If warm and welcoming was a person, Hellen Mtawali would be it. Despite being such a multi-skilled powerhouse whose contribution to the Kenyan music industry is undeniable, she is unbelievably approachable. The 50-year old singer, composer, voice coach, marketer and mentor wears many hats. She wears each gracefully.
The older generation probably remembers her as a constant figure on past gospel shows: Sing and Shine, and Joy Bringers on KBC in the 90s. Millenials on the other hand, find her past role as a principal and voice coach in the reality music TV show, Tusker Project fame more relatable. She has managed to remain relevant in the music industry despite the evolution experienced over the years. She shares insights from her journey.
How do you manage to harness all your skills and abilities?
Two things; one I plan my time well, two, over the years I have learnt to hone what I have. It has now become like a rhythm. Don’t limit yourself to just one thing if you are multifaceted in your gifts. Some of the abilities I make money from now are not skills I knew I had from when I was young. I saw opportunities as I worked or volunteered in different capacities. For example, people would say I was funny whenever I stood to speak briefly and so I started getting offers to MC. I took this as a challenge to explore something new; I researched and sharpened the skill until it became a resource for me. Oh, that’s the other thing, you have to keep discovering ways of becoming better at whatever gift or skill you have.
Of Tusker Project Fame.
It was such a big break for me. But for every big break, there are many small breaks. Sometimes even giving out your gift for free is better than withholding altogether. A time will come and the gift will make room for you.
Is it better to specialize or be a jack of all trades?
I think it is good to have multiple streams of income; Identify other skills you can learn. For example, as a communicator or musician, there are so many other avenues of making money. One could train, MC, write songs for others e.t.c I may not venture in accounting for example but within my lane, I have found many other abilities I could sharpen. Diversify your gift.
Have you ever experienced burn out?
No. I never let myself get that far. I do a daily check on how my day has been and the kind of progress I am making on different facets of life. If I am becoming perpetually drained and unhappy I plan for a way to treat myself. What is this money for if one cannot pamper themselves from time to time? Haha. To me, happiness is key. I endeavor to remain on the higher plane of enjoying what I do and every gift God has given me; from relationships to opportunities to nature to good health. There are too many reasons for me to have a spring in my step each day. If I am happy, it is easy to spread the same energy to others around me.
What has been the key thing you’ve seen bring down artists?
Promiscuity. This is not just a trap for artistes but anyone who enjoys some level of fame. People will come at you, for all manner of reasons and one must understand that this is not some golden opportunity simply because guys throw themselves at you. This is true for men and women. It is a trap that will utterly destroy you in the long haul. If you encounter these life-traps, RUN!
What is your definition of life?
Breathe. Breathing is enough reason for me to be grateful. I focus on building relationships because I think life is empty without meaningful relationships – in whatever sphere.
What is the secret to remaining relevant in the different seasons of life
Keep a teachable spirit; we never arrive when it comes to this learning thing and anyone, regardless of where they are at in life can teach you something that will be of great benefit to you.
Reinvent yourself continually, find ways of becoming more effective in delivering your gift better.
What is the one thing you wish you could tell every young person?
Live life holistically. Invest in family and live with a strong sense of purpose. Don’t just glide through life or just work for money.
How have you managed to remain so grounded?
I have the heart to learn. I keep a teachable spirit. When I first got the chance to travel abroad, after being a judge on Tusker Project Fame I realized that eeh I was a local champion, haha! Imagine a mzungu asking me who I was when I could barely get through the CBD without taking selfies (chuckles). Life has taught me that there is always room for growth, stay humble, hujafika bado.
Of motivation when times are hard
Be your own cheerleader and know that you will have to do a lot of that along the way. Endeavor to develop thick skin and focus.
What is your definition of success?
Building healthy relationships and pouring into others. Transformation in others is the reward I get for the gifts I have. It is the joy of being a mentor.
How would you describe your journey this far?
Adventurous and fulfilling.
What other tips would you give to one looking to be great at what they do?
I have no secrets to share, just timeless principles that have worked for me
- Desist from complaining – Be content with such things as you have but seek to enrich your soul
- Be quick to forgive – In this life people make mistakes. Not everyone will live like you and do things the way you do. You must learn to forgive and move on. Otherwise keeping grudges will make you tire quickly in life. You need freshness to live and be effective in your gift.
- Don’t be afraid to start over – Enjoy playing games to unwind, get back on the grind after a break but don’t give up all together.
- Aim at excellence – Apply yourself fully in whatever you endeavor to do.
- Ask the hard questions – Solution givers and providers make great leaders, so don’t shy away from being inquisitive but don’t just stop there, work to find the solutions.
- Self motivation kills procrastination. Set measurable goals that help you track progress.
- God is supreme – If you live life in light of grace you live a grateful life, knowing that none of us really deserve anything.
- Talent without compassion is nothing. Empathy is a great gift to have, apply it alongside whatever else you do.
What would you say has been the greatest privilege of your journey this far?
Knowing Christ; I have found great value in knowing God, experienced so much favour, traveled widely, just to mention. I know it has not just been because I am gifted, the circumstances under which I have at times met people that became the bridge to my next level remains a mystery, I know his hand is upon me.
What is that magic in your personality? What is the source of that spark?
I figure that if I spread the joy, it will come back to me. I don’t want to be around people with continual negative energy, so I share what I have with those around me.
In conclusion, give your all, endeavour to die empty. People can be mean even in sharing knowledge. As I have lived life and walked my path, I have discovered when you share knowledge, it will make you immensely proud to see people become successful in society, to know that in some way, you helped water the seed of greatness in them.