Phyllis Mwihaki is a student extraordinaire by any standard. She is one of the fastest rising Kenyan singers. The 23-year-old who goes by the stage name Phy, is an award-winning songstress. In 2014, she won DSTV Maisha Superstar — a singing competition — and took home Sh1.2 million. Previously, she participated in Airtel Trace Music Star competition and emerged the first runners-up.
So, when did her musical journey began? We ask. The third year student at the University of Nairobi studying Real Estate management says that she discovered her talent in music while in primary school in Sotik, Bomet, where she grew up. She participated in music festivals and would represent her school up to national level.
“I knew I could sing but I didn’t grow up telling myself that I was going to be a superstar one day,” she says.
She notes that though her grandmother, also a singer, and her mother, encouraged her to nurture her talent, she knew at the back of her mind that she had to prioritise education.
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Phy was brilliant and she finished top in her school in KCPE examinations. She scored 423 marks and was even featured in the newspapers.
She left the quiet village life in Sotik to join Moi Girls High school in Eldoret the following year. “I was a geek in school, I used to like Physics and Mathematics a lot because I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer,” she says.
Even though she knew she could sing, she focused on her studies more and her ambition was to become an engineer or a computer scientist.
But life took a different turn when she joined university. She developed a passion for dancing and ended up joining a dance crew. It is during this period that she revived her passion for music.
“I started taking singing lessons and going to the conservatoire, where I learnt how to play the guitar,” she says.
Her transition into music was rather spontaneous than intentional, as she tells us. Phy started getting random gigs in and outside campus and the more she did it, the more she fell in love with music. However, things did not run smoothly with her rediscovered passion for music, it wasn’t yielding much and she was getting frustrated. She even gave up on music and started focusing more on books.
It is during this time when she had almost given up that Airtel launched Airtel Trace Music Star competition in Kenya. Though her peers and friends encouraged her to participate, she was not optimistic.
“I thought there was no way it would work. I mean, it was a nationwide event and thousands of people would participate,” she says.
However, just one hour before the deadline, she decided to try her luck using her mother’s phone because she did not have an Airtel sim card. “I did the auditions and then I forgot all about it but to my surprise, one day when I was in school, they called me and told me that I had made it to the final seven,” she says, noting that this was a big surprise since she had already given up on music.
Having done a lot of live performances before and now having a chance to participate in such a big competition, Phy’s confidence in music was revived. “It re-awakened my perspective about myself even though I had already given up on music. I still asked God for another chance and he gave me one,” she says. Phy managed to sail through to the finals and finished second.
Emerging the first runners-up opened a new chapter in her musical career. “One day, my band and I were preforming at Mdundo music awards after which musician King Kaka approached me at the lift and told me that I had performed really well,” says Phy.
She says she found it ironical that King Kaka thought she did well while all along she was disappointed with her performance. “A year later, King Kaka called me and told me about a competition called Maisha Superstar. He urged me to sign up, which I did,” she says, but little did she know that she was going to finish top in the competition. “It was really amazing and after that, we did not want my story to die, so I released "Ruka" with Khaligraph and King Kaka,” she says.
Phy has so far released two albums, Phylosophy, which was her debut album, and the recently released Biography, which is a remake of Kenyan songs from legendary Kenyan artists.
All her songs are available on waabeh.com and iTunes.
myNetwork sought to know how she balances school and music and she admits that “it’s crazy.” She says that juggling between studio, shows, gigs and examinations, all running at the same time, is not a walk in the park.
“Sometimes I have an exam in the morning and I was at a gig the previous night. It’s tough but it is doable,” says Phy.
She explains that her life was never the same after she came to the limelight during the first season of Airtel Trace Music Star. The responsibilities increased, making her life twice as busy as her peers as she had to balance between a budding music career and school work. She had to difer her studies at some point to focus on music, but now she’s back in school.
On fame, Phy maintains that it has not changed her. “Apart from my dreams coming true and my music becoming popular and people knowing me, I don’t think much has changed. I still have the same friends, I still hang out at the same places. For me, it’s just like a promotion at work,” she says.
Her star is rising fast; she is no doubt a perfect representation of what the local music industry will evolve into. With a unique lyrical style that resonates with young hearts, her music is endearing, soulful and funky. She is a new force and a breath of freshness in the local music scene.