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Kenyan Divas Ruling the Diaspora

Away in Los Angeles last week, Judy Karanja, a Dubai-based Kenyan model-cum-TV host, met the award-winning Longombas duo while on a special filming mission.

The beauty is behind a new magazine TV show, Judy TV Show, which is set for launch in Kenya soon.

The meeting with the Vuta Pumz singers was part of her tour, interviewing celebs abroad as well as ordinary Kenyans in the diaspora.

Her production is a hybrid of The Oprah Winfrey and Tyra Banks shows and is of the only kind in the region. The show has already attracted major attention from some international pay TV broadcasters.

After the successful shoot, Judy took her mission to Texas where she is currently working on a deal that will put Kenyan showbiz on the international map.

The actress who has featured in a number of films including a celebrity studded Los Angeles film, Chase — set to premiere in US in June — may be little known in the local scene but her fame across the boarders can no longer be overlooked.

Having hustled in Kenya in her youth, Judy left for the US in search of greener pastures where her TV dream was born. It was during her stay in Los Angeles when things stated falling in place.

The Judy TV Show is an all-inclusive show tackling issues to do with fashion, music and generally the art industry as well as social issues encountered by Kenyans everywhere in their everyday life, the model told Pulse.

The show is a platform to connect and inspire the youth through talent recognition. Some snippets of the soon to be launched show are already streaming on the show’s official website she added.

The rather social and ambitious star is just one of the many Kenyan girl models, actresses, musicians and filmmakers doing the country proud abroad in the land of milk and honey.

In fact, Kenyan artistes are now swimming against the current by pitching tent abroad where their careers are blossoming. At first, it was all about nurturing talent at home then leaving to look for green pastures. Even though that trend is on, there is a crop of celebrities who are beginning from top down.

It’s a case of ambitious risks, self-determination and the will to cast nets in the deep sea even as financial and technological challenges ensue.

Liz Njagah

Award-winning actress Liz Njagah has shifted her base to Nollywood and Greece where she just concluded shooting the soon to premiere The Return of Lazarus in Thessaloniki.

Late last year, she starred in the Pearls of Africa film, a movie by a London-based Kenyan film director, featuring American actors.

It is true that Kenyan girls are making a mark out there by exhibiting their artistic skills where celebrated stars are known to thrive. It is a question of finding a formula that works before we conquer the world, Liz told Pulse last week, after flying in for the AfricaMagic star party in Nairobi.

Sometimes Kenyan stars fail to make it not because they are not talented, but due to their mediocrity in thinking. I have learnt to reach for the stars and that is why I am making it, she added.

In her opinion, Liz says that Kenyan artistes are very adaptable and they can thrive anywhere in the world as long as they have the right focus and will to succeed.

I have been urging Kenyan actresses to step out and test the waters out there. The globe is our playground. The door is open and the world is ready to consume what we can offer, remarks Liz, now selling big in Nigeria.


Likewise, Norway-based singer Stella Mwangi aka STL has now become a household name with hit singles ruling the international music charts for the last two years.

The Haba Haba singer is a music heroine in Norway.

Last year, STL participated in the Norwegian national selection Melodi Grand Prix 2011 to represent Norway in the Eurovision Song Contest 2011, which was held in Düsseldorf, Germany. She emerged the winner.

She then went ahead to represent Norway at the Eurovision Song Contest with the song Haba Haba in May, but failed to qualify for the Eurovision final even after she was tipped to be one of the big favourites. STL topped the official singles chart in Norway for week six last year with the Haba Haba .

As a matter of fact, leading international music labels have been offering lucrative recording deals to the Kenyan singer now rated among the fast-rising black stars in the world.

It was just the other day when STL started off slowly before hitting the big stage where she is now rubbing shoulders with the big names in the international music circles.

Twice a year, STL does a homecoming concert in Kenya as she tries to keep true to her Kenyan roots and reward her home fans.

The singer’s work has been used in a number of films such as American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile and Save the Last Dance 2. Her music has been also used in TV-series such as CSI: NY and Scrubs.

Nicole Slade

STL is not the only Kenyan girl ruffling feathers abroad.

