Yo! The Mic Is On
She starts off with a ballad. Professing her deepest desires. The ballad is of other people. People living their lives, creating mental pictures and passing messages. She sings this song for a little over a minute, until you realize the whole thing is one huge ballad. “Back then I thought that all you needed to do was have a good voice, turn on the microphone and use that particular platform” But after high school, she realized she needed a little bit more education to compliment her good voice.
For her, the roadmap was through poaching. That’s how she thought it would work. There are a lot of realizations she comes to in her life, and she quickly realized the poaching thing only worked for animals that were already seasoned. No young ewe was getting poached. The meat was too tender. Too inexperienced. She needed to follow her journey, according to her, her destiny.
The first time Stella, shortened to STL Yamumo [because what do you need vowels for anyway?] got to interact with radio, it was with a vernacular radio station. It was an internship she did while on campus. “This was the first time where I was supposed to be very fluent in my mother tongue and unfortunately, I wasn’t.” It was, however, a starting point for her. The young ewe was released into the jungle, and the poachers were readying their blades and oiling their spears [who knows what poachers do, anyway]
“I got to learn a lot. The team was very amazing.” She was taught, encouraged and laid the founding blocks of her destiny. “After campus, you think it’s going to be easy to get a job [spoiler alert: it isn’t]. I was listening to the radio [a station that she insists closed, just so you guys don’t go applying to them now to test your destinies] and the presenter, who is now an established actor, said ‘You know, if you’re out there, you’re passionate about radio, you wanna co-host with me, come through and co-host’.
STL Yamumo went through with the message and got a DM back. If she was in Nairobi, would she come to the station at this time?
It was traffic that did her in that first gig. Nairobi traffic can be a pain, you’d think with all the running we’re known for, we would have figured out cars are not really a great thing to have around in large numbers, but a girl can only hope. She was a few minutes late, but it went pretty great. “That was one of the best times I had on air! It confirmed to me that I was on the right path.”
Fast forward to getting her first radio job. There were 2 rounds of auditions, the result of which you can only speculate as she was hosting a mid-morning show on Youth Empowerment. “I remember my first day on air (she chuckles) like it was yesterday. I had done a lot of demos and shows, but my first time doing a three-hour show ALONE, with the producer over there, giving me prompts, queuing me in, telling me to back up from the microphone, introduce a song, have a conversation, all that. By the time I was done with the three hours…whoa [I always picture rono.h doing the whoa when I hear whoa. Am I alone? I may never know] Niliskia ni kama nimetoka mjengo. I was tired, mentally, physically, [All the allys].
Her laugh is vibrant. She has one of those laughs that has you turning to see who it is. A laugh filled with bubbles and flowers and puppies. It vibrates in your ears from her throat. You feel it in your chest, as if you made the sound. A laugh that ripples through people. It is a laugh that I would not mind hearing on the radio while driving down a dirt road. A laugh full of color.
“And I can tell you for sure that many people don’t look at being a presenter like it’s a tiresome job. Whether you’re on radio or TV, people don’t look at it like it is. They think you just walk in, you talk, you play music, you talk, and before you know it, you’re done.”
It’s a lot because you have to give the listener new information. On the radio, as she tells me, you speak to one person. [Light bulb; that’s why it’s mpenzi mtazamaji, na sio ile ya kukata maji. Singular]. “Every time you feed the music then turn the mic on, or the cameras come on, what new information are you giving this person? Sure, I was tired but I chose this path, so I knew I had to keep walking, like Johnny Walker [Ah, that laugh again. But also, and I realize I’m putting a lot of my thoughts into this telling, the whiskey joke is totally hers. I promise, I didn’t hold a gun to her head and ask her to say it. I will say, however, that I was very glad to hear it]
“You keep learning as you move, sometimes you forget to turn on the mic, you’re talking and then the producer is like, ‘your mic is off’, other times you’re flowing and forget to turn off the mic and then the producer is like [say it with me, kids] ‘Yo, the mic is on!’ Then systems in the studio will simply fail you, songs will not play, so you have to learn along the way and keep getting better as time goes on” But definitely after the producer has said ‘Yo, the systems are failing you’ or something of the sort.
Talanta Mtaani is a show that celebrates talent; something that STL Yamumo wishes existed when she was growing up. “I am one person who is crazy about talent. Every Tuesday, on my radio show, I get to hostTalent Tuesday.” She calls herself “an artistic person. She emcees, does radio, TV and podcast shows. “I always feel like if I started earlier, I wouldn’t have struggled so much with my shyness.”
She and her friend started by working on radio and ended up on Talanta Mtaani together. “It was at a time in our lives where money wasn’t coming through from the radio [no one told them to send 90 bob to a number], so we wanted to do more.” So they brainstormed TV ideas.
The year was 2016, the month April and their minds were working overtime. They took their first idea to a particular TV station and spoke to the head of production. Producer loved it. Producer asked them to shoot and edit and bring the whole thing to life, then sell him the content. They were dumbfounded. “The only thing we had were the skills and the idea,” she says. Producer told them not to worry. Who was he after all? He could sort them out.
They did a script and planned for the shoot day. “It was this amazing, grand idea. Trust me, when I say it was big, it was big.” I trust her. At the end of the day, exhausted beyond exhaustion, beyond taking so many takes since, as she says, it takes a lot, they had the footage. They handed it over to the editor.
In broadcast, when you slot a program for 30 minutes, it means the show should be about 24 minutes. You have to consider the ads, you know, where most of the money comes from. By the time the editor finished his shenanigans, STL Yamumo and her friend’s show was 12 minutes long. She laughs again.
They go back to shooting. “For continuity purposes, you have to try to wear the same clothes, have the same hairstyle [another laugh]” The footage gets back to the editor. It was July. and they were done with the pilot episode. The TV station shut down.
With their dreams down the drain, they never even got to see their own pilot episode. They went back to the drawing board. Well, as much drawing as people behind microphones and cameras do. Good thing was, this time, they had a backlog of ideas from the previous brainstorm sessions in April. They pitched their ideas to different TV stations.
They met someone who couldn’t understand an idea they pitched. “I tell him, he doesn’t remember much of that story, but what he remembers is that he saw I was talented. He called me a week or two after pitching and said he had an idea. He was asking her to host it. He told her about this talent show that he wanted to start, and she was like, “Talent is my thing so here I come!”
And that is how she became the host of Talanta Mtaani Show.