What you need to know:
- That year, Samson won the Best Overall Performing Artiste award.
- On a normal day, Samson spends his evenings at the Kenya National Theatre meeting his students and taking them through voice coaching classes.
If you have watched Selina, the popular Kenyan telenovela, then you must know the character Ami, a self-centred singer who is eagerly awaiting his big break. Ami is always at loggerheads with his girlfriend, mostly due to his obvious inability to treat her well. The only thing he is capable of, it seems, is serenading his girlfriend using his songs.
This selfish and uncaring character is played by 23-year-old Javé Samson Mwavita. Just like Ami, Samson is hopeful that great success will one day come his way. Already, he has found a way of living off art, a feat that eludes many Kenyan actors.
“I come from a family of actors. My father is a veteran who starred in many shows, including Saida. He greatly influenced my career choice, as he encouraged me to participate in skits and musical shows when I was in primary school.
“However, it is when I joined secondary school that I developed real passion for acting. I ended up representing my school, Shimo la Tewa, in the national drama festivals.
“In 2013, I shared one stage with singer Daniel Owira who recreated the popular song Otongolo Time, and students from Butere Girls who were performing the controversial play – Shackles of Doom.
“I had two roles in the same play, so we had to play around with makeup and characterisation so I could successfully execute each role. I performed so well that most people in the audience did not realise I was the same person until the very end,” he says.
That year, Samson won the Best Overall Performing Artiste award. The trophy he brought back home, the thrill he experienced while on stage and the feedback he got from adjudicators and the audience, guided Samson to his career in acting. He has never looked back ever since.
When he completed his high school education, Samson joined Kassanga School of Music, and Shangtao Media Art College where he is currently honing his skills.
Over the years, he has acquired more skills and he is now a voice coach, acting director, singer and song writer.
“I am the acting instructor and director at Starehe Boys Centre, alongside Norris Kabembe. Together, we direct the school’s plays and musicals and prepare the students for the annual competitions, or for our private shows which we normally hold every year to raise funds for various school projects.
Last year, we raised more than Sh1 million in two weeks, and the money was used to purchase music instruments for the school,” he says.
On a normal day, Samson spends his evenings at the Kenya National Theatre meeting his students and taking them through voice coaching classes. He is also involved in coaching and co-writing songs for Brokuod— an upcoming duet.
To manage all these activities, Samson breaks down his to-do list and ensures that he has only one task to accomplish every day. This gives him time to fully concentrate in all his undertakings.
His ability to diversify his skills is one of the factors that has enabled him establish a sustainable career.
“Art does pay. However, the money does not come at once. You need to be patient, and you must have good financial management skills.
I’ve seen so many artistes aspiring to be celebrities and leading lavish lifestyles, and this eventually gets them in trouble. To survive as an artist, save for the future no matter how little your salary is, or invest in an income generating project. That is how I have managed to sustain myself through art,” he explains.
So, how did Samson get his roles?
“Social media does everything for me. I often learn about casting calls and auditions through posts by friends on Instagram and WhatsApp. There is also an Instagram account, Sanaa Post, which puts up everything that is happening in the Kenyan art scene, from celebrity birthdays, to theatre productions, posters and auditions. The account is so useful for anyone who is interested in joining this industry.
“I also follow leading actors in the country, and I sometimes glean information about upcoming projects on their timelines. In fact, I learnt about the opportunity to star in Selina through a post by Gerald Langiri,” he says.
Just like all popular actors, Samson has felt the pressure that comes with being a public figure. Sometimes, strangers identify him on the streets and although he does not mind interacting with fans or being the centre of attraction, he is bothered by the burden of expectation.
“I don't know why, but people expect you to behave or live in a certain way just because you appear on TV. There was a point when I could not eat roasted maize in my neighbourhood. I had to find a way of handling people’s expectations. Nowadays, I go about life without caring about who is watching or how I am expected to behave.”
Samson admits that being an artist in Kenya is no walk in the park.
“You have to start from the bottom and it takes a great deal of determination and hard work to get to the top. At the beginning, you will be rejected or offered very low pay.
“But if acting is what you want to do, don’t give up. Things do get easier with time and more doors will swing open,” he says.
Samson plans to make his name on the global acting scene, and to touch other people’s lives through art.