Life and times of celebrated actor Papa Shirandula


Life and times of celebrated actor Papa Shirandula
The late veteran thespian Charles Bukeko, popularly known as Papa Shirandula, in happier times. PHOTO | COURTESY

The Kenyan acting fraternity as well as the Royal Media Services family is in a state of mourning after one of the finest thespians of his generation on Saturday took his final bow.

Charles Bukeko, popularly known by his most famous character name Papa Shirandula, died at the Karen Hospital following a short illness.

Although not much of his life is available publicly, the 58-year-old was born to a humble family in Buhalarire, Mumias, Western Kenya, to Valeria Makokha and Cosmas Wafula.

He attended Jogoo Road Primary School before proceeding to Upper Hill Secondary where he developed a love for football.

Upon completion of his high school studies, Bukeko moved to Uhuru Estate in Nairobi and, right around the same time, started drifting away from the sport and developing an attachment towards acting.

During a past interview with a local newspaper, he recalled having to trek to the Kenya National Theatre to hone his talent, without a coin in his pockets on many occasions.

The thespian, in 1998, met Dr JPR Ochieng’ Odera who would become his first ever director before moving onto Phoenix Theatre where he ran into Ian Mbugua and who, in turn, introduced him to James Falkland.

Falkland, after being impressed by his skills, would go on to train Bukeko for three years on the basics of theatre performances at absolutely no charge.

“When I started doing Papa Shirandula, the heavens opened for me,” he narrated to former Citizen TV E-Profile show host George Kariuki in a September 2010 interview.

“It was a concept that was researched so seriously. Wachira Waruru (Royal Media Services Managing Director) was among the guys who were brainstorming the whole thing. It was a concept that was brought out of what we go through every minute as Kenyans.”

He added: “Papa Shirandula is a different character from Charles Bukeko. Papa ni mjuaji ametoka ushago amekuja tao kutafuta job. He’s a good, honest person, it’s just that because of the hardship we go through as Kenyans all the time that this guy wants to get out of that level and into a very good life.”

The comical role earned him a Kalasha Award for ‘Best Actor in a TV Series’ award the same year, propelling him to even greater heights.

He went on to travel countries around the world appearing in adverts and creating concepts for such big brands as GOTV, Coca-Cola, and Vodacom besides being named Goodwill Ambassador for South East Asia.

“Charles Bukeko is an actor, director, thespian, singer, a father and husband. My story is one that gives hope to thousands of aspiring actors in the country having climbed from the unfathomable levels of deep poverty,” he previously told Standard Media’s Eve Woman.

“When I’m not on the screen, I spend most of my time with my kids. Other than that I watch sports, football especially; I’m an ardent fan of AFC Leopards. My dad took me to the field to watch AFC Leopards when I was 4 years old.”

Bukeko was married to Beatrice Ebbie Andega, and together they were blessed with three children; Tony, Charlie and Wendy.

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Story By Ian Omondi
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