Lenana Kariba was very reluctant to take up a role in Selina, the series that runs on Maisha Magic East, which was previously being played by Kone Nouhoum. At that time, Kone was fighting for his life after an accident that occurred in October 2018. Twice, Lenana was called to take part but he refused. The producers of Selina were, however, adamant in their pursuit, telling him that he perfectly fit the role. Lenana finally decided to give it a try, and now he has settled into Kone’s role of Reagan. (Kone died on February 28, 2019, a week after Lenana did this interview with Media Critic Kenya’s DAVID MWENDA.)
Lenana’s brothers Bamzigi and Kid Kora are musicians but he has chosen the film industry. He, however, does not consider himself a black sheep of the family. The self-proclaimed romantic has taken part in a number of productions and he is definitely happy with the work he has put into the industry. Below are excerpts of the interview.
You guys recently released the movie ‘Plan B’. That was an amazing journey for you, right?
It is it is. You meet people you haven’t met before and who are doing great things. Like me and Sarah (Hassan) have known each other for a long time from back in the day when she was doing Tahidi High but we did not know each other that well. But we worked on a few projects together and we became close. When she was producing this movie with Lowla (Dee), she asked if I was okay and I said ‘yeah’. You might leave an impact on someone and they are like, ‘Yeah; I want to work with you again.’
How was it working with Lowla Dee?
The two of them are the hardest working people I have met in the industry. Sarah was made for film: She is a good actor but when she got into producing her own things, I wondered why she has not been doing this all along. And Lowla has the ability to make great stories like Plan B. If anyone else had done the story, it would not have come out the way it did.
What did ‘Plan B’ teach you about relationships?
(Laughs) It is hard to say it taught me anything. But, yes, it did in the aspect of the character I played. I am nothing like him and I would never play out my relationship with the character in question; I would never play out the way he did it.
But you nailed the role?
(Laughs) I guess; we can say that.
Enough of ‘Plan B’. Let’s talk about something else that happened this year. You replaced Kone Nouhoum (now deceased) as a cast member for Selina.
To be honest, at first it was a little terrifying because I wasn’t sure how people would take that. The casting director had called me for the show twice and I turned him down. And then he called me again and said that every time they were looking for someone, it always came back to me. He said that I had to put down the fears and accept it. And, yes, I did take the role. I have been asked this before not just in interviews but by people, and it is hard to respond to this because you do not know how people will take it. But the show has to go on, you understand? Because what happened was sad. If it was not going to be me, it was going to be someone else.
[The producers] have to keep the show going and it was something I dealt with for a while; but it is amazing being part of this show — and I am excited to be here.
How is it being Reagan in ‘Selina’?
Getting into the character was a bit hard because I had not watched much of Selina. I had watched it a bit in the first season and the good thing about it was that I would make my own Reagan and make him my own character and not play him the way Kone did. But it is fun; actually a lot of fun. If you’ve watched the show, they are not really the best kind of people — him and his wife and his father — but it is always those roles: ‘This person is nothing like me but I can still pull it off.’ I feel like I can be someone else.
You have mentioned this twice: You play characters who do not espouse your real character. Do you like being thrown out of your comfort zone?
Yes. definitely. You know, the thing about getting roles like that is they make you grow as an actor and you learn a lot. You can be seen on some of the biggest shows, like Sarah and Lowla Dee are doing. They are still learning. Every time you are given a role like this, you still learn something different and, yes, I do enjoy getting roles that are not me. They are challenging and they help me grow and it is fun.
I read somewhere you got into acting by mistake. Well, not by mistake: You stumbled into it. Are people surprised you did not want to get into acting and yet you got into it?
Acting was one of those things I did in school. I did it like in drama club kind of things: Doing plays and skits for fun. It wasn’t until I got older that I took it more seriously. Now I do it seriously I am a full-time actor.
What play do you remember playing as a child?
This is one I have not told a lot of people. The one that comes to mind is an Indian play.
It was one of those Indian plays where they love each other and they want to be together; that kind of story. That is the one that really comes to mind because there was a lot to learn. I had to learn to a little bit of Hindu. I danced and learnt an Indian song.
Wait; you sang that song?
I had to learn and sing an Indian song and learn the choreography and everything. (Laughs.)
I would love to hear that song
I can try and remember it and then when we do this again. We can definitely do this.
Okay, let us move on to a show that has gained a lot of traction — Auntie Boss. You guys literally changed almost everything last year for a brand new season. Let me ask this for a lot of people: Was it really a must to do it?
To do what?
To change the characters part of the story line — a lot of it.
No, it wasn’t really a must but Auntie Boss has been running for a while and at this point we were renewed for a new season and the producers thought we should try keep the same comedy but try and change some of the things so that it does not get monotonous. We weren’t really confident at first but I mean people still seem to enjoy it.
Let us talk about you now. Is there any mistake in your life of career that you made that you regret?
Can I remember making a mistake? Well, I am trying to understand what you mean?
Like in relationships, life.
Aah, relationships? Come on; who has not made a mistake there? Maybe I made a mistake dating someone or letting her go. I am trying to think about the same with acting and maybe taking some roles or passing on some roles. It is hard to come back to them but they are there. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t made a mistake in their career
If someone was to write a book about you, what would that book be?Would it be a thriller?
(Laughter.) That’s a nice question, not thriller. I would say comedy. No; you know what it would be a romantic comedy. If I think about my life (chuckles) it would be a romantic comedy. That is what it would be.
You sound like you love a lot of romance?
Yeah, maybe I can be. I am.
We will leave that to the ladies to judge.
(Laughter) I can give you my exes’ numbers. You can ask them, as well as my current. They will tell you.
What is the biggest romantic gesture you have ever done?
Well, (pauses) I took my current girlfriend to Bangkok in 2017. I think that was pretty romantic. I would say the biggest just because I thought that was a big deal. I had not done that with my girlfriend before. I had not gone that far with my other girlfriends and I did it with her and I did it in a big way.
Apart from happiness what else can’t money buy you?
Apart from happiness? (Pause) Well, love.
You have two brothers, Bamzigi is a producer and a rapper and Korah. And I read somewhere that your sister did music. Do you feel like you are the black sheep of the family because you are not doing music?
(Chuckles) No I don’t feel like a black sheep or anything. They have their own thing but no I do not feel like the black sheep at all. I think they are doing great and I just want to do my own thing and let them do theirs.
Would you be inclined to do any new music?
Maybe. Not professionally but I do not think I’d take it seriously. But stay tuned; you never know.
We will be waiting for those songs.
(Chuckles) I enjoy listening to music but I am not a good singer at all.
Even in the shower?
No. In the shower, I am talented; I am the best (laughter). The singing thing, I’d do it in a musical. I once played the role of a guitarist and I sang. I have done some roles in theatre which have made me sing.
Do you think women put pressure on themselves in finding Mr Right?
I was going to say yes but then I think things have changed. The roles of men and women have changed; the pressure is not there. Women just want to be happy because when they are happy, they will settle.