Youthful London-based singer and songwriter Nicole Slade is also making her mark in the United Kingdom. Nicole visited Kenya a year ago after releasing her debut single. Her sophomore release, Heartbeat, was out two months ago.

I am currently studying Sound Engineering at the prestigious SAE Institute, a media school that has produced great music stars among them Collie Buddz. I’m writing and producing my debut album and dance EP whose release dates will be announced soon, Nicole told Pulse during an exclusive interview last week.

For an artiste, there are more opportunities here than can be found in Africa. It’s only that an artiste needs to work extra hard before they can get noticed.

Money is the biggest challenge and that translates to hitches when one thinks of production rates, studio hire and video shooting, she adds.

The budding star — whose younger sister is now an actress in London — believes that besides other factors, Kenyan artistes need to learn marketing and promotional skills for their art before they can think of turning the international charts where British and American stars have had dominance over the years.

Nicole’s fate with music was sealed when the internationally renowned group Boney M met her family in Germany. Nicole then returned to London where she became a master of the movement dance that saw her hone her street hip-hop dancing and choreography skills.

I met a Kenyan rapper called K-Letta who has been supporting me to this day.

He is the one who encouraged me to start working with other artistes in the UK and that is how I met producer The Beatmacca, whom I have also been working with, she notes.

Rachel Marete

Rachel Marete’s star begun to shine in 2005 after she was crowned Miss Universe Kenya.

Two years later, she shifted base to Miami to look for green pastures. The Kenyan model and media girl then relocated from Miami Beach to Los Angeles in 2010. Now she is a news and entertainment show host at Transit TV in Los Angeles, where, through her celebrity status begun rubbing shoulders to celebrity musicians, sports personalities and other influential people.

Being a celebrity red carpet TV host in Miami where all celebrity stuff happens was a great opportunity and a challenge for me to get my act right. I had a chance to meet many people. It changed the way I thought. Suddenly, I wasn’t the local Kenyan model but the girl expected to deliver for a top TV show. I was carrying my country’s flag high and that felt great, Rachel recalls.

The former face of Fair and Lovely has modelled for several international brands besides working on her latest venture, which could see her establish her own TV show.

I look forward to continuing to network with more brilliant professionals in the entertainment industry, especially here in Los Angeles. TV hosting is such a natural experience for me. All I can say is that the sky is the limit. I am working on some new stuff, which I will let you know about soon, she told Pulse.

Naomi Wangendo

Naomi Wangendo is yet another artiste representing Kenya in the United Kingdom. Born and raised in Tacoma, Washington, USA, Wamboe, as she is popularly known, is credited for her debut single Shorty Say Ey, which she has twice performed live on BET’s 105 alongside Washington-based Kenyan singer Kanja Muchoki aka African King.

Joining the list of Kenyan divas in the Diaspora is Liz Ogumbo who many describe as an elegant eccentric singer who dreams big.

Liz Ogumbo

Currently in South Africa where her husband lives, Liz is a success story in modelling, fashion design and as a performing musician. She is also a published writer.

Liz owns House of Imani, a fashion house incorporated in 2007; Imani International Model Management founded in 2004 in Los Angeles and incorporated in Kenya in 2006. Not so long ago she released her first music album, KenSoul.

Ajuma Nasenyana

The great story of Ajuma Nasenyana is one of the classical examples of Kenyan girls who have hit it big in the international runway .

And what makes it even more inspiring is the fact that the former Miss Nairobi had a humble beginning having been born in the remote Lodwar in Turkana where Lyndsay McIntyre of Surazuri Modeling Agency discovered her in 2003.

Nasenyana was later to travel to Europe to build her portfolio prior to the Supermodel finals in New York City, USA. As fortune and fame beckoned her she soon signed with agencies in London, Italy, Austria, Spain, Ireland, Canada and Sweden before participating in the New York Fashion Week alongside Naomi Campbell and Alek Wek for designers such as Baby Phat. That alone gave her the much-needed breakthrough and the rest is history!

Mercy Myra

Afro fusion diva Mercy Myra, who relocated to USA with hubby Attitude, can hardly be written off. Even though not much has been heard of her singing career for the last two years. She was rumoured to have signed a one album deal with Joi Studios, owned by the twin R&B brothers Jagged Edge.

Source: The Standard

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