For many, being famous is like seventh heaven, a joyful and fulfilled life, a blessing and an answered prayer. The ‘rich and famous’ is a form of entertainment and ongoing amusement to many, but as Pulse discovers, living in the scrutinising eye of the public is not always a walk in the park.
“Fame is the worst drug known to man, it’s stronger than heroin, when you can look in the mirror and say there I am, and still not see what you’ve become,” raps HOV in the song, ‘Lost One’, off his Kingdom Come album.
Closer home, Sauti Sol in their ‘Live and Die in Afrika’ portray how they want to be rich and make lots of money while at it. On the flip side of the coin, Khaligraph Jones flanked by Masauti in their hit song ‘Hao’ addresses the pitfalls of being a celebrity in a plagued music and entertainment industry.
In the recent past, we have seen local celebrities admitting that they are wallowing in abject poverty whereas their peers outside +254 live on the fast lane. From private jets to living in multi-million mansions, the A-lister celebrities enjoy it all. However, in Kenya, the script reads a little different with local acts barely securing the bag.
Funny how the status quo never equates to cash in the bank, and this bug is what most Kenyan celebrities are trying to overcome — the fact that the tremendous effort never matches the reward.
“Being talented in Kenya doesn’t really amount to much, especially economically. Many of the adroit performers in the arts usually languish in poverty even after portraying a prosperous image. Currently, I am busy asking for handouts and doing manual jobs to feed my family. It’s quite embarrassing,” says popular theatre actor Benson Odao.
Various tales about the creative arts community locally are very common in how much they have struggled to break through to the limelight only to realise the facade of what Kenya’s spotlight truly is.
“Kenya is notorious for making people famous who cannot sustain the pressure of being in the storm of the public eye. Many are not cognizant of what it takes to be an influential person, or to be followed by tremendous numbers of people. The burden of being on such a pedestal can be quite intense, especially when you are not in a good place financially,” music journalist Blair Odhiambo reveals to Pulse.
Kenyan talents, influencers, and famous personalities like others in different places outside the +254 are dealing with real issues. The entertainment business is worth pot loads of cash, but the price they pay for fame is a hefty one. It’s not as glamorous as commentators, sideliners or viewers may think; these individuals are in ruins behind the scenes.
“Currently with no gigs, my savings were barely enough for me to live in the city. To be honest, I just had to relocate and go live with my chickens in the farm and keep my fingers crossed for this pandemic to end. Hopefully we can be back and better,” film director Tony Mwangi admits to Pulse.
The +254 has been criminal for being very imposter-like when it comes to its heroes in entertainment. Many have been dexterous at what they do, but the Kenyan government and society at large never cares for its cultural leaders.
Also when it comes to celebrities, many are not as polished or supported enough to call themselves that. Kenyan celebrities practice PR stunts daily begging for our attention, wear rugged fugazi designer clothing, fail to walk in the light of greatness, and have wanting taste levels. All these make them not to be respected as their international contemporaries.
Kenya is the poster-state for celebrities faking it till they make it. Basically, the analogy of Kenya’s entertainment industry being sweet, attractive, and alluring on the outside is so fervent, but upon scrutiny it is a rough affair on the inside, and this comparison befits it.
“In retrospect, on numerous occasions there have been references of Kenyan celebrities passing on. The likes of Kantai, Mzee Ojwang, Joseph Olita; these were famous people by Kenyan standards who died piss poor. This needs systematic alteration — a renaissance of the fans to pro-actively support the arts if the government and private sector fails to do so,” Blair reiterates.
“Fame is a state of being known or talked about by many people, especially on account of notable achievements,” psychologist Judy Gitau explains.
“It’s addictive because it gives one a sense of belonging, which involves being acquainted with other people and one gains acceptance, attention and support. And fame comes with monetary benefits, networks and favours,” she adds.
Once one acquires this sort of status, it does become a safety net for many, and some become too comfortable in that space. Others begin to feel invincible, and this could be dangerous. Living for the cheers can get you so far, but what happens when it all gets taken away?
“Being famous, being popular comes with a lot of pressure. Society’s eyes are constantly on you. People have opinions about everything — how you talk, what you wear, how you carry yourself. It’s all in the public, and that comes with people’s set expectations of you, even to wanting you to move a certain way. Your privacy is basically gone,” says Shaq The Yungin media personality, who is no stranger to fame. In fact, his Instagram page can tell you he is an extrovert, always in the company of the bigwigs in society. For personalities like Shaq, the bar is set so high that being seen in a certain way the public is not used to can be counteractive to public opinion.
He reveals that a lot of people end up depressed, quit what they love to do, and live a fake life because the pressure is too realThere is a heavy price to pay for being a celebrity. On the surface, it’s an enticing prospect filled with glitz, glam, and having access to the highest level of things, including the who’s who.
Behind the scenes, however, fame comes with a lot of unceremonial issues that most are barely prepared for. From legal battles, people and media pressure, fans’ expectations, wealth, hatred, stalkers, relationships being affected; it can be overwhelming at times, even on one’s health.
Elodie Zone says she knows a lot of people who end up suffering in silence due to their career choice that warrants them to be on all the time. She admits she had been depressed at some point in her life, and since overcoming the dark night of the soul, she has committed herself to being a mental health advocate. Like Shaq The Yungin, they both reveal they know many celebrities going through a lot behind the scenes.
“I always need time to be at home just to refocus, realign and recommit to important habits I had begun to let go of because of my busy work schedule. It makes me fully balanced mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally,” She told Pulse earlier.
Rapper Boutross recently revealed he had to accept it was part of the job that he chose. Fame just happens to be a part of it. He shared that he was being followed by a stranger everywhere he went, and his safety was in jeopardy. He recalls the fact that everywhere he would go, the woman would be on his tail; not even talking to him, but just watching him. This made him paranoid despite always being with a group of friends.
“Fame ni crazy. Kuna time ata nilikuwa liquor store tu base flani, na nilikuwa nimevaa hood, mask; basically you couldn’t see my face or my hair. Someone walked up to me and told me they recognised me by my ring, and got really excited. I was happy and freaked out at the same time,” Boutross recounts.