PROFILE: Meet Kenyan voice over queen Cynthia Kimola
By Patience Nyange and Esther Kiragu
We don’t get to hear enough stories of women in Kenya disrupting the status quo and making a difference. Each week the #KenyaWomenSeries curates stories of incredible and inspiring Kenyan women.
This week, we spotlight a journalist, communication consultant, and voice-over artist who recently voiced a promotional piece for US singer Khalid. She considers herself a connector of people because her interactions and notable milestones have arisen from networking in her life.
Ladies and Gentlemen, please put your hands together for Cynthia Kimola.
Cynthia Kimola’s distinct voice is one you’ve probably heard; if not on a Kenyan radio, maybe in on an advert. She was the voice behind Kenya’s most memorable Ads as a coastal cow for the KCC Maziwa Origi TV ad. Remember the Ad?
Cynthia’s journey in media started at Radio Africa Group as a radio news anchor at Classic 105 and Kiss 100. “While in campus at Daystar University, I volunteered my time and skills at the University radio station; 103.1 Shine FM. This helped me amass experience, which I used as my portfolio when applying for the position at Radio Africa Group.
From this experience, I always encourage young people to thrust themselves into activities beyond the classroom because you get to network, activate your passions and refine your skills, which will eventually make you stand out amongst your peers.
My stint in radio lasted about five years before I transitioned into Public Relations and Communication. I was drawn to assist clients to clarify and target their messaging appropriately for greater impact. I am always grateful to Tell-Em Public Relations, an agency that became my first PR home. It was a great learning ground for me and assisted me in refining my skills.
I got to work on various campaigns, a notable one for me being launching MyDawa into the Kenyan market. Working in a team always has challenges, but I learnt that you need to focus on an individual’s strengths and synergy within the team, especially where behaviour change is concerned. I also learnt how to handle people because I would interact with different clients with different temperaments.
1. With your stint in radio, how has this experience shaped the person you are today?
Radio is powerful and has always been my first love. I love the creativity and production that goes into it, especially in radio shows and how strategic things get done. It can hold the audience’s attention and turn them into loyal listeners. Radio is not only for the ear, but it’s a theatre of the mind; you help your listeners to form images through the descriptive nature of your words.
While working in radio, I learnt the value of time. A second in radio is quantifiable, and you can either lose or gain a listener with one move. Dead air is a no-no as someone can just switch over to another channel quickly. Also, a second can enable me to edit an audio, a script just before the top of the hour. I learnt to work fast and precisely so as to minimise on-air mistakes.
Anchoring news on a daily basis can also take its toll on your voice; so I learnt how to take care of my voice so that I don’t get sick and lose it. I also grew into myself, became confident in who I am, and was not swayed by people’s expectations because they consider radio personalities as celebrities. The public sometimes can hold you to such high standards. However, the truth is, you are also figuring out life as you go by, only that you are doing life in the limelight.
2. Talk to us about your transition to PR and Communications, and also about you being a professional English and Kiswahili voice-over artist specialising in regional and International TV & radio ads.
In 2016, I left radio news to pursue PR & Communications because I loved strategy and helping companies and individuals to package messages correctly for their target audiences. So far, it has been amazing, and I’m still pursuing it.
As a child, I was always fascinated by voice-overs in radio & TV ads and documentaries. While at the University radio station, I would do ads for my show, the station and other people’s shows. In 2012, I got my big break with voice over on TV with the KCC Maziwa Oriji ad. I then started pursuing voice-overs on and off and landed several local jobs over the years.
However, in 2020, I re-evaluated my life, and I realised among the things that I liked to do included voice-overs. So I started handling it seriously and referring to it as a business. It has been amazing so far as I have managed to work with several local, regional and international companies. Recently, I voiced a promotional piece for US singer Khalid’s new single dubbed New Normal, which was really exciting.
I love using my voice to turn ideas into life. This path has been quite fulfilling as I have worked with notable brands such as Google, YouTube, UNICEF, Safaricom, WHO, KCB Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, L’Oreal, Canadian Red Cross, Microsoft and much more.
Here are some samples of voice overs that Cynthia has done https://youtu.be/_Qe77D0mGqI?list=UU7zzMRVveA5pmYOu5tb0zcg
3. You are a #Chevening alumnus of 2018/2019; briefly tell us about your experience as a Chevener and some things that have arisen from this experience?
A chance meeting, an interaction brought about by the meshing of ideas, has always led me to connect with people who share similar interests. Through that, I have also benefited from their referrals when the time arose. The Chevening Scholarship was one of those.
I was introduced to the idea of studying abroad and scholarships in the UK through a friend. Upon further research, I was captivated by the values and offering of the Chevening Scholarship, so I applied for it. This leap of faith led me to the most memorable two years of my late 20s.
The application experience helped me to reflect on my life journey so far, the achievements I had garnered, and the trajectory I wanted my life to take in my 30’s. It also fast-tracked my self-confidence and self-belief because, for those who know, the scholarship application period can really take a toll on you and awaken fears and doubts that you had buried in the abyss. But self-belief, affirmations, prayer and determination coupled with adequate preparation helped me emerge victoriously.
