#WCW: Nyota Ndogo - From starting off as a Mboch to dealing with failed marriage

For a woman who has made a career out of attracting admiration and controversy in equal measure Nyota Ndogo (Mwanaisaha Abdalla) comes across as down to earth person.

The Mombasa based most sort-after female musician displays lots of confidence but little sign of the hubris associated with superstars who play in the big league.

Looking fit and relaxed the 35-year-old Watu na Viatu songbird  with over five albums under her belt seems to have lost none of her unique and scintillating voice that has seen her stage performances across the world.

But why has Nyota been keeping a low profile, even eliciting speculation that she had quit music altogether as a result of dwindling fortunes?

”I have not quit music. I’m still very much in the game and my fans should brace themselves for more surprises in store. My musical career has always been a very long journey,” says the musician who has been singing for nearly 13 years.

She reveals she is currently working on a new album whose release will coincide with her 36th birthday next year.

 “I’m currently busy staging shows outside Kenya besides embarking on some of my projects,” she says.

“I have just left for Denmark  where I have been invited  to stage a major Bob Marley concert  alongside other renowned musicians,” says Nyota.

Known as queen of  Tarab Pop for her exhilarating performances and a style of music that weaves an intoxicating blend of the Coastal, Bongo and  Benga , Nyota’s sweet voice and grandiose style blends the music of her heritage with the electrifying sounds from various parts of the world.

But despite her success, Nyota is one person who has managed to overcome crippling challenges in her life.

A class seven dropout Nyota who hailed from a humble family background where poverty was the order of the day worked as a housemaid in Mombasa’s Nyali estate for more than two years. 

 “The fact that my father (a drunkard then) was part of a live band that played at Saba Saba bar in Majengo slum estate where we lived while my mother worked as a fish monger made life difficult for the family of six siblings.”

In 1997, at the age of 15, due to lack of school fees Nyota decided to venture into doing menial jobs in order to make ends meet.

“I often walked from Makande within Majengo slums to town about 3km in search of greener pastures. There were times when my heart ached and I longed to disappear from the face of the earth as a result of being rejected by many people who saw me as a ‘baby’ with little or no experience as far as house chores go,” she recalls.

After a long search, she secured a job as a house help in one of her friend’s house who lived in Nyali estate. The couple had just delivered a baby.

“Although initially they were not too sure if I would make it considering my underage and inexperience, I proved them wrong by staying there for a period of two years despite earning the sum of Sh1, 500 a month.”

On top of this Nyota says the couple loved and treated her as their own daughter giving her all the freedom she needed on completing her work.

“I would spend my free time watching television and listening to radio,” she says.  With time her interest in music grew stronger. On the other hand her father Abdala Atib was a musician.

“I often watched artistes like Sheila Mwanyigah (Nikii), Mercy Myra, Suzzane Kibukosya, Nazizi and Kalamashaka hoping to be like them some day,” she reminisces. 

With time Nyota managed to compose more than 15 songs but wasn’t sure how to go about studio recording considering she did not have enough money.

Luckily for her a neighboring house help who had watched her sing introduced her to a friend’s boyfriend – then a producer at Jikoni Studio - a white man named Andrew Burchell, aka popularly known as Madebe. Impressed by the fact that she was able to compose and sing well at the same time he decided to record Nyota’s first album Chereko still as house help.

“Although it got immense airplay on radio stations within Mombasa the presenters made it clear to the listeners of my profession.”

It was also during the time that Nyota met her first husband a Giriama (whose name she does not wish to mention for personal reasons). He worked as a sound Engineer at Jikoni Studio where she recorded.

Nyota reveals that like most love stories that begun with  simple eye contact in the year 2000 culminated into a strong relationship leading to her marriage. But four years down the line after being blessed with a baby boy named Mbarak, their marriage became rocky as things turned from bad to worse forcing her to finally call it quits.

“Let’s just say that it did not work out between us.  To my shock my once loving husband decided to betray me when I needed him most. The fact that I had so many contracts coming my way and was sometimes forced to fly out for a week made him extremely mad. In other words he never quite understood my job and even if he did he felt insecure about it. To make matters worse he even had an affair with our own house help while I was away making me feel humiliated and jilted,” she said.

What followed next saw the budding singer sink into mental distress. It was at this point that Nyota made a decision to part ways with her estranged husband.

As a result she spent close to five months crying and cursing the day they met. According to her the joy and laughter that they once shared turned into tears and sorrow besides having sleepless nights.

This saw Nyota initiate a talk show dubbed Uwazi at Big Tree hotel and Malindi town that revolved around broken marriages and how to handle such situations. According to her the response was overwhelming.

On top of this Nyota decided to pursue music as a career.

Since then the musician with four albums among them Chereko, Nimetoka Mbali, Mpenzi and Mama Wakambo has worked with a number of artistes among them Kenya’s Nonini, Sauti Sol, Necessary Noize, Collo, Frasha, Ally B and Tanzanias’ Q Chilla and Mr Blue just to name a few.

Her singing ability has seen her win two Kisima awards for Best Taarab singer in 2003 and Best female singer in 2005. She has also been nominated severally for local and Tanzanian PAM awards.

Her song Take Care is featured on the international World 2003 compilation album, while Chereko is on the Rough Guide to the Music of Kenya compilation, the same track was also featured on the Rough Guides - Off the Beaten Track compilation.

 “I just don’t do music for the sake of it. Mine is to use my music to not only to entertain but to equally educate and encourage people within the society besides highlighting on daily life happenings and how to go about them,” says Nyota who was once contracted by NTA (National Tax Payers) to do a number of shows for them within various regions in Mombasa for a period of six months.

Nyota whose music is inspired by everyday life’s happenings within the society and self-experiences says the resounding message is that everyone has a choice to be happy and whole.

“At some point in my life, I believed I did not have a right to be happy. I felt like it was a luxury that I could not afford, but with time I had to make a choice and move on,” says Nyota who is currently married to a white man from Esbjerg, a seaport town in Denmark by the name Henning Nielsen.

Although we have spent close to one and a half years together we make the best out of our marriage. For the first time I have found happiness with someone who truly cherishes me  besides loving my two children baby boy Mbarak 13 and girl Barka four and a half. 

Nyota says the love of her life surprised her one day when she woke up to find that he had proposed to her by putting a ring onto her finger while she slept.

“I want to make one thing clear to critics that our love is not based on finance as is the case with most relationships. Henning respects me a lot having found me with my own share of investments among them a house, land and a tuk tuk just to mention a few,” says the musician who performed in the US Eric Wainaina, Makadem, Susanna Owiyo at the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival courtesy of the  Ministry of Sports Culture and the Arts.  

Her advice to young people out there who may be going through depression or a difficult time is, “Your life is not over. You may think you are in a situation you cannot get out of, but as long as you are alive, remember that God has a good plan for you. Secondly, remember that you are not alone. When you are in a difficult situation, it is easy to believe you are alone, but truth of the matter is you are not.”