An Up, Close and Candid Interview with Kenyan Born Gospel Artist, Gerriey Wainaina.
African Vines® gets up, close and candid with Gerriey about his life before and after he was diagnosed with a kidney disease, and how we can help him and his family get through one of the most challenging periods of their lives.
In January 2018 Gerriey Wainaina — an award-winning Kenyan gospel artist — went to the doctor for a physical as part of the requirements to be recruited into the United States Armed Forces. A TB (Tuberculosis) test was one of the many tests he had to take as part of the physicals. What was supposed to be a routine check-up would result in a diagnosis that would put his dreams of joining the Armed Forces on hold, but leave his faith in God unwavering.
Many people who know Gerriey Wainiaina know him as the gospel artist behind the hit song “Nikaba,” and the Africanized rendition of the otherwise popular western worship song “Light of the World (Here I am to Worship).” He has also made several Kenyan television appearances with other popular Kenyan gospel artists such as Daddy Owen, Eric Wainaina, Suzanne Owiyo, among others. On the other hand, not many people know about Gerriey and how he came to be who and where he is today.
Gerriey’s Life Before Fame
Gerriey Wainaina was born in Eldoret, Kenya, as the second of four children. Just like many Kenyans, he comes from a humble background. His father was the main source of income, while his mother was a house wife who engaged in small-scale subsistence farming—to supplement his father’s income — besides taking care of the family. Gerriey says:
“I have a simple background…I needed to work to get something coz mzazi unamwambia akununulie kiatu anakuambia hana dough…Mimi huambia watu nilikuwa nagonga kokoto mtaani…niligonga hizo kokoto nikiwa primary, wheelbarrow moja mtaani ilikuwa 25 bob to get something [some money] maybe to buy a jacket or a [pair] of shoe[s]. Na hiyo kiatu moja ndiyo ya shule na pia ya Sunday…. Kama ni sweater unabaiwa kubwa ndo ukuwe nayo mpaka 8.”
[“I have a simple background. I needed to work to make money because I would ask my parents to buy me something like shoes, and they would say that they didn’t have money… I tell people that I used to sell gravel and ballast when I was in elementary school. I would sell a wheelbarrow at 25 Kenyan shillings (US$0.25) to purchase a jacket or a pair of shoes…and we’d wear the same pair of shoes to church and to school. My parents would also buy us big sweaters for school so that we could grow into them instead of outgrowing them.”]
Becoming an Artist
Gerriey credits his career as an artist to his father, who introduced him to music at an early age. His father— who passed away in 2016 — was very well known in Eldoret because he used to perform during public holidays such Madaraka Day and Jamhuri Day, and in churches. He taught Gerriey how to play the guitar and introduced him to drama and skits. “I took part of my skills from him [sic]. He was amazing!” Gerriey says.
Gerriey and a couple of his friends formed an acapella group, which performed in churches and at various events such as weddings, in Eldoret and its environs. “Life was tough.” Gerriey says, “We used to trek long distances [to get to different events].” This wasn’t in vain though as the group won an award at a music extravaganza festival in North Rift, Kenya. Upon graduating from high school, a friend told him of a group from Nairobi that was conducting auditions for dancers and other performers. Gerriey auditioned and was selected to join the Kenya Performing Arts group and moved to Nairobi. “I performed with dancers who went on to form the Sarakasi Dancers shortly after I left the Kenya Performing Arts group.” (Sarakasi Dancers is a popular Kenyan dance group that is featured in music videos of artists across the continent of Africa).
After leaving the Kenya Performing Arts group, Gerriey went on to perform in Nairobi churches such as St. Andrews and JCC (Jubilee Christian Church). It was then that a friend, Andrew Ngatia — who is a musician in Nairobi — introduced him to the teaching of music. He started teaching one-on-one classes before going on to Riara school where he taught for close to ten years. Riara school is a highly sought-after school in Kenya due to its competitive teachers’ salaries. When asked how he got such an arguably prestigious position, Gerriey says, “It was through God’s blessings…music is just a gift from God.” He also credits Riara for being a platform through which he was able to refine his music skills.
His Rise to Fame
Gerriey rose to fame after winning Talent Mania in 2008 and after launching two albums — Kabambe in 2009, and Walk the Talk in 2012. As a result, he was nominated for Sauti Awards in 2015 and Groove awards in 2010. He won Afrofusion Xtreme Awards in 2012, and Groove Awards’ Peace Song of the Year 2010, which he sung with All Council of Churches.
Gerriey successful music career has not been without disappointment. He tried out for Tusker Project Fame (an East African singing competition television series) and Idols but was rejected. Ironically, he went on to make music collaborations with Ian Mbugua and Hellen Mtawali, both of whom were judges on Tusker Project Fame. About this, Gerriey says, “Never give up!”
