Nazizi Hirji, popularly known as First Lady of Hip hop, did not earn her place in the industry by sitting pretty. But this is not a story of her journey into music.
It is a story of a 39-year-old woman who was lost but found herself.
Her locs skim her waist and her face is scrunched up in concentration. She is running late for her rehearsal for the reggae show she hosts on Vybes Radio.
But she is a popular figure and that means saying hello to a multitude of people before she can finally focus on the interview. Radio wasn’t her first love. Music was.
And being one to embrace challenges, she has taken to hosting and makes it seem like something she has been doing for a really long time. She loves it, and works hard at it.
Between bites of chocolate and sips of sugarcane juice, we spend the next hour taking a spin through her journey of life. And boy has she lived.
You look like a completely different person from the Nazizi you were at the height of Necessary Noize.
Yes, I am. I am now a radio host. I am divorced too. The weight loss came when I was finding myself after my marriage ended. I had been with him all my 20s. and divorced at 33. I had to go back to younger Naz, pre-marriage, and find out who I used to be.
What did you find there, while finding yourself?
The teenage Naz loved sports. She loved working out. So because after my marriage I moved to Nairobi and was not walking and swimming at the beach anymore, I had to sign up at a gym. And that is when the weight loss happened.
What did the weight loss entail?
I did not go the gym to lose weight, I went there to reconnect with my hobbies and things that I loved to do before but I ended up losing 20kg. I did not diet but ate clean. Still do. When you over-restrict yourself, you may get into binge eating. So if I am craving chocolate, I get one! I won’t be hard on myself.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been pressure. I went through that phase of, ‘No, I can’t eat that’. I remember being at my birthday and refusing to eat my own cake. I was made to and I felt so guilty and trained really hard the next day.
That is very unhealthy for one’s mental state. I am happy right now. It is about being healthy, not being skinny.
What did people close to you think of the dramatic change?
There was a lot of positivity but there was also whole lot of “You looked better before.” That astounded me because before I was obese. I even had high blood pressure during my pregnancy. It was so bad. So I don’t care if they don’t like how I look, I feel really good and I am healthier than I was at 122kgs for God’s sake.
Does spirituality inform your conservative dress sense?
My family members are Muslims. Even the way I dress conservatively is mostly because I was raised as a Muslim. It is honouring how they raised me. But I was always considered sort of a rebel.
I used to get into trouble for wearing pants. Even after I started locking my hair, I had to hide it for a long time. It was something that I had to do for myself but I did not want to disappoint my family.
In the beginning, to them it looked like a rebellious thing with no direction, but now we have a mutual respect since I am not out there being scandalous. But it took a long time for us to get here.
What did your mother think?
She would say that there was no woman in Nairobi who had locs, so she wondered what I was trying to do. Why her child had to be that way when they had taken me to the best schools. For her, it was traumatising yet she was still so loving and even stood up for me many times.
You are divorced now. Tell us a little about that.
I loved my marriage. It was fun and I have a lot of good memories from it. I have no bad blood, it was amazing. It serves as a blueprint for my other relationships, how I want them to be. After being with someone for 12 years, I was on my own.
My marriage lasted all my twenties, and suddenly I had to think about what was coming next.
What came next?
I gave myself a solid year off everything to regroup and refind myself. I also had to relocate from Lamu to Nairobi to start afresh. The last six months in Lamu were spent soaking in the island because I felt that that was where my spirit belonged.
I am so happy when I am there. I was spending time with the people who were close to me there, going to the beach every day, preparing myself mentally that I would not have that anymore. It was very hard for me because that place helped me get through so much.
I was depressed about coming back here because I did not want to.
Do you want another child someday?
I can’t believe I don’t have another one yet. I have one child, Tafari, who is 9. My goal was two years and then another. But then I got divorced around the same time so it was another journey.
Divorce feels like…
…The end of the world because the African culture has made it such a taboo to be divorced. It was very hard but I accepted it. I am somebody who does not hold grudges.
