On October 5, I was followed on Instagram by @leylakenya. As always, curious to see who it was before I decide to follow or ignore, I went to her page. The short excerpt from her video of “Wimbo Wa Historia” was the first thing I clicked on from the three items — two were photos; one from behind the scenes shooting of the video while another was a portrait photo of her on set. Her voice was effortless, moving and extremely captivating as she did a rendition of the song originally composed by Enock Ondego after President Jomo Kenyatta’s in 1978.
The song has been viewed more than 189,000 times since it was uploaded on October 1.
The reception of Leyla, a 13-year-old girl unknown to Kenyans when this month began, has been full of plaudits, that she performs for the president and the entire nation today during the Mashujaa Day celebrations at Bukhungu Stadium in Kakamega.
The bubbly girl, who also wants another career as a pilot in the future, opened up on the following:
Who is Leyla?
I am a talented 13-year-old Kenyan of Somali origin, born in Naivasha Town at a place called Kabati. I now live in Nairobi’s Eastleigh Estate.
I come from a humble background, a small family made up of my mother, who is the sole bread winner, and a male cousin, Mohamed, who I fondly call my big brother. I have known him all my life and we have grown up together.
I am a Standard Eight pupil at St. Teresa’s Girls Primary School and set to sit for my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education in November.
How did you get into singing?
I began singing at the age of 3. My biggest influence came from listening to the radio, especially Kiss 100, which my mom loved listening to while she is doing house chores.
How did you end up on the The Permanent Presidential Music Commission (PPMC)?
DJ Pinye introduced me to the PPMC. A friend of his, Sammy Dee, who is also a top video director in Kenya, introduced my mom and I to DJ Pinye. Pinye was looking for a Kenyan girl who could sing.
That’s when he asked me if I would like to sing for the President and I said yes. That was in January. We then later went to PPMC where I was introduced to the whole team, including my vocal teacher Christine and I began doing my vocal classes there, when I wasn’t in school.
Now that you’re in Class 8 and you have taken off by storm musically, how have things changed and what in your routine has stayed the same?
Yes, a lot has changed within a month. People recognise me in the streets and at school everyone is talking about me and the song. I have also been introduced to many people, including those I used to only see on TV.
My routine has changed a bit but only when not in school. I have a very supportive family and mentors who ensure I balance school and music. For example, I have no access to any of my social media accounts; they are all managed by my team.
Your cousin and your mother have been with you every step of the way, has your family always been this supportive from the beginning and in what ways?
Yes, both of them have supported me from the time they knew I loved music. They have always known I am a different child and I am destined for bigger things. My mum told me that when I was very young, like 2 years old, I used to cry when she would switch off the radio and only stopped once she turned it on again.
They used to attend many of my singing programs, competitions and events in Eastleigh, together.
Being of Somali origin and Muslim, have you faced any opposition to this path of music and entertainment?
Yes, but not directly. My mum tells me that some people have told her a few times that I should sing religious music. However, she has always emphasised that my journey is my own and, since she has given me her blessing and support, that is all that matters. On social media too, I saw a few comments of protest that I am doing world music.
What is PPMC and what does it entail for you to do as an inductee?
PPMC is a government centre started in 2008 to run programs that empower musicians, and connect them to resources and opportunities they need to assist them earn a living from their art.
Will we see you singing the song on Mashujaa Day too?
I will be singing both in the stadium and at the presidential luncheon. I am very excited and scared at the same time because the whole nation will be watching, but I know this is what I have always wished for and it will open very many doors for me and my family.
Which school are you looking to join after completing your KCPE?
Ngara girls’ high school is my dream school. I love it because of their good performance, the school uniform is beautiful and I know a few people who have learnt there and are successful women in Kenya.
I am working hard in school and I know I will pass with flying colours to join it.