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Music is my life

By | December 5th 2010 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Tusker Project Fame Season 4 comes to a grand conclusion tonight and the Academy' principal, HELLEN MTAWALI has proved she is a force to reckon with. For her, music is a passion and she does not allow jokers to mess with it. She spoke to NJOKI CHEGE

Every single day, I wake up with a new song in my heart. Music to me is not just about composing and singing songs, it is a lifestyle and I love every minute of it.
Music was among my earliest hobbies. At the tender age of ten, I was already leading the church choir. I sang my way throughout primary and high school and it was only natural for me to venture into a career in music.

I completed my undergraduate degree at Daystar University in 1993. I began by composing my music and singing at concerts as I embarked on my Masters degree, which I completed in 1998.

It was also the same year that I founded my band, Afrizo, which is unique in its own way. You see, apart from being an all-African band, Afrizo is a place where musically talented youth come to be mentored and get their talent nurtured. I formed Afrizo purely by coincidence when Alfred Mtawali, a fellow musician and my husband (but not back then) invited me to Mombasa to perform at the launch of his CD.

Musically speaking

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I was thrilled at the idea of going to the Coast since it was my first visit there. I gathered eleven young people from Daystar and asked if they would accompany me to the Coast. They were all thrilled about it and for three months, I saved enough money to cater for our expenses. Interestingly, out of the eleven, only two were musicians. The rest were what I call ‘raw’ talent.

Upon reaching Mombasa, we were on fire — musically speaking. Although there were only two musicians in my group, we somehow managed to teach the rest how to sing and blend their voices to make one great choir, and we sounded just that; great.

We had been invited to Mombasa for one weekend, but we ended up staying for a whole week and by the time we left, we knew that something special had happened — we had been commissioned to be a high-flying band.

That Coast tour knit us together with cords that have never been broken to date. We coined the name ‘Afrizo’, which was from the words ‘African Zone’, as we specialised in singing African music.

We then began getting invitations to perform in churches and events in different countries. We have never looked back. Through Afrizo, I have been able to tap into raw talent in music and my doors are always open to anyone who feels musically gifted. I believe in being mentored and mentoring those below me, because I know that one day, someone must take over from me.

I believe in talent, but specifically, nurturing and growing it. I offer voice lessons for any willing students, as well as long distant learning for those far away.

Apart from the numerous trips
abroad, Afrizo boasts of 90 students of music and the number keeps growing each semester.

For me, teaching music to young talents at Daystar and Afrizo fulfils my heart. That is why my current role as Principal of the Tusker Project Fame Season 4 is so close to my heart. Watching the contestants on stage makes me feel proud because most of them have come a long way.

While many people may consider the looks and figure of a particular contestant, I personally believe all that matters is talent and discipline. I believe in all my students and I never let them forget it. Every teacher will bear me witness that the greatest feeling we get is when we actually see and feel a student’s progress.

I acknowledge the fact that my students have different talents and that means I have to deal with each one differently.

That is why I always encourage them to go up on stage and give their best, in spite of stage fright and other shortcomings. We go through the tears and smiles together because I know how it feels to be on the spotlight.

It is tough being up there, making hard decisions and training such immense East African talent. That is why I draw inspiration from my predecessor, Achieng’ Abura. I may never be exactly like her, but I love her leadership skills and she has never failed to mentor me when I needed her.

My music has taken me to the ends of this world. Early this year, I was selected to join the ‘Beyond Idols’ worship team for a worship tour in the USA.

This selection was out of my vast experience in reality music shows as a voice coach. Forming the international worship team was a life changing experience for me as I was humbled to meet and mingle with immense talent


Besides music, I love fashion design. I design my band’s attires, something I feel gives them the identity and uniqueness they deserve.

Hellen with members of Afrizo band. [PHOTOS: MAXWELL AGWANDA/ STANDARD AND COURTESY]

Musically speaking, locally I look up to the Kassangas, who I believe have achieved a lot in terms of music. I also draw a lot of inspiration from Dr Roberta King, who always encourages me to do what I can in tapping raw music talent.

Five years from today, I want to start a music institution for musically gifted youth and teach them what I have gathered throughout the years.

Music has taught me 16 languages. The unique thing with music is that it throws certain vocabulary your way. This has really improved my linguistic prowess. I am now fluent in Kikuyu, Luhya, Giriama and Luo. Other languages I am conversant with include Lingala, French, Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele and Pidgin English, among other indigenous ones.

Music Tusker Project Fame Daystar University
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