Born in a village in Sotik Town in Rift Valley, Phylis Mwihaki Ngetich, popularly known as Phy, has overcome amazing hurdles to be at the top of Kenya’s music scene. She talks to Karen Muriuki about her performance in Russia and more.
What have you been up to lately?
Releasing and promoting new music, mostly. I released a seven-track Extended Play (EP) Biography. It’s a project of Kenyan classics that I produced in my own way. I took tracks from artistes of a different era and remade them. We felt like pushing that culture to the current and coming generations.
Tell us about your media tour. Where do you plan on going?
It’s really fun and exciting. It kicked off two weeks ago. I get to explain more about my music to my fans: it’s really not just about them listening to the songs.
You had a performance at a festival in Russia. What was it like?
This has honestly been the highlight of my career. It was the World Festival for the Youth and Students. The organisers sought us out and I gathered my four-man band and travelled. The beauty of this concert is that it goes way back; it started in 1947 and it keeps changing location concert after concert.
It was at the Olympic Arena, so the crowd was really huge. I was very blessed to be one of the two African artistes performing. The other act was from Ghana.
I got to share the stage with One Republic, so that was super cool. It validated a lot for me, as an artiste. Many are the times I put in work, this year especially, but there develops a gap where something just misses. The concert gave me an assurance of what I do, it affirms my place and confirms God’s blessings in my life.
What was your exact reaction when you got the call?
Well, my manager actually received the e-mail first, then he called me. It was all so funny because I was in the process of applying for my passport. This made the whole process so stressful, but I thought to myself, ‘It’s finally happening’, when I boarded the plane.
What other performances have you had abroad?
The concert was my first.
What’s the inspiration behind your latest release, ‘Siwezani’?
We live in a vain world where the pressure for girls is just too much, you know, to meet up to certain standards. I feel that that has translated into relationships, and the guy wants a girl to be like someone he has seen online. It happens the other way round as well. I felt the need to address insecurities in relationships because no one really wants to talk about them.
Of all your songs, which is your favourite and why?
That’s a pretty hard question but I guess different songs for different reasons. I like Taboo because it’s personal; I wrote it straight from the heart. It took me a while to define it.
What has been your happiest moment in your music career so far?
Russia, definitely! It was amazing receiving world class artiste treatment. The hotel, backstage, sound checks: basically how they treated us. Everyone had their own trailer backstage that was full of food and drinks. It was super professional and so awesome that I got to experience it.
What year of study are you in? What course are you taking and in which school?
I have been in fourth year for a long while. The strikes in Nairobi University have really affected me. I’m taking a bachelors’ degree in Real Estate.
Apart from school and music, what else do you do?
I plan on venturing into a business of head wraps, in partnership with another person.
How do you balance everything out? It must be crazy.
I do not find it hectic per se. I feel like if you really like something, you will make time for it. I also get really inspired from women we see who have PhDs, are mothers, a CEO somewhere and is the head of her chama. I think to myself; if she can do that, then whatever I am doing is really small.
Where do you drive your inspiration from?
I’d say everywhere. From the people around me: my family, friends. I am an observer by nature. I watch people. It helps me decipher people and know how to translate that into music. It’s just a gift. I think I’d be a psychologist in another life.
Do you write your own songs?
Yes, I am a certified songwriter. I have gone to school for it. I also give it life, because I play the guitar as well.
How long does the production and release of a song take?
There’s honestly no specific time. It could take a day, or even months. It all depends on the time and resources we have.
What challenges have you faced in the Kenyan music industry?
The first is building my brand after my band. It’s a lot of work getting your name out there. Few people also view music as a career.
Promoters can also take advantage of you. I have also had the challenge of being judged for my body size. It’s an advantage for me, however, because I’m not confined to one person. I can be whoever I want to be. It also motivates me because I know so many underdog artistes look up to me. Music is a very visual job.
Did you ever think you would have accomplished as much as you have today?
I still think there’s more to be done. I am such a dreamer. I am very hungry; I never stop. I have all these laid out plans, which I pray on and work toward. The journey is not complete for me. I haven’t touched on anything yet. I am out here to conquer in a really big way.
What would you say sets you apart from other artistes?
I’d like to think I’m grounded because of everything I have been taught growing up. I was born and raised in the village. I also like to address things that are barely addressed, such as infidelity in Taboo and insecurity in relationships in Siwezani. I like to attach real feelings into my music.
Greatest lesson you’ve learnt in your career so far?
Punctuality. Have a plan. Be strategic in what you do. Be nice to people, because it always comes back to you.
What’s your goal or direction as a musician? Or in life generally?
Authenticity. I really do not like pretending. It’s such a genuine emotion to offer and to receive in return. I want to take my music to the world and beyond.
I want to inspire children and aspiring musicians too. I want to mentor others. It’s something that I really like. In life, as a young woman, I desire lots and lots of personal growth.
To be iconic, have a touch of excellence in everything I do, and be remembered for that.
What’s music to you?
Music is a friend. She is so personal, that I cannot describe her too you in a way you can understand. It’s an entity in my life. It is part of me. I would not be Phy without it.