Jacquey Akinyi Nyaminde or as we fondly know her, Wilbroda, has earned her place in the local film industry. And while we know her as the illiterate housewife trying to conform to urban standards, she is a different kettle of fish altogether in real life. She takes LILY RONOH-WAWERU through her life and times.
Had I not seen the latest pictures of Jacquey Akinyi Nyaminde aka Wilbroda, I wouldn’t have picked her out at the restaurant where we met for this interview. She has lost considerable weight and looks trendy in a flowered top and crocheted Marley braids, a far cry from Wilbroda – the illiterate village woman she portrays in the local hit show Papa Shirandula. We exchange pleasantries and my tongue slips as I call her by her stage name.
“You are not the only one who mistakenly calls me Wilbroda. The character has become so part of me that it is difficult for anyone to distinguish between Jacquey and Wilbroda,” she says as a matter-of-factly.
In life as on screen, Jacquey is a loud person and full of life. Our conversation is interspersed with loud laughter from her end attracting some curious glances from the tables around. Speaking of glances, the customers at the restaurant keep throwing knowing glances our way but this doesn’t seem to faze her. She is in her element.
Before we settle into the interview, she excuses herself to make a few calls. Apparently, her mother is unwell and she wants to ensure that she receives medical attention. She says being a first-born made her to be responsible, a trait she carries in all her endeavours.
“Being the eldest child meant that I would be used as a yardstick for my siblings and so there was pressure to always perform in everything I did. I was very careful not to set a bad precedent,” say the first-born in a family of six siblings.
Apart from being responsible, Jacquey reveals that she is a very honest person, a trait she picked from her father. “My father was very honest sometimes too honest to a fault,” she offers.
Jacquey was born and raised in Nairobi West and partly in Langa’ta. Hers was a normal childhood and even though they weren’t well off, she appreciates that her parents always ensured that they did not lack the basic needs, education included.
Despite being raised up in Nairobi, an urban city, she speaks fluent Dholuo. She explains that as an artist, she has to be in tune with her roots and culture so that she can be able to express herself best.
She reveals that her father had the greatest influence on her outlook of life and the values she espouses are largely from him. “My father doted on me and I looked up to him. He was very involved in our lives. He also was very understanding and had a listening ear. He knew all my friends and kept tabs on my whereabouts even when I was going out with friends,” she narrates.
It thus hurt her when her father fell ill and there was nothing she could do to alleviate his suffering. By the time her father passed on in November 2009, the family had been financially, emotionally and physically drained. Although it was sad to say goodbye to the man they loved so much and who had given his all to ensure that their stay on earth was worthwhile, they had no choice but to let him rest.“As a first-born, I had to rise to the occasion and help my mother take care of my siblings,” Jacquey explains.
Once an actor, always an actor
Jacquey rose to national fame when she appeared on Papa Shirandula as the protagonist’s wife with the stage name Wilbroda, which has stuck on her like glue. She wishes that her father had lived long enough to witness her success. This would have been befitting for the man who urged her to follow her dreams and be the best that she could be.
“My father supported my acting career wholly, the fact that it was during a time when a career in arts was nothing to write home about notwithstanding. I started acting in primary school and continued in high school. After high school, my father would give me transport so that I could attend practice sessions at the Kenya National Theatre,” says the Koru Girls Secondary School alumna.
Like many Kenyan actors, Jacquey’s acting career took off at the Kenya National Theatre (KNT) where she took part in a number of live shows. She credits renowned theater director Eddy Wangamati as the person who spearheaded her foray into the limelight. A go-getter, Jacquey introduced herself to Eddy, who was their neighbour then, and voiced her desire in acting.
“Incidentally, he was preparing for a play sponsored by a non-governmental organisation. Eddy was directing the show and he took me on,” narrates the thirty-something-year-old.
She confesses that she got butterflies on her first day on stage. Even as she worked on her stage fright, she had an even bigger battle to fight – jealousy from some members of the crew who saw her as a threat. So bad was it that she almost quit but Eddy restrained her.
“I told him that some members of the crew were frustrating me but he told me that I had earned my place. He urged me to stay put. When my nemeses saw that what they were doing was not working, they in the long run befriended me and that was how I ended up staying with Eddy’s group for three years and eventually leaving on my own terms,” she reveals.
From theatre to Kenyan homes
“I would like to appreciate Kamau wa Ndung’u and Nick Reding who urged me to try a Luo accent against my wishes, but which eventually gave birth to the Wilbroda we see today. I was part of an edutainment group called SAFE GHETTO that got to tour ghettos in Kenya to sensitise people on HIV/AIDS under the directorship of Kamau while Nick was the overall head,” she explains.
She later on worked with other acting groups such as Phoenix, Heartstrings and Friends Ensemble where she continued to sharpen her skills. Her big break came while working with Culture’s Spill alongside celebrated comedians Jalang’o and Otoyo, thespian William Juma who plays Juma Anderson in Papa Shirandula and Radio Ramogi’s show host Ajoh Mbuta.
“A friend recommended me to Charles Bukeko who plays Papa Shirandula, as he was looking for someone who could aptly play the role of Wilbroda. I was given the script and I loved it. When I finally met Charles, he saw in me the person they were looking for and that is how I landed the role,” she explains.
And so she made her debut on national screens in 2007 and is still going strong 10 years later. Looking back, she admits that she has grown in leaps and bounds not just career wise, but also as a person. She reveals that acting in the show has opened doors that she would never have imagined she would one day walk through.
