for anyone who grew up near a TV or radio in the 90s and 2000s, few people deserve the kind of respect and nostalgic appreciation that he gets.
No doubt, he’s been missed since his departure from mainstream media, and nothing has brought greater joy to fans than seeing him make a solid comeback to our screens in Maisha Magic Plus’ drama series Kina, also streaming on Showmax.
Directed by Supa Modo director Likarion Wainaina and Victor Gatonye (Dream Child), Kina follows the ruthless battle for survival between the wealthy and powerful and the downtrodden who toil for the rich but reap nothing from their hard work.
Gathu plays Fred Tandala, a character he describes as “a happy-go-lucky guy with a rebelliousness to him that pushes him to curve his own path despite being born and raised in wealth.”
He’s also the Deputy Inspector General of Police, who believes in upholding the law but is married to a woman (Nana Tandala, played by Sanaipei Tande) who could care less about law and order but more about protecting her empire and killing anyone who threatens it.
And while most of Kina’s spotlight is definitely on Sanaipei’s Nana, Gathu says Fred is an integral part of the show. “Sometimes, he doesn’t appear often but when he does, you will notice him.”
Goofy, spirited but serious when he needs to be, Fred is unrestrained in the way he loves his wife. He’s the kind of man who could go on and on about his wife’s skills in the bedroom without an ounce of shame to anyone who would care to listen. His onscreen chemistry with Sanaipei Tande has captivated fans, and Gathu owes this to the fact that they’ve been friends for years – two of Sanaipei’s songs are even in his list of favourite songs of all time.
“I met Sanaipei when she was still in a group called Sema…she was one of those people who got your attention.” Gathu says. “I’ve introduced her to my family as well so being goofy around each other or lovey-dovey is not a problem. We can go as far as is needed, and I think that we are just both very lucky that it was the two of us and not strangers.”
And while Fred is just a character, Gathu admits that he’s just as goofy with his wife in real life. “There are some scenes my wife watches and she’s like hey, we haven’t done that in a while.” She’s his biggest supporter and critic, along with his daughters, who he says never miss an episode of Kina.
In the past, Gathu has played a young, radical president in the political drama State House. Most recently, in 2018, he’s also appeared in Wanuri Kahiu’s Rafiki as Kena’s (Samantha Mugatsia) open-minded father running for office. However, he describes Fred as a physically and emotionally challenging role, different from anything he’s ever played before.
For this role, he had to shadow real police officers to observe how they interact with their officers and with their families so as to portray Fred in the most authentic way possible.
“Speaking like Fred Tandala was really tough because I had to speak like a Nairobian but not really sheng…I have a few friends in the police force who allowed me to shadow them and that’s how they actually talk.”