I made global friendships whilst in the UK, adapted to a new culture, a completely shocking climate and enjoyed a new way of life – I found out that I was resilient and adaptive to change. I also realised that universal morals like kindness, love, decency are the same throughout and that I am not a lesser person just because I was born in Africa. In fact, I became more secure in my identity.
As a way to give back, I started a YouTube channel and website. The goal is to guide African students who have the desire to study abroad. They also get to see someone who looks like them who did it and offer tips to make their application journey a bit easier.
We are living in a global village, and everything is interconnected. So choose where most opportunities for growth lie for you. If you decide to study abroad, don’t feel pressured to come back home because it is ‘noble’ – do what feels right for you. If you want to come back and pass on the knowledge or localise what you have learnt, then go ahead and do so; if you’re going to stay back and experience life as a professional there, then do so if permitted. We all have individual paths to pursue, and it’s important to stay true to you.
5. Drawing from your personal experience, please tell us what role each of the following has played in your career journey.
- It has also helped me to be true to myself. So if I don’t know something, I know that doesn’t devalue me in any way, and I can be confident enough to train, learn, seek help or research if needed. Confidence has also helped me go after opportunities that I may not be qualified 100% for, but I have transferable skills that I am sure will help me succeed in the role.
- Networking. I am where I am because of networking. From my first job to the job I hold now, to scholarships I won, conferences and awards I have been invited to, I have all been made aware of them because of the circles I am in. Talking to people within and outside my field has really helped me to be on people’s radar when anything that fits my profile crops up. Social media is also the new way to network. So use it strategically as it has more reach. You can now easily network with people globally and access people who otherwise would have been inaccessible, like CEOs. Just be respectful and empathetic when you do so, and you will open yourself up to opportunities beyond your imagination.
- Positive attitude. It’s the foundation of all success. It opens you up to try out new things. The positive and can-do attitude helped me to step out of my comfort zone and learn new skills –from a news anchor to a PR & Communications professional and now a voice-over artist.
- My approach has been to select a person whose ideal appeals to me, whose work I look up to, emulate and study them to know what drives them, what makes them tick, their values and I apply them in my life. In terms of guiding others, I do my best whenever I can. I like working with self-driven people who are determined in their life quests and not just waiting to be spoon-fed. I like people who have the willpower to do some self-discovery and then come back for assistance with decision making, weighing options etc. Those who actually apply the lessons, the ideas we discuss and make progress really motivate me to keep helping others out. This is the essence of mentorship.
6. For young people hoping to venture into voicing as a profession, what does it take to be a voice-over artist, how does one market themselves, or even source for clients?
- Be eloquent, passionate and have a sincere desire to be one.
- Be patient. The jobs may come in slowly, and sometimes, your big break may take a while.
- Be trainable. You don’t need to have a stunning voice. You can be trained. I also noticed that clients are nowadays gravitating towards a conversational read. But if you have a great voice, you are already one step up!
- Create a portfolio. Do DIY demos by voicing some of your favourite ads or grab them off YouTube and start practising.
As for marketing…
- Tell people you are a voice-over artist. Say it like you mean it.
- Reach out to agencies locally, production companies and even do some things pro-bono as you start.
- Social media is a great place to market yourself to a broader audience and will increase your visibility if done correctly.
- Do random cold call or cold emails to clients and let them know of your services and how it will benefit their business.
7. Which is your favourite book, and what are some of its nuggets that apply to the Kenyan professional woman?
The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason as I am really into financial literacy. We may work so hard and go up the career ladder, but if we don’t have smart money goals and learn to let our money work for us, then all this may be in vain. The book offers financial literacy on saving, increasing your income, diversifying that income, and investing it so that the money continues to grow. I also love Myles Munroe’s book; Understanding your Potential. It helps you to be aware of and maximise the potential of the God-given gifts and talents within you.
8. Your values are the things you believe are important in how you live and work. What two values define you?
This has helped me emotionally understand what other people feel, see things from their point of view, and imagine myself in their place. It has also helped me to be a good communicator and speak to the core of a person.
9. Authenticity. Being true to yourself, your journey, and your values really goes a long way to guide and propel one in decision-making, choosing a career, etc.
Any parting shot?
We all have different paths in life, you may want to get there faster, but there are lessons in the journey that we must learn so that when we reach the top, we can genuinely say we overcame them and made it despite it all.
Be careful and aware of the thoughts you entertain; they guide your life. For example, if you constantly torture yourself by saying that you are not good enough, that is a crutch that will hold you back from ever trying anything.
Resist comparison. There is only one of your kind. You are incredible just the way you are. You can aspire for more but do it because it is something that will make you better and not because you want to be like someone else, because you think they are better than you.
Always pause and smell the roses. Take time out to enjoy yourself, don’t lose touch with the child-like spirit inside of you. That’s the part that makes you dream and activate your imagination, don’t ever lose that.
About the writers: Esther is a writer, editor, and communication professional in Kenya while Patience Nyange is a Chevening Scholar with a Masters Degree in International Public Relations and Global Communication Management from Cardiff University. Prior to joining Cardiff University, Patience served as an Assistant Director at the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR).