What you need to know:
Mervyn Obiero, 22, is an independent rap artist from Syokimau. He's been making music for four years now, has held a few shows and also models on the side. You may recognise him from being an oblivious boyfriend on the set of Njoro Wa Uba.
1. You're an actor and a model. How do you find time for both and do you have an agent - is that recommended in these fields? Do you feel like this is enough to sustain you?
The two aren’t so different; I look at acting as modelling on TV. So I prepare for them pretty much the same way.
I don’t have an agent but I’m open to having one. They make things easier by getting you gigs but at the same time you also learn a lot navigating the industry by yourself.
You need to understand the process and where the money is coming from and going to.
Definitely. Art is appreciated globally more so in Europe and America where the spending power is higher than back home. There is a lot of money in the creative industry and I’m intending to make it to a high level where the pay is really good.
I often study legendary musicians and actors from Kenya who’ve managed to tour the world picking what I can from them to ensure I do the same, learning from the mistakes they made. I always tell people I’m going to be the first rapper from Kenya.
2. How do you get parts or auditions, do you have to know someone, follow specific people on Twitter? How does one get into the industry or learn it as a newcomer?
Auditions are posted on various social media platforms. One I personally follow is filmlinkafrica on Instagram which has regular updates of what is going on in the industry. I have actually applied for three this morning.
As you begin you have to go for auditions. I remember going for the Njoro Wa Uba auditions at the Kenya National Theatre at 8am and being number 300 and something.
You just have to try your luck. However, as you get more gigs, you’re most likely to create networks with casting directors that can call you for a shoot they deem fit for you.
I would advise anyone with the interest to put themselves out there. If auditions don’t work for you, you can always create your own YouTube channel and remove the middleman.
3. What was it like being on Njoro Wa Uba, even if it was for a short time? Did you engage with the set and the production team? Also, do you think there is something additional in production that you would like to do, for example, continuity, art direction, being an AD?
Njoro Wa Uba was an amazing experience. It’s my dad’s favourite program and we watch the show religiously as a family.
The auditions came a month before my father’s birthday and I wanted the episode to be a birthday present for him. It was such a pleasant surprise to be casted.
First thing I did was to look for Njoro for a picture that I immediately sent to our family group. The set was really fun and I got to interact with most of the actors including Njoro’s lawyer (who we refer to as Rhino because of his role on Kina).
He also gave me a lot of advice on how to approach a character and script.
The show was really professional and it opened my eyes to a lot. It motivated me to pursue TV and film production.
Seeing the producers on set encouraged me to venture into directing and my music videos have improved significantly. I’d love to produce a TV show in the future. Probably a series about three university students from Nairobi.
4. You have done a bit of conscious music in your career as well. What prompts you to talk about social issues like police brutality and what do you think your role is - if any - as an artist as we move even deeper into election season?
I usually make music based on my life experiences. At the time, there were numerous extrajudicial killings that seemed to target the youth.
I was 20 at the time and it felt like I could lose my life or any of my friends just by being outside past curfew. That’s why I said “in Nairobi it ain’t so different “.
As an artist, I believe my role is to create meaningful conversations that have people thinking about things they wouldn’t normally think about. Such conversations drive people to look at things from a different perspective.
There’s a song [in which] I say “si tumetambua Jah but hatumshtui ka tunaeza solve.” This can be interpreted as we have to take matters into our own hands instead of praying for things we can change by ourselves.
5. What do you wish you knew before you joined the arts? Do you think it's better to start young, as you have at 22, or get a little bit more life/school experience before launching a career?
I wish I knew the difference between the art and the art business. When I started, I was very much into art, like I am now, but I had no idea how the industry worked. I just wanted to make content I thought was cool.
I had no idea about distribution and marketing. As I got older, I got to understand that the two are very different and you could be in one and not the other.
It’s very advisable to start early, the sooner the better. This way you have the advantage of being able to make mistakes before the pressure of life starts piling up. It also allows your audience to grow with you and you end up building a fan base that matures with your art.
When it comes to school experience, if you’re fortunate enough to receive education try to balance school with art so as to have a contingency. You’d have to work harder than your peers but the end result is totally worth it.
Also - I’m from Western Kenya so kindly allow me to ‘tuma salamu’: I’d like to send a shout out to K9, Money don’t sleep, my home girl Sally, BY the engineer, Moha, Benja and St Patrick!