Wakio Mzenge has had the pleasure of being a cast member in two of Kenya’s biggest drama shows simultaneously — Selina and My Two Wives. In Selina, a Kiswahili series that runs on Maisha Magic East, she plays Kristina, an evil step-mother who epitomes materialism; who has no qualms destroying anything that comes between her and her ambitions, even if it is her own flesh and blood. In My Two Wives, an English language series that runs on KTN Home, she plays a “suffering” character. She is the second wife of a man who had to take her in because tradition dictated so. She is almost always getting leftovers as the “main” wife does everything to ensure she remains the de facto centre of attention. Both productions won big at the 2018 edition of Kalasha awards, a clear statement of the valuable input she injects.
She, however, remains so humble about such achievements. As it emerged in her interview with Media Critic Kenya’s DAVID MWENDA, Wakio has done a lot within her relatively short span in the acting field, five years to be precise. Here are excerpts of the interview.
Who is Wakio?
A voice, screen and stage actor; an entertainment entrepreneur who fears God.
How did you get into acting?
Started acting from KG 1 back at St Augustine’s Preparatory School, and in church too, all the way to campus. My first professional stage performance, though part-time, was with heartstrings Kenya in 2008. I went into full-time acting in 2014 with my first screen appearance in NTV’s Pendo, playing Maria — an ex convict and former journalist who is back to get what is rightfully hers.
How many years have you been acting professionally now?
2014 to date; 5th year this year.
You had a stint at Radio France for a while. How was it?
Can’t quite call it a stint. I was in Nation Media Group’s broadcasting and Sound Africa from 2008 to 2014. I worked for these two media firms each in two different occasions during this period while working as a cultural journalist for Radio France International. All my media-related experiences were unique. I was privileged to network with creatives and other industry players. I learnt a lot in terms of content quality and production in general. It was some sort of schooling.
Do you find it easier to get on set and get auditions?
Nothing good comes easy. Auditions are posted in social media platforms and landing a role is the hard work. And for our industry, it’s not just about how good you are. We are still at a stage where you need to fit the brief and that to some extent can limit one’s chances of being cast. So, sometimes the reasons for not getting the role really have nothing to do with your craft. So, we keep trying; we keep auditioning.
Let’s talk about in Selina and My Two Wives. You are a cast member in both productions. How do you feel being part of the two biggest shows in the country right now?
Wow, but God,(laughs). He has a way of placing you and I feel humbled being in this position. It’s challenging of course, especially when both sets are running concurrently. But it’s quite something for my craft, taught me discipline, lines lazima nishike (laughs).
You used to sing. You released one track then you stopped. Would you consider going back to music?
Music and I are darlings for life and I still perform. You should definitely check out my debut single on YouTube. Nazama by Wakio.
Is voice acting different from the usual acting, in your view?
Screen, stage and voice acting all aim at presenting a character in their truest form possible. The techniques may differ because while screen and stage actors use props, movement, physical interaction with other actors, facial expressions and even voice to enhance their representation of the character and their environment, voice actors only have their voices and the mic.
You really need to know how to interact with the mic; it’s your first audience. The beauty of voice acting is that it’s not limiting. While you might not look like an 80 year old, you could manipulate your voice to sound like one. Physical appearance, race, age and gender may not affect your chances of landing a role because it’s about what your voice can do. Oh, and I don’t have to memorize lines when doing voice work (laughs).
Do you think you have reached the peak in your career?
Mmmmh the peak? Where is that? (laughs) I am focused on excellence in my craft. I think it’s limiting to imagine a career peak ’cause that would mean that that’s the best you can be. As for me, I’m looking forward to more challenges and new tasks that will push my creativity. So, I just keep going.
Is the Kenyan acting space getting better now?
Without a doubt, the Kenyan acting space has grown; not just in terms of actors’ performance but also in terms of crew expertise, technology, equipment, accountability and representation (associations and the like). Challenges are still numerous and obviously a hindrance to growth but nothing good comes easy; so you have to participate in making the environment conducive for your trade.
You are a mother. What is the one thing your kids have taught you?
Patience my children have taught me. Patience.
You were a corporate affairs manager at Sound Africa. What is the difference between the formal and informal employment?
I was a corporate affairs executive then general manager at Sound Africa. We dealt with events, TV content production and music production, music sales and management of artists. So, I am still in pretty much the same entertainment industry; only that I’m now the artist who needs managing, he he he! There is no predictability with freelancing, no such thing as routine: some days you are busy; others days you are not. Some months you are earning; other months you are not. Discipline is key.
Have you ever read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho?
What is the last book you read?
The Virtuous Woman. It’s a very interesting book, that one.
Why? What did you learn from it?
I feel like telling you the whole story now (laughs). So the virtuous woman is about this lady. At first I thought it was about this Christian woman who wants to be a good wife and I thought ‘hmm, interesting’. But the woman who was reading it did not want to look like she wanted to be a good wife or anything (laughs) not that she doesn’t want to be a good wife and when I asked what the book was about she gave it to me to read.
It was about a lady who died of lung cancer. She was a serial smoker but she used to take care of her husband , even in her death. That is how beautiful it was because when she died she left the fridge packed with food good for two months and a note with clothes to wear. She organised his life and was like, ‘You guy, I am giving you two three months to organise your life and go on with your life.’
One thing I got from is that we are too judgy because when I saw that book I automatically thought it was about a woman who is living for Christ and following virtuous teachings of Christ. It was literally a lesson not to judge a book by its cover literally (laughs). I also learnt that people are good in their own way. I feel like we are too harsh on people and we need to learn them a little bit and give them time and the relationship to blossom.
Are you happy?
Yes,I am happy. Not just because of where my career is but I am happy because I feel I have allowed myself to be used by God in my talent, in my attitude and personality. I have been allowed to build friendships that are life-changing not just for me. I hear testimonies of Selina, people saying ‘I had a mother who was just like you’ and people need to rethink when they remarry; on what they are getting their children into. I have also heard good things about Dama and she is a very popular character with older men and they tell me ‘I wish my wife behaved like you’ or ‘that is how a woman should behave’. And so when I see people learning things, I get happy.
Voice work is another source of happiness. I feel like voice it is a very powerful tool. It can change perception. It can encourage and it can crush you. As we are, if I’m happy I feel like my voice is really on tour; like I am traveling with just my voice. There is a particular project I do every so often called Women of the World with Musyoka from Decimal studios and I put my voice in there and it goes to other women and they listen and watch and get encouraged and get empowered and get out of the shackles of culture and get empowered. Such things make me feel like I am doing the right things and they make me feel like I am not doing things for the money; you’re doing it to change perceptions and to change the way we think and make them better and have a better quality of life.