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My friends call me ‘tan’

Her name means ‘joyful’ and it fits perfectly with her personality. Tana Kioko is full of life and my brief interaction with her, reveals a young and ambitious lady who is living her life on her own terms. I imagine her confident persona is as a result of being an older child. But that is an assumption she puts to rest as soon as we sit down for the interview.

‘I am the last born in a family of five. My brother Mansa and my sister Kesho have held my hand every step of the way as I grew into the person I am today. The growth wasn’t always pretty, but over time we have become close and open with each other. I also give a lot of credit to my parents for all that I am today. My dad, Mr. Kioko Mwitiki, is an amazing artist and I think I got my artsy side from him. My Mother, Charity Muthami, is probably the most supportive human being that I’ve ever met on this planet. Her heart is love personified.

And why not art?

We begin to sort out her wardrobe, carefully laying out her African themed outfits and inspired jewellery. She made sure to bring along her best pieces, perhaps not too confident that we would capture her real essence. Her love for the creative becomes even more visible as she engages the make-up artist on her choice of colours. She does not mind going bold with her makeup and she prefers red lipstick to match her go-getting attitude. 

‘I have a very sentimental attachment to art as a way of expression. Music, Visual arts, Acting, Poetry, Dance everything about art speaks to my soul. I believe it has the power to heal. And to transform that which we wish to change. I have also been captivated by the ideas behind the entertainment industry, I mean who doesn’t want to be Beyoncé or J-z?

I wanted to be a part of that charm, to hold my place in the lime light! But when I cleared high school I quickly realized that the industry is incalculably competitive, to the extent that too many talented artists are getting undermined or completely ignored because the market doesn’t have the capacity to support them.  

Jikiji Folana Festival

That struck a chord with me and I changed my focus on creating a safe space where artists could express themselves. So, together with my friends Coco Hawi, Samantha Shade and James Maina – we created the JIKIJI FOLANA FESTIVAL. We brought together twenty-three artists under one roof, including musicians, poets and visual artists. Their performance pulled in an even bigger crowd of at least 70 people. It was very exciting for us, being our first attempt at such a gig.’

Her enthusiasm for life begins to rubs off on me. Her make up is finally done. She excitedly looks at herself in the mirror, amazed at the transformation before her. I take a risk at dimming her current glow and ask her whether she encountered any challenges during the festival.

‘I received a lot of support for the festival. Renowned performer Eric Wainaina for instance, took me under his wings and introduced me to his band, which provided the musical support for most of the acts. Our local musical artist, Mayonde, put up our poster on her Instagram story. Laura Ekumbo, an already established spoken word artist, agreed to work alongside us, as well as Timothy Arinaitwe and Vincent Ngugi, who are artists in their own right.

Kenya Buzz was keen on signing with us, thereby giving us access to their 25k online followers. TV47 an upcoming station was also very eager to provide a personal film crew to document the event and have it featured on their channel. Itoro, who is a passionate vlogger, featured the project on her travel blog.

And it didn’t stop there. We partnered up with Stand Up Shout Out, an international NGO that encourages change through community based initiatives. Thanks to them, we were able to raise awareness on ongoing local campaigns such the Kilifi beach clean-up initiative.

And yes, there were plenty of challenges. For example, we didn’t manage to secure any sponsors beyond our parents so you can say the event was entirely self-funded. My lowest point however, was when it started to rain! We didn’t have enough money to rent out a tent and so we had set up the event outdoors. Of course, the show had to come to a standstill temporarily.’

Passions of the future

We catch a break from the photoshoot and decide to talk about her future. For Tana, the arts will continue to be a major part of her life. Even as she pursues a career in film and directing, she hopes to live in a close knit community where people value each other. She hopes for a country where people can grow their gifts and talents not for the love of money, but for the national economy. She is confident that the African continent is rich in raw talent that we need to own and promote.

‘Most of the older artists did not have the privilege of multiple studios. This ensured that their creativity was compromised along the way. Further, some of them were never compensated for their originality. I want Africa to take its deserved place in the arts industry. We have a lot of resources that we can use to our benefit, if we decided to work together.’ She says.  

As our time together comes to end, I am interested in her life as a teenager. Tana exudes an aura of maturity, but, does she share the same struggles as other eighteen year olds?

The quest for success

‘I think the biggest challenge we face today as teenagers is our quest for success. Most teens grow up with an idea of success that is publicised by the world around them; Everything you own must be new and expensive; if you’re not aiming to earn six figures, then you might as well not aim at all. You must have a ridiculous number of followers on social media, be the best in everything; date the hottest girl/boy and much more.  It is ridiculously overwhelming, because it imposes someone’s definition of excellence on unique individuals. At worst, this quest for success, leaves you feeling as if you’re constantly failing, because no one can ever meet someone else’s definition of perfection. I have since learned to define my own success and I think if more teenagers practiced this attitude, their lives would be more positive.’


Would you rather…

Have more money or have more time?

More time- Money can’t buy time, there is so much I want to do that money can’t get done!

Have no eyebrows or only one eyebrow?

No eyebrows…coz they might just grow back…having just one eye brow is tricky!

Be feared by all or loved by all?

Loved by all…

Lose all your hair or lose all your teeth?

Lose all my hair…coz at least I would still be able to speak.

Be held in high regard by your parents or by your friends?

My parents

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