Ever since she burst into the radio industry six years ago as host for Homeboyz Radio’s ‘The Jumpoff’, Corine Onyango has been causing ripples with her captivating persona and powerful on air presence. BONIFACE MWALII found out what makes her tick.
Let’s start with that accent…
(Laughs) I get that all the time. I even wish I didn’t speak the way I do.
Contrary to how it may seem, I’m 100% Kenyan. Both my parents are Kenyan but they barely lived here. My dad worked for the African Development Bank so our family moved around a lot.
I have grown up all over the world from Ivory Coast, Tunisia, England, Zimbabwe and the United States so I’m not really sure how I’m supposed to speak.
The fact that I went to international schools might also have contributed.
Do you speak any Swahili?
Not a single word! I speak fluent French though!
What kind of reaction do you get from people when they meet you for the first time after hearing your voice radio?
It’s embarrassing! A lot of people expect to meet a white person or others just assume I’m a little bit dumb, which I guess is the connotation that comes with an American accent.
Most people also expect me to be a little bigger and have that video vixen kind of look with a weave that runs all the way down my backside, which clearly I’m not.
With all the places you have lived and been, how did you end up as a radio presenter on Homeboyz Radio in Kenya?
I’ve always wanted to be in the media although my initial plan was to be in broadcast or production, which is funny because my dad used to promise my sisters and I that he would buy us this car or that house if we became lawyers or doctors.
We all wanted to but somehow we were inclined towards this weirdo industry.
My sister Janet works for the BBC while Annabel is a stylist here in Kenya.
I studied television and film making in university and after my studies I decided to spend my vacation with my extended family here then my cousin Nina Ogot mentioned there was an opening at Homeboyz where she was working at the time so I went and practically convinced DJ John that he needed to hire me and he did.
Was it your first job?
Yes it was. I had done some work on radio while in uni in the States but it was a campus station so it wasn’t that demanding.
Still, I joined Homeboyz Radio when it was starting out so it was a step by step learning experience for the company and myself as well.
I was living with my parents at the time so there also wasn’t any pressure to pay bills or anything like that.
Did you have a hard time connecting with your Kenyan audience considering you grew up outside of here?
Generally, I think there’s always been a mood in the air for every show. Most of the time I build my show around what I’m experiencing or feeling and try to get them to relate and it works for me.
You must get a lot of submissions from upcoming artistes, how do you choose what to play on your show?
Unlike what most people think, we don’t immediately throw all the music we receive in to a pile. We listen to it first.
If we like it we’ll play it, if not too bad.
For my show, the only criteria is that it needs to have an international urban hip hop feel.
On a typical day, how do you prepare for your show?
I get to work at around 5 o’clock, do some research just to familiarise myself with new music and celebrity gossip to stay abreast with what’s relevant then schedule my show.
That basically takes about two hours then we go live for three hours.
What do you do with the rest of your day?
I live! I have lunch with G-Money and we just kick it. (Laughs) Everyday I do something different and interesting. I’m really glad I’m not a 9 to 5 person. I have the best job ever!
Where would you be if you weren’t a radio presenter?
I’d be in marketing or PR. But I’d be the boss lady not the street activators or dancers.
You’ve been doing this for six years now, does it ever wear you down?
Sometimes it does. It’s like a Broadway show which you have to do every night. But then again there’s so much music out there and it gives me so much creative license because I can play whatever I want. Also, I love my job so that helps.
What’s in your future as far as your career is concerned?
I have a plan for when I’m old and rickety and no one wants to listen to my boring voice any more. Not to say I’m eyeing DJ John’s job but I want to be a Programmes Controller.
I love it at Homeboyz so I hope I can do that here say in the next 20 years. I may not host ‘The Jumpoff’ by then but I plan to remain in radio as a creative behind the scenes person.
Do you think you’re the best at what you do?
I am the best! But to be honest I don’t listen to radio. The reason is that I don’t want to be influenced by other people and try to sound like them on my show.
I hope people don’t stop listening to my show because I said that. I don’t know where I’m ranked but I think as a Nairobi station, we have a niche audience so it’s hard to compare me or our station to other people who target a nationwide audience.
Is there anyone you look up to on radio?
Trevor Nelson. He hosts 1Xtra on BBC radio. He’s always had his finger on the pulse.
He interviewed Destiny’s Child when they were still rugged and declared that they would blow up which they did. That’s the kind of person he is.
I also like Tim Westwood. He’s totally weird but he has that foresight with music which I believe is what makes a great presenter.
How do you unwind?
I don’t really go out. I’ve been doing that since I was 14 so that chapter is basically closed in my life. I like low key plans mostly just chilling at my house and anything that involves food or eating out.
Do you go out on dates?
I do. But Kenyan men are such difficult daters! I’m still trying though. So yeah, I date.
When it gets serious you’ll know but I hope it gets serious soon because I need babies.
Even if there’s not going to be a man in my life soon I’m going to have babies anyway!