Radio personality Kalekye Mumo opens up to Judith Mwobobia about her plus-size curves, a really bad day on the job and the difference between dating a man and seeing one.
Kalekye Mumo is a striking woman, the kind that owns a room the minute she walks in. I struggle to put my finger on her X factor. Is it her confidence, her smile, the way she walks? Then she speaks, and I have it: it’s her voice.
Kalekye Mumo has a voice that commands attention. A laugh that prods one to join in. Maybe that is what makes her such a popular radio queen, I think to myself as she strides through the Lion’s Place reception to meet me.
Kalekye, who has just wrapped up the Kiss 100 FM breakfast show for the day, is dressed in blue jeans, a patterned blouse, wedge shoes and simple black jewellery. She certainly knows how to mix up the stylish and the comfortable. As we settle down at a table in the restaurant, I notice the curious glances from other diners. No doubt they’re wondering, “Who’s that girl?”
That’s Kalekye Mumo for you. The radio host’s voice may be recognisable to millions of Kenyans, yet most can’t put a face to it – yet.
“It is always amusing to see people finally match up my voice to my look,” she smiles. “Most expect to see a much slimmer woman, which I am clearly not!”
Like any other celebrity, the 36-year-old radio presenter is constantly in the public eye. In Kenya’s image-obsessed society, Kalekye just can’t escape the attention focused on her plus-size figure.
“I don’t have any weight issue. I am a curvaceous African woman. I go to the gym every day and my heart and cholesterol levels are excellent. Isn’t being healthy what really matters?”
Her weight has never cramped her style, she says. What men find attractive in women is confidence. “My weight hasn’t stopped me from dating or meeting men, and if am not married, it’s only because I haven’t met the right man yet.”
Noting the sparkling rings on her fingers – three on the right hand and one on the left – I ask if she is currently dating anyone.
“Dating? No, not really, but I am seeing people.”
Dating, she explains, is what you do when you have zeroed in on your “chosen one”, while seeing people is the first step towards finding your “chosen one”.
So what kind of man does she want?
“I want a man who is comfortable with himself, who can handle a strong woman; a man who is not still looking for himself, but rather one who has already found himself,” she laughs. Oh, that laugh. Again, heads turn.
“Most of the men that hit on me are much younger, hence don’t want the same things I want. I want to settle down and have babies. My ideal man must be God-fearing, financially stable and a real man,” she explains.
“A real man is one who is in control. In my everyday life, I am always in control. I want to come home to a man who takes over the reins. I will let him. I can be submissive.”
Submissive? To a man? This comes as a surprise considering that the on-air Kalekye comes across as a free spirit, possibly even a feminist.
Family plays a big role in Kalekye’s life. Every other Sunday, you will find her home with her family. Born to a cateress mum and a dad who worked at Kenya Breweries, Kalekye describes her parents as strict but loving.
“Mum was the disciplinarian,” she reminisces. “She cracked the whip and we jumped on cue. She taught us to work hard and be responsible. At the age of just six, I could bake up a storm.”
However, Kalekye has always been Daddy’s girl. “He dotes on me and has never raised his voice at me. When I finally find my Prince Charming, I sure hope he is like Daddy.”
Growing up in Nairobi’s Westland’s suburbs, she had a pretty normal childhood, albeit somewhat marred by illnesses.
“When I was three, I was diagnosed with a hip condition that left me immobilised and in a cast for some years.”
She also developed psoriasis, an auto-immune condition that affects the skin. But that didn’t faze the young Kalekye.
“Growing up with three older brothers has a way of toughening up a girl. I had no opportunity to feel sorry for myself or even feel different from the other kids in school. My parents helped in that they didn’t treat me special or even draw attention to my condition, so I didn’t develop a complex about it.”
She confesses that it irks her when people get uncomfortable around her psoriasis.
“Sometimes I notice people casting side glances at my arms and don’t come right out to ask me about it. Maybe they are afraid to hurt my feelings. Well, my scars don’t bother me.”
In school, she excelled in sciences, but knew it wasn’t her forte.
“I was the artistic child, so active in the drama and music clubs at Loreto Msongari School that my parents decided that for my high school education, a rural school would do me good. They thought that if I went to a rural school, I would concentrate more on my studies.”
So they packed her off to Mbooni High, a school in the heart of Kamba land. It didn’t take her long to fit right in. Her schoolmates soon nicknamed her “Auntie” due to her ability to draw out information from others and act the agony aunt – sure signs of a sprouting radio queen.
After high school, she decided to study media and communications, but her parents didn’t like her choice.
“They didn’t think media had much to offer me in terms of stability and they wanted a paper-punching job for me. One I clearly didn’t see myself in. Routine bores me. Since I didn’t have much choice in the matter, I settled for a law degree at the United States International University.”
It was there that she rediscovered music and drama. Together with close friends, she started Charisma, a dance and music group that went on to produce musical and theatre stars such as Atemi, Nini Wacera and Natasha.
“My first ‘real job’ after school was in 2001, at Homeboyz Entertainment. I was an administrator. My salary was just Ksh 8,000. I enjoyed it for a while, but I was getting bored. I really wanted the technical side of it. After a year I joined Roughcuts Communications Company where, despite the Ksh 10, 000 pay, I was happy as I got to be trained on sound engineering.”
She supplemented her income by doing the occasional jingle for advertisements and participating in karaoke nights.
“That gave me an extra Ksh2,000 for essential items. I even cut off my hair to reduce my expenditure!”
Getting into radio was not as easy as cutting her hair.
“It took me five years of applying for a position to finally get in. And I didn’t get the typical interview. A friend told me that Capital FM was running a competition for aspiring radio presenters. My heart wasn’t really in it since I had tried so many times before, so I just wrote a quick resume and sent it, not expecting much.”