“Papa Shirandula’s cast has become my family and we are so involved in each other’s lives. We work as a team. I have also been able to travel overseas thanks to the show. I am grateful to my employer, Royal Media Group, for not only running the programme, but also ensuring that we are well remunerated. Very few media houses have invested in local shows like Royal Media has done,” she says wistfully.
She admits that she is her biggest critic and if she were to go back in time, there are a few things she would have done differently. “I did not have a manager back then and so I used to sell my self short. Right now, I thank God for the decision to have one as he handles all the deals that come my way,” she explains.
“My advice to artists is to get a good manager who knows what it is to manage an artist because it makes all the difference in your career. I am evidence of that. A good manager creates a well sought-after brand out of you. There are so many people out there calling themselves managers and all they do is rip off artists. So artists be wise,” she reiterates.
In order to ensure that she is always at the top of her game, she has given her friends a free reign to criticise her acting and to point out where she needs to improve. She has bagged several awards including best actress at Kalasha Awards and Bingwa Best Comedian.
“I love my job and I live from it. As such, I guard it jealously,” she asserts.
Apart from acting, Jacquey also hosts a morning show on Radio Citizen, which runs from 5am to 9am alongside Davis Mwabili otherwise known as Inspector Mwala. She also does brand endorsements as well as mentorship programmes in schools.
Her day starts at 3:30am when she wakes up to prepare for work. She leaves for work at 4:30am and tries to be home by 4pm so that she can catch up with her son.
Oh! To be a mother
Jacquey is a proud mother of one seven-year-old Xolani Amin who she named after her father. Xolani is a South African name meaning peaceful and as Jacquey explains, he lives up to the name. “He is such a peaceful child. I was afraid that I would not be able to raise him well especially after separating with his father when he was just seven months old but I am glad he is turning out well,” she says.
I prod her on who her child’s father is in a bid to clear the air on grapevine that links her son to a popular human rights activist and politician but she is quick to tell me he is not the one. “Just know his father works in the sports industry,” she says tongue-in-cheek.
She is also quick to add that she does not consider herself a single mother because her father’s son is very much involved in their son’s life. On parenting, Jacquey explains that she has taken after her father in that she knows everything about her son and enjoys spending time with him. She says she uses such opportunities to know what is happening in her son’s life.
“I am very passionate about parenting and I advocate for involved parenting. My heart breaks when children are mistreated or assaulted multiple times by other people and I wonder where the parent has been all this time. I usually urge parents to always ensure that they are free with their child so that they can discuss with them any issue or challenges they may be facing,” she emphasises.
She calls to mind an incident that made her very protective of her child and always watching out on other people’s children if only to protect them from danger.
“When my son was around eight months old, I had to travel to Mombasa on a work assignment and so I left him under the care of a nanny whom I had trusted so much. While in Mombasa, I received an anonymous call from a person who informed me that my house help breastfeeds my son whenever he cries. I took the first flight back to Nairobi. I had to verify the information from my neighbours and in the process I was informed my nanny not only breastfeeds my son, but was also living with HIV. I didn’t sleep that night and had to rush to hospital at around midnight to have my son tested. Luckily, he was fine. To cut the long story short, I fired the nanny the following day. It took immense self-control to restrain myself from harming her,” she narrates.
Losing weight and finding herself
Jacquey celebrated her birthday in mid-October and she had every reason to. See, she had lost weight, quit drinking and was also marking 10 years since she premiered on Papa Shirandula. But first things first – what motivated her to lose weight?
“I was always okay with my body until a friend posted our picture on social media late last year. I looked at the picture and was not proud of the person I saw. My tummy was hanging and my arms were sagging. Incidentally, I fell sick thereafter and when I went for a check-up, it turned out that my blood pressure was high. I had to do something,” she says.
She did not immediately embark on a weight loss journey and kept pushing it off until March this year when she finally got the courage to stop the excuses. She joined the Colosseum Fitness Centre in Adams Arcade, Ngong’ Road, and is grateful to her gym instructor – Joe – who made her weight loss possible. She was instructed on what to eat and how to eat and even though it was an uphill task, she had to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Several months down the line, the fruits of her labour are evident. She is now size 10 down from size 16. Is she happy of the woman she has become?
“Very. What started out as a weight loss journey ended up as a journey to self-discovery and conscious healthy living. Prior to the lifestyle change, I used to drink everyday and to make it worse, I would drink and drive. I thank God for protecting me during those moments of madness,” she expounds.
Was the turn around easy? “Hell no! It was a complete turn around from the life I was living. Right now, I am so used to it I wonder how I used to survive on booze every single day,” she says obviously proud of her accomplishments, and why not?
Her new journey also saw her lose people she thought were friends and she is happy that she now has a close-knit family of friends who she can rely on. She has also gotten closer to God and her family who she credits as her biggest support system.
On religion, she believes that true religion is one that cares for humanity. “Love others, treat them right and pray for people you don’t know. Being a Christian means nothing if you don’t do these three things,” she says as we wind up the interview.
TAKE 5 WITH JACQUEY
What do you do in your spare time? Watch movies especially documentaries, travelling and cooking
What accomplishment are you most proud of? Being a mother.
How will people remember you? That I loved children very much.
What’s your greatest fear? To wake up one day and not be able to do the things I love most.
Who do you look up to? Caroline Mutoko because she is a woman of strength, a go-getter and never minces her words.