Singer-songwriter and actress Avril sat down for a chat with us and spoke about her journey in the music industry and getting through trying times such as breaking up with her fiance, battling with acne, fake photos of her naked and losing her father.
“Sorry to interrupt but I just want to tell you that I am a big fan of your work,” a man who is probably in his 50s comes over to our table during our interview and tells Avril.
For the next hour, men and women, young and old steal glances at her.
“Do you ever get used to the stares?” I ask. “Not really, but it happens so often, that sometimes I make a joke of it. I’ll smile back enthusiastically sometimes or make a clown face just for fun,” says the 30-year-old singer-songwriter, actress and entertainer.
Avril was born Nyambura Mwangi in Nakuru as the eldest of three siblings. She enjoyed the arts and participated in music club and other creative avenues during her high school days. When it came time to joining university, she pursued product design, a course she says helps with her creativity until today.
Books or microphone
In 2008, during her second year, a producer at Ogopa Deejays heard her sing and encouraged her to take up singing. And so began the making of the brand Avril. She says it became tough balancing music tours and school, but she never contemplated quitting.
“I am the kind of person who has to finish something once I start and I took my studies seriously. There are times I would be in the studio with my producer and I would tell him to make the session quick because I wasn’t about to miss class,” she says.
Avril seemed to be balancing music and studies well and had managed to keep a clean image until her photos in the nude surfaced. They were of two topless women in a suggestive pose on a bed.
Fans and critics went crazy, wondering why the sweet girl next door would pose ‘nude’ with another woman.
Avril says she was not the one in the photo. She says a rival got someone who looked like her to take photos to ruin her reputation.
“I was later told who did it. To this day, they don’t know I know. There is power in that. It is powerful to know something and just keep it with you until you decide to act on it. It’s like having bullets – if you use them, then they are gone. But if you keep them safely, you have an arsenal. I sometimes see the person who did it and they think we are cool but I know. One day...”
Avril kept a low profile as people speculated on the photos. “I don’t like to respond to criticism sometimes because it just fuels the fire,” she says. After some time, as with every controversy – it died down.
As Avril completed her studies, she worked on a thesis, creating a candy dispenser out of recycled bottles. “As you would imagine, it was a big hit because who doesn’t like candy?”
After graduation, Avril says she did two internships in design firms and that was when she realized a nine-to-five job was not for her. She then decided to give 100 per cent to building her music career.
“I don’t believe in having one foot in, one foot out. If you are going to do something, give your 100 per cent to it and if it doesn’t work, that’s fine, but you don’t want it not to work because you were not committed and later wonder, ‘what if I had put in a little more effort?’ “
Music 100 per cent
Avril signed a five-year contract with Ogopa Deejays and she says she enjoyed working with the team because it opened her mind to how the music industry works.
“The good thing about being signed to a label is that you have a team that is dedicated to making you succeed and you also have people with experience in the music industry so you do not have too many pitfalls,” she says.
When the contract ended in 2013, she decided not to renew it, opting to become an independent artiste.
“It’s not because I fell out with the label. I had a good contract. Yes, there are some people who are short-changed in this industry, but that wasn’t me. It all comes down to your negotiating skills. If you are a poor negotiator, you’ll get a bad deal. My leaving the label was more of wanting a new experience.
“Under a label, you have restrictions on which producers you can work with and I wanted to work with several people so I opted out. Now I have worked with about four producers,” she says.
All a strategy
After a brief hiatus, Avril returned to the music scene in 2014 with her song Nikimuona. It was well received and she was getting a lot of media attention.
That was until the attention was diverted to a make-up free picture she had posted on her Instagram page. Fans and critics alike took to social media to criticize her skin. She says she has battled with adult acne for more than 10 years.
We ask if she regretted ever posting the photo and we get an interesting answer.
“No. It was all a strategy. I knew I was going to be announced as the Oriflame ambassador and I know the mentality of Kenyans. They will jump at the opportunity to criticize.
“But as people kept talking about my acne, the topic trended and by the time it was time to announce my being the skin product ambassador, I was still being talked about so it worked out very well.
“Here is a girl with a skin condition who is going to use Oriflame products to clear her acne. It only helped push the cause,” she confesses.
In 2015, Avril announced she was getting married to a South African. Her fans were both excited for her as they were sad about the possibility she could relocate to Zulu land. Things went well until fast forward to Valentine’s Day in 2016 when Avril started trending again under the Twitter hashtag #PoleAvril.
Twitter was awash with photographs Avril’s fiancé had posted of him with a celebrity. Being Valentine’s Day, many people concluded he was cheating on her.
“The whole thing was silly. So if I am photographed with Jay Z, does that mean I have stolen him from Beyoncé and we are now dating? It was just a regular picture. There was no cheating but KOT (Kenyans on Twitter) always jump on to something that makes a good story without necessarily getting the facts right,” she says.
Avril adds that the lie was especially hurtful because what people did not know was that she was going through a very trying time – her father had had the second heart attack in two months and passed away.
Being the first born, Avril had to be in charge of funeral arrangements. She says she was not in the right state of mind to get married.
“I couldn’t think of planning a wedding during the mourning period. I needed a break so I discussed it with my fiancé and he understood what I was going through and agreed that we take a break. The break-up had nothing to do with that photo. We are still very good friends,” she says.
Avril continues to work on her music career and says the next market she wants to conquer is Uganda. “I look at East Africa as my market for now. It will grow with time, but for now I want to focus on the region.”
She has released a new song, Yule Dame, which encourages women to be proud of themselves because they are hardworking.
Avril says she cannot give expert advice to young women on how to deal with cyber bullying, but she does share what has worked for her.
“Having emotional maturity is very important to survive attacks. Not everyone can do it, but young women should try not to let comments affect their self-esteem. Sometimes I’ll look at the account of a person who has posted a nasty comment and realize it is a fake account. Sometimes it is just a rival out to bring you down,” she advises.
“It’s best to ignore nasty people, but I’m only human. There are times I’ll wake up to some nasty comments and just have my moment when I rant and put the person in his/ her place with a harsh reply.”