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Vocal prowess

By | Jan 19th 2011 | 6 min read

Amileena Mwenesi, 22, emerged fourth at the TPF4 and was the last female standing, writes MATILDA NZIOKI

What were you doing before participating in the Tusker Project Fame Four (TPF4)?

I’m a trained hotelier. I have worked in the hotel industry in Mombasa for three years.

I studied Hotel Management at the International Hotel School in Johannesburg, South Africa.

How do you find the hotel industry and will you go back to it?

It is great. I loved the experience and the people I worked with. I am a hotelier at heart, so I am likely to go on with it as I pursue my other talents.

Tell us about your relationship with music.

I’ve been singing since I was young. It’s only that I was shy and never thought I would pursue music seriously. I was literally pushed to it.

When I was in primary school at St Christopher’s near Yaya Centre, Nairobi, I was in plays, musicals and end year concerts. I started writing my own music when I was 14. I love writing. It’s my release stratagem. I write when I’m stressed and even when I’m happy.

I would love to learn how to play the guitar. I had started playing the piano, but slowed because of my busy schedule. I will definitely go back to it.

How did you get into TPF?

A colleague convinced me to join the competition. He believed in me and had gotten me the application forms to join the 2008 competition, but I conveniently forgot about them. Last year, he called me to Wild Waters hotel and when I got there, there were many people, cameras were on me and I was just being shown papers to sign. I did not know what was happening, but I didn’t want to embarrass my friend so I did as asked. Shortly after, I was ushered into a room with just one judge — Jesse of Ketebul Studios, as I later learnt. So I thought; I’m here, so I might as well just sing.

It hit me that I was in a competition and I needed to take it seriously. I later received a call informing me that I had made it to the top 25 and I was required to travel to Nairobi.

How was your experience at the academy?

I learnt a lot and met interesting people like Gaelle. She was lovely and we became good friends. I was also close to Steve and Leah.

When I compare my first performance to now, I see a huge difference.

I now see the importance of the little things we were learning at the faculty. For instance, voice coach Kavutha’s lessons about how to control one’s breath and how to open one’s mouth were beneficial.

I also remember how the faculty was choosing songs for us, sometimes throwing us to the deepest of waters.

My most memorable moment was when I was doing the Mbilia Bel song, Nakei Nairobi, that landed me on probation. I was so scared of that song. I could get neither the lyrics nor the melody right. I got it that Sunday morning before performing in the evening. It did not help that I had lost my voice that week. It was my worst week. That particular song and others changed me in a way. I never used to be a Lingala fan, but now I listen to it a lot.

I used to think that I was a jazz and soul fan, but now I listen to anything, be it rock or rap provided it’s good music. I’m a lot more patient with music now.

How was it reaching the finals?

The four of us were tight-knit. Everyone had tipped the top three guys to be the best by week five and I was determined to get in the circle. It worked as I was the last girl standing. I had planned that wherever the three would be mentioned, I would be somewhere nearby.

Some people ask me if I felt cheated out of the money, but I think at the level of four, it could have gone any direction. It could have been Msechu, Stephen or I. We were all happy for Davis at the end.

Speaking of Steve...

Stephen and I are just good friends. I was with him in the lot that hadn’t been given a straight yes to enter the academy, so we became close

as we worked together. Plus we are Kenyan. You often tend to be drawn to that which is familiar.

Was there tension between you and Paleki?

Not from my end. We weren’t exactly bossom buddies, but I have no beef with her. Paleki is good in my books.

The judges always attacked you for over singing...

I happen to have a big voice and a big range. I didn’t have any training to know how to control my voice. However, after the classes, I’m now good and I sing consciously because I understand my voice better.

How has life been after TPF?

People are always asking me what I’m planning to do now that I’m a celebrity. I tell them that I’m not a celeb, but just a familiar face. If I sing and succeed, may be then I can be termed as a celeb.

Others thought I was arrogant, but are surprised that I’m apparently different when they get to know me. They get shocked when I stop and talk to them. Some even ask me: "You walk on the street?" I mean, why shouldn’t I? I’m the same ordinary girl.

What plans do you have regarding your music?

In the first quarter of the year, I’m just trying to find a place in the industry. I hope it will be quick.

At the moment, I’m doing a lot of writing; putting down my experiences and feelings. I’ll see how that goes on record.

I’m also in the studio (Ketebul) doing my single that will introduce me to the game. I might also be working with Homeboyz in future, but that is yet to be confirmed. Again, I’m still trying to find a way to combine my hotel career and my music.

At least I’m impressed by the reception from the public so far.

Many identify you with your trademark smile and headscarf. Tell us about it.

About the headscarf, it’s because of my laid back personality as well as my religion. I’m Muslim and I’ve covered my head since I was 12. I also tend to like the look.

I consider myself conservative; your ordinary girl next door. I’m not flashy as it’s not my thing to stand out.

As for my smile, I get it from mummy (smiles).

I guess it’s easy to be approached when you smile. I think I’ve borrowed from my experience in the hotel industry.

Tell us something about your background.

I’m the only girl in between two boys, who I love very much. I went to South Africa for my high school and college education. I also attended British International College.

Your parting shot...

Young people should learn to believe in themselves more. Reach for your dreams, commit to something, go for it and don’t do it half-heartedly.However, always remember it’s important to have something to fall back to, so get an education if you have the opportunity.

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