Singer Suzzana Owiyo-I ran away from home because dad wanted me to be a teacher

suzanne owiyo
Suzanne Owiyo is a celebrated Kenyan artiste

When did you start singing?

Way back in high school. I was a staunch member of the choir. My interest  wasn’t really singing, but I remember being glued to URTNA (a music programme) and trying to imitate some of the artistes.

At what point did you go professional?

It was in the 1990s, when I read a story about Sally Oyugi and I got in touch with her. My main aim was to break through into the industry. She told me that she could not afford to pay me as her backup singer, but she could give me transport allowance. This went on for almost a year until she left for the US. But she encouraged me to pursue music.

What happened later?

I remember joining a Congolese band, which at first did not believe in me. However, after listening to my singing, they were really impressed. I remember I once performed Miriam Makeba’s song, Hapo Zamani, and everyone was impressed. I even started dancing like the girls in Koffi Olomide’s videos. I started performing in Kisumu.

The song ‘Kisumu 100’ propelled you to fame. When did you record it?

It was during one of the concerts in Kisumu when a promoter, Eric Ounga (now my husband), noticed me and encouraged me to record and pursue a solo career.  He even bought me a guitar which I learnt to play in a week. I later met Gidi Gidi and Maji Maji with David Muriithi and they introduced me to Tedd Josiah who then recorded Kisumu 100.

Was it easy for the song to get airplay?

It did not receive airplay immediately. I had actually recorded it for the centennial celebrations of Kisumu City. It was  a theme song for the opening ceremony. However, on the performance day, I was told that I could not perform as I was dressed inappropriately. I was in a skirt that had a long slit and a halter top. I only had 15 minutes to change, but thank God, I made it.

 What do you think was special about the song?

Nobody had ever sung about Kisumu and mostly, revealing the town’s activities. This was the greatest turning point. My life has never been the same. I started getting gigs, I was all over the media and this even mended my relationship with my family.

Why was the family against your music career?

When I told them I wanted to do music, everyone was against it.  My father wanted me to become a teacher but that was not my calling. Back in the day, music as a career wasn’t promising and most parents didn’t want their kids to be associated with it.  Music was then associated with prostitution and alcohol. I had to move out of home since I was facing a lot of dissent.

Did they throw you out of home?

No, I just wanted to go out and pursue music as a career to prove to them that I could make it. I did not see them for a very long time.

What are some of the challenges that you went through?

Since my family did not believe in me, I moved in with a friend. Making ends meet was not easy because the bands I played in did not pay well. I earned Sh500 per day, yet we only performed thrice a week. Some people were not happy because of my popularity with patrons in nightclubs where we performed. Some colleagues were jealous of the tips I got. At one point, I started performing at a club in Karen. I would  stay at the club till dawn, so that I could get a matatu home because I could not afford a taxi.

Did your family finally accept your career choice?

My father is my biggest fan. In fact, one time I invited him to one of my concerts where he encouraged parents to let their children pursue their dreams. He is very proud of me.

How do you manage to stay grounded and avoid scandals?

Having worked with very mature artistes, I have learnt how to package my brand and stay focused. I don’t have time for sideshows.