Known as the first lady of Kenyan hip hop, Nazizi Hirji has had both good and bad times almost in equal measure.  She once packed her belongings and moved from Nairobi to Lamu to start life afresh. She opens up about her journey to finding herself and the lessons she has learnt.

If Nazizi Hirji got a chance to launch her career in music once again, one of the things she would wish to have by her side is a mentor to scold her when she veers off the course but also one who helps her remain grounded in both good and bad times.

The 38-year-old, however, views every circumstance as a learning process and never a mistake. But she wishes someone would have warned her about what a career in the limelight would entail. She released her first single when she was 15 years old and there went her privacy and her teenage life. There was a time she regretted those lost years but not anymore. “Now I don’t consider them lost. Instead, I focus on everything I gained. I wasn’t ready for all the things that came with being a celebrity. At the same time, I love my journey as an artiste and I have learnt so much,” she says.

From losing her brother, the person she says she loved the most, to getting married young and later going through a divorce, to becoming a mother and finding herself, here is what she has learned about life.

Nothing is ever a waste

In my 20s, I thought I had lost a lot – my privacy, my independence and my freedom because everywhere I went, I had escort. There was a time I would be in the papers every Friday whether I had done anything or not. I had to put on a straight or happy face even when I was going through hard times. But now as I am older, my outlook has changed. I look back and see the awards I have won and the impact I have had on people and realise those were not wasted years. I instead focus on everything I have gained.

It is never that serious

If I would tell young Nazizi one thing, it would be to stop being so serious, stop being so hard on yourself and enjoy life. Do the things you love and stop focusing too much on pleasing other people. Back then it wasn’t about me – it was about the next song and the next show and how to maintain being the number one group in the country. It was never about what does Nazizi want, where does she want to go, what does she want to do. I wish I would have spent more time with myself. The most important thing in my life are people, and yet those days I rarely made time for the people in my life. I was always on a busy schedule. I wish I had done that earlier on in my career because it would have grounded me more. At the time I moved to Lamu I was so tired of being Nazizi, being that person who is photographed everywhere, including in hospital queues.

Self-care is important

After years of doing the same thing, I hit a point when I didn’t want to be Nazizi anymore. I was tired of being photographed and signing autographs. It got to a point when I would get angry if a fan approached me for a photo. I felt like nobody cared about me, they just wanted pictures to post on social media. I felt like I was being attacked when asked to pose for a photograph. I had to reflect on why I was suddenly feeling that way and yet it had been my entire life. I realised it was because I wasn’t taking any time for me. I had also just become a mother and realised I needed to be grounded. 

Risks sometimes pay off

The best decision I ever made was moving to Lamu. I lived there for three years. I left everything I knew and moved with my then partner and son to start afresh. It was quite scary because I really didn’t know what I was getting into. I sent someone I knew money to find me a house. I’m the opposite of that because I like being organised and knowing every next step. I didn’t think about what would happen to my music career or how I would survive.

My son had just turned one and I wanted to not be Nazizi for a while. It was the happiest time of my life. I was there when my son took his first steps, I experienced all the moments – big and small. It was in Lamu that I separated from my husband. My support system was in Nairobi but I fought off the decision to move back for six months. I hadn’t recorded anything for three years. I had to think about my career then. I thought maybe moving back would be the best thing. God also works in mysterious ways because every decision I’ve ever made, He always backs me up. When I came to Nairobi and people heard I was back, I started getting projects.

Loss can define you for better or worse. You have the power to choose which...

Loss is painful but it can determine how you go on from there. It can shatter you or build you. I tell many people if I lost my brother, the most valuable person in my life and I am still here, then I am strong. Much later, I went through a divorce. If you lose something valuable, a person or a job, it is the beginning of another journey. If you look at it like it is the end, then it could be the end.  

Keep your mind open

I like to keep my mind open. I haven’t written off marriage, but if I were to get married again, I would approach it differently. Regarding my first marriage, I was in that relationship from when I was 21 years old. I didn’t know exactly what marriage is. I didn’t know it was work. I was married but I was putting more work into my career. I think I got married too young, but now that I am older and wiser, I know I will find the right balance. I would also find out more about a partner – their background, their financial stability, their past relationships and so on.

Put yourself first

I weighed about 120 kilos when I moved to Lamu. When I came back to Nairobi I was down 20 kilos. This is because I was walking a lot; there are no cars in Lamu. You either use the boat or donkey or walk. In Nairobi I was back to using cars a lot and I started feeling unhealthy. I joined a gym. When I started working out, it was not about how I looked but how I felt. In the past, I suffered insomnia (I still do once in a while), but with exercise, I started sleeping better. Sometimes in a relationship, you know everything your partner likes, but can’t answer the same questions about yourself, and when the relationship ends you have no idea where to start. That happened to me and finding myself after was quite difficult.  

Life is beautiful

As much as it is challenging and hard sometimes, see the beauty in it and don’t carry anger and bitterness. I know the environment, I have become more organised and more loving. I am genuinely happy.