Coming to America: A Bittersweet Experience
Fourth Time’s a Charm
In 2010, he alongside other popular Kenyan gospel music artists like Mr. T, Mr. Googz, DJ Riq and Alice Kamande were nominated for the Talent Mania awards in the United States. Their visa applications to come to the US and participate in the event were rejected. Twice. He finally got a travel visa application approved in 2016. It was his fourth attempt. “The American embassy is not about who knows who. All [Kenyan] citizens are treated the same. You either get the visa or you don’t. That’s just how it is.” Says Gerriey. Unfortunately, his father — who had been his mentor throughout his life as an artist — passed away shortly before his visa application was approved. He was laid to rest a week prior to Gerriey visiting the United States for the first time. About this, Gerriey’s faith in God is still unwavering: “God works in his own ways,” he says, with a steady voice and a bright smile.
Kidney Disease Diagnosis
When he came to the United States, he wanted to join United States of America Airforce as a musician because of his passion for music. He went the MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) and passed all prerequisites apart from the physicals. His dream was stopped in its tracks when he was disqualified due to a positive TB test (most Kenyans test positive for TB when tested in the United States because of the BCG vaccine, which they receive as toddlers). He was then required to be treated for latent TB. Due to the toxic effects of drugs such as antibiotics on kidneys, tests had to be done to ensure that Gerriey’s kidneys were functioning properly before he could start the 6-month TB therapy medicine plan. It was then that he was diagnosed with stage 5 renal (interstitial nephritis) inflammation that left his kidney function at 9%.
When asked about his reaction upon learning that he had such a serious illness, Gerriey responds: “I was shocked because I didn’t feel any pain [prior to the diagnosis] so I didn’t get the magnitude of the situation at that time.” He was also confused as he didn’t know fully grasp what that meant. “…so, I came and shared the news with my wife and she was very frustrated about it. We thought of changing the doctor but it wasn’t easy because of the… requirement for a referral. In Kenya, you can walk from Kenyatta [Hospital] to Karen [Hospital] without needing a referral.”
Life After Diagnosis
A lot changed following the diagnosis. He had to go from one specialist to another doing various tests: biopsies, blood draws, urine samples etc. “Every week I have to do one test or another, I actually just came from having another test done,”Gerriey tells African Vines® during the interview. Prior to starting dialysis, he was advised to start taking steroids in an effort to revive the kidney albeit, unsuccessfully. He had to change his diet too: “I had to check my potassium so potatoes, milk, I had to stop eating them[sic]. I had to take care of proteins [too]…I started preparing my own food because I did not want my wife to have to cook twice… I mostly just ate white bread with zero potassium and strong [black] tea.” He also stopped eating processed food such as meat and watching his sodium intake. However, this changed when he started dialysis: “Dialysis is a process of cleaning the blood using a solution that you put in the stomach through a catheter. When it (the solution) comes out, it sucks almost everything from the blood even the minerals so you have to eat them (the minerals) to replace them.” Since he is currently treating TB and the Kidney disease, he has to make several trips per week to the doctor, to the dialysis center and to the kidney transplant center. Consequently, it has affected his ability to have a full-time job.
This is on top of having to adjust to living in the US, which is not an easy feat. “Life is tough here too but it is manageable. If something is expensive such as healthcare you can come up with a payment plan and be able to clear your debt…I am happy that I have found a Kenyan community here who are like family…My wife and in-laws are also very supportive of me.”
Having health insurance has been very helpful to Gerriey and his family because it helped cover the cost of most of the tests that he was required to take and for the dialysis. When asked about how his family is taking it and his hope for the future, Gerriey says:
“I just pray first my situation will be sorted by God I find a donor because my assignment is not yet done, and that this season becomes past tense [sic].”
Why Should We Help?
Why? Because we care. Because no one is an island. Because it could happen to anyone. Gerriey has worked hard to get where he is today. Even without a college degree, he has utilized his God-given talent to bless and reach people through his music. Although he may not end up being a member of the United States Armed Forces musicians, he still continues to be a blessing and inspiration to many through his music, his role as a youth director, and as a motivational speaker. He also has a young family that depends on him. He has a two year old daughter, Kenya, and he — like any other dad with a daughter — hopes to watch her grow; hopes to take her to the father-daughter dance; hopes to see her go on to college; hopes to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day. He also hopes to be able to provide more for his wife and his daughter.
How Can You Help?
In his own words, Gerry says this: “…a more permanent solution is a [kidney] transplant… which takes long years on queue if you have to wait for a deceased donor, but if I get a living donor I can do the process as soon as possible[sic]…”
- If you have good insurance and would like to be a donor, please go to http://www.swedishlivingdonor.org/ for more information.
- Due to illness and the need to do dialysis every four hours, Gerriey is not able to hold a full-time job to help support his lovely wife and his 2-year daughter. He also needs to raise US$30,000 for the transplant should he get a donor. You can help him achieve this by donating here: https://www.gofundme.com/gerriey-wainaina-kidney-transplant/donateOr Cash app 3609003397
- If you are in Kenya, please make your donations to Equity Pay bill: 247247 Account number: 0260191319235
- You may also contact African Vines® in case any of the above options aren’t viable for you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gerriey Wainaina currently works part-time as a youth director and as a motivational speaker in churches in Seattle, Washington.
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