How this Kenyan youth is changing lives - one music beat at a time

Kenyan youth's success story

Youth Mtaani: the journey to success for Waruks Productions CEO Francis Wachira Warukira

Legendary reggae icon Bob Marley once quipped that the beauty of music is that once it hits you, you feel no pain. For Francis Wachira Warukira, popularly known as Waruks, music hit him at a young age and in the least expected quarters.

Growing up in rural Kenya, his elder brother taught him the art of boosting musical sound performance by placing speakers on top of jerricans. It was a clever trick for those who could not afford powerful sound systems, but for Waruks, it sparked a fire that has powered a journey that has made him one of the youngest music producers in Kenya.

He is the founder and CEO of Waruks Productions, a promising music studio that seeks to take Kenyan music to the international level.

Waruks remembers one incident while he was a young boy attending a wedding in 1998 where he first saw a musical keyboard.

I saw a guy playing with a strange thing which I came to learn it was a keyboard. That was back in 1998 at a wedding. I wanted to learn how to do it and make people dance the way he made people dance at that ceremony. However, I couldn't get someone to teach me and even 8 years later, the guy who was playing at our local church would not let us use it,” he narrates.

He joined Othaya Boys High school in 2007 where he got an inch closer to his dream of playing the keyboard. Access to the keyboard was highly restricted and it was only released to students on Sunday during the Christian Union (CU) church services.

A form one student would have had little chance of getting close to the treasured music instrument but Waruks decided to approach the senior student in charge and told him he was a skilled keyboard player – remember he had barely touched the instrument!

I knew he would not let me play but at least, he would allow me to stick around and that meant observing which translated to learning...you wouldn't believe how I learnt to play keyboard. I would watch that guy play and then memorize the sounds coming from the keyboard, then I would go back to the dormitory, draw the keys on a paper and play like my hero, the CU guy,” such was the persistence and the seriousness that characterizes his music to date.

It was an effort that paid off as the form four student was preparing for a successor. When Waruks was given a chance to play, he grabbed the opportunity with both hands and ran off with it – becoming the official keyboard player for the CU church until he left the school.

He would later travel to Ghana where he was admitted to study Computer Science at Ashesi University on a full Mastercard Foundation Scholarship - courtesy of Equity Bank's study abroad program.

It was not long before the musical bug got overwhelming.

Rather than coding and doing projects with friends, I enjoyed jamming with my music friends and would miss classes. I would skip classes just to learn music from YouTube. I switched my major to Business Administration. Still, I was so compelled to music. I wanted Music.

Having worked hard to get his business degree, Francis returned to Kenya but unlike most graduates, he did not go looking for an 8-5 office job – he wanted to do a different business – music.

He instead wrote a business plan for a music studio and with the persistence of a music fanatic, started presenting to all who cared to listen. It was not long before he got a breakthrough.

I had my idea for many years but was also facing the same problem you just mentioned. But I didn't stop there. I put it together, documented everything and kept pitching to whoever would care to listen. I would look out for opportunities of grants for small businesses and kept applying. My breakthrough came when I was shortlisted as one of the winners of a grant offered by MasterCard Foundation & Ashesi University which was aimed at supporting MasterCard scholars who have promising ventures. I owe a lot of thanks to MasterCard Foundation and Ashesi University in Ghana for their immense support.

One good turn deserves another and Francis has sought to use Waruks Productions to help others who have a passion for music to achieve their music.

Beyond music, he moonlights as a teacher, teaching children from poor backgrounds on basic computer operations and other important life skills.

There is a project known as "World Librarians". This program was started by University of Massachusetts- Amherst (UMass). It provides low cost e-learning solutions to schools and communities in rural-offline places. World Librarians does that by deploying a device called the RACHEL, which basically is like a router and a server that's loaded with open source educational materials that are accessible even in places where the internet can't be accessed. The program has been very successful in Malawi and was recently launched in Kenya.”

Waruks Productions serves as the technical support center and we hope to get these RACHEL devices to as many schools as possible so that kids in the rural-offline places can access what other kids in places with internet gets. Did I mention that I'm a self-professed teacher in my other life?

Talented musicians

In the five months that Waruks Productions has been in operation, they have recorded about 20 songs and have been releasing them on a weekly basis. They welcome all talented musicians, even going out of their way to make special arrangement for genuine cases where musicians are unable to pay for the costs that help them pay their bills.

"We are located in Banana, Kiambu County in a building called Marianna Business Centre, Rm Number S-20. Anyone who wants to book a studio session or get engaged in some of the community development projects that we do can also WhatsApp me via +254 716 688 701."

His parting shot to the youth?

Don't give up on your dreams. It wouldn't be easy, your neighbors will think you are crazy but don't let that discourage you. Everyone has got a talent and every talent can be turned into a business venture. You just have to switch to solution mode.”

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