However, a month later, Kalekye got a call to report to the studio. She was expected to outdo her competitors by wooing listeners on air and the one with the most votes would win a radio training stint and later secure employment. She won.
“I cringe every time I recall my first day on air. The morning show hosts dared me to call up a certain guy I had met at a wedding the previous weekend. I don’t know why I even told them about it. Maybe it was nerves or the need to impress, but I took up the dare. Luckily it went to voicemail, but I still had to leave a message.”
The message must have impressed the guy, because he later called her and they actually dated for a while.
Four months and a disagreement with management later, Kalekye left, hopeful that she would land another radio job. As luck would have it, she got a call from Kiss 100 FM.
“I finally felt things were coming together. However, the only available slot was as a news anchor. I was eyeing a show, but I was ready to bide my time. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Her patience paid off. She was soon offered a co-hosting slot on the popular afternoon show Rush Hour. In addition, she now hosts the Saturday Countdown show.
Kalekye co-hosts Rush Hour with Shaffie Weru, the “bad boy” of entertainment. In the show, they portray antagonists and
tackle issues that most radio shows would shy away from. Their almost palpable on-air chemistry reels in the listeners.
She says it wasn’t always that good in the studio. “When I first started working with Shaffie, we did not get along. He thought I was too serious while I thought he was immature and a joker. However, I soon realised that he took his work quite seriously and I eased up a little. That was the beginning of a great friendship. He is like a brother to me now. Even my family loves him!”
She admits that being a celebrity comes with its fair share of challenges.
“The pressure to have everything in place, the fans … it can be overwhelming, but you smile and wave and sign autographs because you realise how much love the world has for you.”
So what does happiness mean to Kalekye?
“Happiness is a feeling of contentment, worthiness and thankfulness. It makes your life complete. Am I happy? Yes. I am happy that I am alive, that I have a chance to make a difference in the world, that I have friends and family that loves me just the way I am – a plus size, sexy, beautiful woman. If you believe it, you are it.”
Stalkers are a dime a dozen in her world, but she deals with this hazard in her endearingly unflappable fashion.
“Well, so far I haven’t encountered so many. I have tried to keep a low profile but the key is to be firm while still being friendly. Loads of fans will tweet or write bad stuff on your Facebook wall. They just need to be loved. Attention is all they desire. If it irritates me, I block or delete them because I have no space for negative energy.”
On the rare occasion she encounters the difficult or rude caller, she lets common sense prevail.
“You really have to use your discretion. You learn to hang up on people who are not adding value to the show or are just plain rude. It’s done in good faith. There are just some things you can’t air or listen to.”
For Kalekye, the show must go on, no matter how bad her day gets.
“Dealing with bad news or being sick is not supposed to affect the show. When the mic goes up, no matter what is going on with you, you gotta grit, wear a smile and give a good show,” she says.
But one day, things got really bad.
“Once, 30 minutes into my show when Shaffie was on leave, I got word of my dad having had a stroke. That was the hardest it has ever been for me. I could not leave or tell my producers because I knew I’d break down. I had to sit through five hours with only text messages from my siblings, and they were not telling me much because they knew I had to work and didn’t want to derail me.”
She seems the eternal optimist, but admits that there are low days.
“Low days come naturally, but I try not to let them control me. When I have a problem, concern or worry, I need to get it all out, to talk about it. So my friends get a fair share of my worries, thoughts and concerns, but once I let it all out, whether or not the listener gives me a solution, I am sorted. Strange but true.”
Her mum, who didn’t approve of her career choice in the early days, is now her greatest fan. “I realise how proud she is
of me whenever she introduces me to her friends by my two names.”
Radio is not all Kalekye does. She has a role in the popular NTV show Mali, and has also ventured into the world of music as manager of Deejays Republic, a conglomerate of top East African deejays (Hypnotiq, Dru, Creme, Protege and Waithaka).
She has also teamed up with her best friend Genevieve to open up a hair salon.
“Black Butterfly is my baby. I love all things pretty and beautiful and what’s better than giving a woman a beautiful place to hang out in as she gets spruced up?”
Her own beautifully coiffed dreadlocks are two years old and she hopes to grow them to an amazing length.
Despite her hectic lifestyle, she knows how to relax. “I zone out by curling up on my couch and watching movies. If I want more jolt, I go out dancing with friends.” The craziest thing she has ever done was to go straight from the Saturday show to Masaku 7s to hang out – “getting up to all sorts of crazy for two whole days” -before getting back in time for her Monday breakfast show at Sam.
Where does Kalekye see herself 10 years from now? She mulls over this for a few moments.
“I will be a greater actress and, if still doing radio, a better radio presenter. Maybe I will have many more hair salons and indulge my musical passion.”
- “Laughter keeps me happy and young.”
- “I believe in God and always make a point of attending the mass at Nairobi Baptist Church.”
- She’s a shoe and handbag girl. “I have quite a collection and I rarely use the same bag or wear a pair of shoes twice.”
- She prefers reading magazines to books.
- Accessorising is her drug. “You won’t see me without accessories. Never.”
- Her first car was a red Mini Cooper. “I always loved a car with character. A car says a lot about you.” She now drives a Toyota Levin.
- She can dance really well.
- She has irritable bowel syndrome and has to watch what she eats to prevent flare-ups. She avoids wheat products and cow’s milk.
- Her favourite hang-out is The Mercury’s.
- Her drink of choice is jameson whiskey.
- Chris Brown and Tyrese are her favourite celebrities: “Chris Brown for his music, and Tyrese for his chocolatey dark looks and awesome body.”
- She is attracted to slender, tall men.
- She resembles Jill Scott. “Can’t you see it? We have the same facial bone structure! We even tweet each other.”
- She has 22,663 followers on Twitter.