I don’t put hatred in my heart. It is too heavy and too much to carry pain and disappointment in your heart. It is better to forgive somebody and just let it be and have peace for life.
Is your ex-husband in Tafari’s life?
Yes, he is. And though co-parenting is hard, I couldn’t allow myself to get bitter and use my son as a means to hurt my ex-husband. My son loves both of us.
So I have to make peace with putting my son on a plane at age two, with a passport to get to his dad who lives in Tanzania and trust that he would send him back to me as scheduled. He has honoured it and we are all happy with the arrangement.
What would you say was the hardest moment of your life?
Besides the divorce, the death of my brother Feroze at just 23 was the worst moment of my life. It felt like the end of the world. But the wonderful weird thing is that my son looks exactly like him. Seeing him is like seeing Feroze again. I would say having him restored my joy.
When people get children, it changes them. How would you say being a mum has changed you?
Parenting Tafari has filled a void in my heart. And changed me in fundamental ways. I am one who suffers from social anxiety. I hate it when people touch me. I don’t like it when friends are tactile; touching or hugging me.
But my son is physically expressive with me. He is all over me, so I learned very quickly that I had to accept that. He’s always kissing me and I find it cute, but ordinarily, I would cringe.
Tafari has taught me to be more patient and accepting of people. He has taught me how to be selfless, putting him first. I have never put anyone else first. He is the first person in my life who has come first and takes all my attention.
What is your favourite memory?
I was on tour with Necessary Noize in Germany wilding out when I found out I was 13 weeks pregnant. The first trimester was all gone and I remember being so anxious, wondering if my baby was OK. Seeing that first scan is one thing I will never forget.
You have this very strong independent aura. Has it presented any challenges in the dating front?
Only those with a strong personality and ultra-self-confidence dare. I noticed that even with the most confident men, around me something happens and I don’t know why. I feel like they go weak on me and that doesn’t work out because I am attracted to the strong kind.
Are you dating now?
Yes I am. For two years now. His real name is Adam. Boy Caro is what he goes by in the modelling world. It has been a wonderfully challenging and different experience.
When you get into a serious relationship after such a long time, it can be tough. I am so independent and was so used to being on my own and adjusting to having someone now who needs my attention is a challenge. It gets to him sometimes.
How did your relationship begin?
I was in Tanzania recording some music and he was friends with the person I was recording music with. It wasn’t love at first sight. But when I came back to Kenya we would talk. And he would write to me. Eventually, he asked if I was dating and I remember being very hesitant about it.
I wasn’t sure about having a long-distance relationship. It seemed like too much work. But he made it work. His work is more flexible so he comes over a lot.
I hope it works out. I am rooting for it because if it does not work I do not have the time or energy. My heart can’t take that journey all over again.
Do you subscribe to any particular religion?
If you are asking If I go to pray in an establishment, I don’t. But I am religious in spirit. I really truly believe there is God. There is a higher being. All my life has been proof of that.
For me to be a musician – every dream I have ever had, he has supported me, even dreams I did not know I had like this one. My connection is direct. I don’t need to be under a label. I believe and pray to God.
Now 39, and having been to the school of hard knocks, what could you say you have learned about life?
You should not be hard on yourself at all. Wake up in the morning with a light heart. Life is difficult, but at 39 I have realised that 99 per cent of all the bad days don’t count. I don’t remember them. So just get through it. If it is a bad day, it is a bad day. Not a bad life.
You also must believe in yourself because if you don’t, no one will believe in you. Go for your dreams. Don’t let any boundaries hold you back, in every aspect of life. Do what’s best for your heart and don’t worry about pleasing everybody.
Any unfulfilled ambition?
To have another kid! And to finish building my retirement house in Lamu.
I used to joke that I would retire at 45 but I don’t think it is going to happen because right now, I am also transitioning into reggae music and as a reggae artiste you can perform till you are 60 or 70.