Many want to partake of success but few are willing to pay the price. Even fewer believe that one can make it despite and in spite of their humble beginnings.
Today, we highlight celebrities who started out working as house helps and now top the charts, living a life of glamour and fame - far removed from what could have been their ‘obvious’ destiny.
Mwanaisaha Abdalla, popularly known as Nyota Ndogo, had to go through great obstacles to get to where she is today.
A Standard Seven drop-out, Nyota Ndogo came from a very humble background. Her family was so poor that eventually she was forced to work as a house girl.
“The fact that my father (a drunkard then) was part of a live band that played at a bar in Majengo slum, where we lived while my mother worked as a fish monger, made life difficult for my six siblings and me,” she said.
In 1997, at the age of 15, Nyota decided to take on menial jobs in order to make ends meet.
“I often walked from Makande, within Majengo slum, to the central business district - about 3km away - in search of greener pastures. There were times when my heart ached and I longed to disappear from the face of the earth after being rejected by many people who saw me as a ‘baby’ with little or no experience as far as house chores go.”
But Lady Luck finally smiled on her and she secured a job as a house girl in one of her friends’ houses in Nyali estate. The couple had just had a baby.
“Although initially, they were not too sure if I would make it considering my young age and inexperience, I proved them wrong by working well for two years during which I earned Sh1,500 a month.”
During her free time, Nyota would watch television and listen to music on the radio.
“I watched artistes such Sheila Mwanyigha (Nikki), Mercy Myra, Suzanne Kibukosya, Nazizi and Kalamashaka hoping to be like them some day.”
With time, Nyota composed more than 15 songs but was not sure how to go about recording because she didn’t have the money. Once again, she was lucky. A fellow house girl, who had heard her sing, introduced her to a producer.
The man, Andrew Burchell - then a producer at Jikoni Studio - was impressed by the fact that she was able to compose and as well as sing and he decided to record Nyota’s first album Chereko. She was still a house girl at the time.
“The album received immense airplay on radio stations within Mombasa and I went on to record more songs at Jikoni Studio. And like they say, the rest is history.
“To date, I thank God for having brought me this far. I now realise that nothing is impossible as long as you have what it takes and are determined to go for it.”
This award winning song-bird’s story is no different.
The gospel songstress came from a humble background and had to work as a house girl in Nairobi’s Eastlands where she earned just Sh1,300 a month.
“I completed my Form Four at St Theresa’s in Nairobi in 2001, but we owed the school a lot of money in unpaid fees so they withheld my results.”
Gloria decided to work and raise money. Eventually, she was able to clear her debt and retrieve her certificates. She then joined the International Teachers Training College in Dagoretti for a two-year teaching course where she performed with distinction.
Gloria released her first album ‘Omwami Aletsa’ (My God will Surely Come) in 2005. It did not do as well as she had anticipated as local music outlets were not willing to give it airplay. Undeterred, Gloria went on to record her second album Kibali (Mandate) in 2012 which contained the famous hit single Sitolia.
This launched her into the gospel music limelight and set her well on the path to becoming a household name in this industry.
Today the musician attributes her victory to God.
“Where would I be without His hand?”
Gloria started the Gloria Muliro Foundation as her way of giving back to society. The foundation supports disadvantaged children and other needy persons in society.
Beatrice Mbugua, aka Betty Bayo, is a top gospel artiste who has three albums, several hit songs and awards to her name. Her story is also one of the rags to riches.
“My parents were unable to pay my school fees as a Form Two student and that meant I had to stop my education. I was forced to do menial jobs to survive and save money to go back to school. I got a job as a house girl within Kiambu town where I worked for two years.”
That was in 2006 and Betty’s first employer, who she served for a year, would pay her Sh70 a day for all household chores. She decided to move on and started to offer her services on a freelance basis to anyone who would offer her at least Sh100 a day.
She did her work diligently and saved every single coin to enable her to pay school fees.
“Mine was a case of vision combined with hard work and I did not give up. I sought God’s guidance and protection which enabled me to overcome all obstacles that stood in my way.”
The celebrated Kikuyu benga musician who passed way in 2018 is one of Kenya’s music legends.
The 77-year-old, known to have recorded more than 1,000 songs, some which have never been released, also worked as a houseboy and a nanny within in Nairobi’s Eastlands before venturing into music.
“I was paid the sum Sh180 a month. This was enough to put my sister through a commercial typing course and buy myself a guitar. Despite the bleak outlook, I never stopped believing that one day, I would become a somebody,” he said in a past interview.
The musician who attended Kangema Primary School in Murang’a, left in 1957 for a tough life on Nairobi’s mean streets where he peddled everything from medical drugs to vegetables before securing a formal job.
“I was an artiste through and through and defended my constituency, writing songs that reflected the mood of the times,” he said on falling out with presidents Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Moi.
The fast-rising Churchill Show comedienne worked as a housemaid in Saudi Arabia for about three years, before her return to Kenya and consequently her breakthrough.
“While I was in Saudi Arabia, I used to do short clips. I did not know that I could make people laugh. I used to do short clips via my phone and share them on the internet.”
Mwende’s numerous posts made her Facebook fans urge Daniel ‘Churchill’ Ndambuki to recruit her in his comedy platform.
“I did not believe in myself but when I came back home, I found the ‘Ultimate Comic’ competition ongoing. I joined and the rest is history.”