In just a year, actor and creative director Abel Mutua went from seeing his projects thrown in disarray by the Covid-19 pandemic to stumbling on success with a new venture that has seen him rack up hundreds of thousands of online subscribers, sell out live recording shows and merchandise, create jobs, open up new opportunities and build a literal movement – Wakurugenzi.
As the former Tahidi High star revealed while celebrating a year since his first YouTube video, he found himself spending more time at home with his wife and child soon after the onset of the pandemic in 2020.
He entertained them with hilarious stories from his life and career, without thinking much of it. It was his wife, Judy, who suggested that he share his stories with the world.
The first video was recorded at a secluded outdoor spot, where he sat on a stool and spoke of the crush he used to have on singer and actress Sanaipei Tande – the first in a series known as Young and Stupid which, currently, is on its fourth season already. On the show, the story-teller extraordinaire as he has come to be known simply tells stories of hilarious encounters and situations he has found himself in.
His wife and child accompanied him to film the video, which was excitedly welcomed by fans giving Mutua the confidence he needed to create more content.
Since that first Young and Stupid video, he has introduced various other successful series with different concepts.
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On Headline Hitters, for instance, he revisits iconic tales such as the death of revolutionary Burkina Faso President Thomas Sankara, and adds his own touch to deliver a unique storytelling experience.
He also introduced Celebrity First Encounters and Stories of My Life.
Within a few months of putting out content, he had racked up 100,000 subscribers and was on his way to 200,000.
Capitalizing on the demand, he decided to host a live recording of his show dubbed Wakurugenzi at the Kenya National Theatre (KNT).
The first show was sold oud as fans turned up to sit and watch Mutua tell his stories live, and the actor couldn’t hide his appreciation after the show as he looked back on how quickly the movement has grown.
As an indicator of the rising demand, the next live recording show scheduled for August is set for a bigger venue, Nairobi Cinema. Mkurugenzi merchandise including t-shirts and jackets are being sold alongside tickets for the live show.
Around the same time, the production company he runs with Philip Kariuki, Phil-it Productions, was among key players who brought to life comedian Njugush’s own live show known as Through Thick and Thin, which also pulled the crowds.
Reflecting on that first Sanaipei video and what it had done for him, Mutua wrote: “Needless to say, the (Sanaipei) story blew up and I was on that stool every week for months. We formed a movement that is The Wakurugenzis.
“We made life bearable for people who were on the verge of losing it. All armed with a supportive family, a phone, a stool and a set of storytelling skills. Now we are a crew of 11 breathing souls and Hundreds of Thousands of Wakurugenzis. I couldn’t ask for a better squad.”
He noted that he was encouraged by messages he received from people whose spirits were lifted by his stories – citing one comment in particular in which an individual who had been on the verge of suicide told him that his stories had gotten them through a dark period.