Wakio Mzenge is an award-winning voice, stage, and screen actor. She plays the lead role in the new Kenyan film, County 49, and also features in My Two Wives which earned her a Kalasha Award nomination for Best Lead Actress in a TV Drama in 2018.
Wakio has also been featured in Crime and Justice, Selina, Igiza, Pendo and Makutano Junction. She scooped two awards at the inaugural African Podcast and Voice Awards last month. This October, she will be a judge for the SOVAS awards for voice acting
You’re in the play Manic Monologues. How did this play change you?
The play has not changed me it has enhanced my life experiences both artistically and socially. I am still the same person bit my perspectives on mental health have shifted. Mental health takes different forms, and sometimes what we consider to be stress or bad behaviour or lack of self-care could actually be a mental health issue. I am now aware that I need to pay more attention to these little traits that could signify a big mental issue in myself or others.
Mental health conversations are not given the necessary attention in Kenya. What have you learnt from Manic Monologues?
It is paramount to acknowledge that mental illness is a real illness and must be attended to. Lives have been lost because the conversation has been ignored.
You’ve been in the media for a while – what made you go fully into stage and theatre? Do you feel you made the right decision?
It is definitely a risky venture, but totally worth it. Why do I do it? I am an active volcano! Creativity is boiling in me and it has to erupt. I can’t fathom the ‘ thought of being a dormant volcano. For me, art is work that pays the bills and heats the soul.
What do you say to young people who are looking for opportunities in the arts since traditional corporate careers are getting harder to come by?
If dwindling opportunities in the corporate sector is your inspiration to pursue art, then I am afraid art might give you proper character development. Art is a Jealous lover. It has to be your first love. All forms of art need authenticity from the practitioner and a rebound won’t cut it. And if indeed it is your first love, no matter where you hide. It will find you. Be prepared to be found.
In your work as a cultural journalist, what have you learnt about Kenyan culture? Do we have an immediately identifiable way of life?
We have had attempts to make our culture identifiable, remember Kenya uniform? Maybe it’s our culture to not be immediately identifiable (chuckles). On a serious note, Kenya is very clustered in terms of language, cuisine. and way of life. The most uniting aspect of our lives is politics, followed by sports. With devolution, however, the cultural sector is receiving more attention and funding. People on the ground are now more active citizens They want to ensure the county governments include the promotion of culture in their development plans and this will in turn foster a sense of patriotism.