Joanne Ball Burgess is a woman of many faces

Many people know her as the straight talking judge of Sakata Mashariki but beyond that Joanne Ball Burgess is a woman of many faces. She tells it all to CAROLINE NYANGA.

When Joanne Ball Burgess popularly known as JO-1 among her East African fans moved to Kenya five years ago, she never imagined she would become a television star in this country.

Prior to this the author of ‘The Lizard and the Rock’ and education officer at the Bermuda National (BNG) before moving to Nairobi with her husband Quincy and two sons, Joanne worked as a creative arts teacher when she was spotted as possible talent for a show on Citizen Television, the largest station in Kenya.

“Most people in Bermuda have come to know me as a children’s author but I also dance,” she said. “At the end of August I accepted a contract to be a judge on ‘Sakata’, the Kenyan version of ‘America’s Best Dance Crew’.

“Sakata means ‘dance’ in Swahili. The show is broadcast throughout East and West Africa and can be viewed via live stream by those outside of those regions.”

When I met her  during the interview, the down to earth persona with an easy smile that  lights up her oval face, revealing her beauty and sparkling white teeth went ahead to give me a warm welcome hug.

With a cheery “it’s good to see you!”  that could have been aimed at long lost friends, I am instantly taken away by her fabled charm.

Little known to many is that the straight-talking judge of Sakata Mashariki (Dance East Africa)-  the Kenyan-produced dance reality show is East Africa’s version of America’s Best Dance Crew that  features dance troupes competing for Ksh1 million is a woman who wears many hats.

A dancer, singer, writer, choreographer and a savvy businessperson displays lots of confidence but little sign of the hubris associated with superstars who play in the big league.

Looking fit and relaxed, the lady in her mid 30’s with three children seems to have lost none of her flamboyant sense of fashion and wit.

“I strive to eat healthy meals throughout the day and continue with yoga dancing.”

Dressed in designer attire with generous golden embroidery, and shoes to match the same, Joanne showed just why she remains among the quintessential “high priest” of hundreds of local fashion aficionados.

“Fashion is part of me, she says with a warm smile when asked about her fabled love, nay obsession, with fashion.

Indeed Joanne’s journey has been very different from many as she overcame barrenness by completely overhauling her diet and lifestyle.

It is hard to believe that the classy, confident and social figure seated before me ever had a difficult time at some point in her life when she was told the unimaginable that she would never have children.

“I was told that years ago when I wasn't thinking of having children. Naturally I was devastated to hear the news. But at the end of it all there is the element of faith, believing beyond what the obvious is and deciding to source out other avenues of thought and expertise.”

“My goal was not to prove the doctors wrong. Rather, it was to become healthy and to feel better holistically. On my journey to health pregnancy was never the main goal but one of the pleasant surprises along the way.” 

With these words as her amour and shield, Joanne set on a journey in search of what she describes as a bright future of becoming a mother.  Today her efforts have been rewarded having become  a proud mother of three.

Her advice to women out there who are unable to have children is educate themselves as much as possible on their medical situation.

“Not everyone needs to or will have children. Having kids is the hardest thing that I've ever done so it should not be desired simply to please one's family or community. Someone who has been told that they will never have children should educate themselves as much as possible on their medical situation.

They should get more than one opinion and discover the reasons as to why they are infertile. If it is stress then find ways to reduce it in their lives, if the hormones are imbalanced then finding doctors who specialize in that area can help.

There are so many reasons that women can't conceive and as the rate of pollution rises, the foods contain more hormones and less nutrients, people area less active and healthy countries will see an increase in the rate of infertile women,” concludes  the lady who loves to sample different foods from all over the world. A great fan of Scandal, Empire and Devious Maids and can eat chocolate on any given day.








Her singing and dancing career:

Joanne’s  musical journey begun in church at the age of seven. She was a very shy child back then.

“I also loved to dance but didn’t start performing until my teens when I eventually studied ballet, modern dance and afro-fusion.

In 2004 she taught creative dance and movement workshops in Egypt for Orthodox women who wanted a safe place to freely express themselves through dance while learning new technique.

The singer whose vocal abilities range from R&B to Neo-soul and dancehall having trained in jazz, contemporary, hip hop and dancehall says she loves to write poetry, children’s fiction and more recently memoir. “I’ve won awards and recognition for them,” says she who has had quite a journey with singing and dancing.

Some of the countries she has performed include  Cyprus, Egypt, The United States and Bermuda. “I am a trained teacher where my speciality is to infuse dance, drama and the visual arts into school curriculum especially Literacy and History.”

 “In my opinion dance is a tool for social change as well as an aesthetic sweetness that makes life more colourful,” she said.

The family decided to move to Kenya after Mr Burgess visited the country to teach bee culture workshops two years ago and fell in love with it.

Joanne’s adventure with ‘Sakata’ began when a dancer friend asked her to go with her to a talent agent in Nairobi to have her pictures taken.

“When we arrived we met a swarm of tall teenage girls with long weaves and tons of make-up,” Joanne said. “At 5ft 2” and aged 31, I began to feel out of place really quickly.

“When we were finally called in the manager asked me if I was there for a photo shoot which of course I wasn’t.”

She declined to have her picture taken and they left soon afterwards. Months passed and she received a phone call from the agency asking her to reconsider.


“I do not subscribe to female objectification and would have declined again except that Quincy nudged me a bit and said, ‘Just try it. You may find it fun’,” Mrs Burgess said. “So I did the shoot and it actually was fun. They also asked me to do a couple of fun dance poses in the process.”

Several months later she received a call saying that the producer of ‘Sakata’ was looking for a new female judge and had seen her photos from the agency.

Three days later she met with the producer and was sent a contract.

“A week later we began filming the third season of ‘Sakata’,” she said.

“I am enjoying it and learning to understand the Kenyan culture in new ways,” Mrs Burgess said.