When you are a contestant in a music competition, the last person you want to judge you is Ian Mbugua.
Ian, as he is fondly known, is an artiste and television personality, known for his scathing critical remarks as a judge on the East African reality-singing competition show, Tusker Project Fame, (TPF). That’s why competitors on the show are always in trepidation when they’re told that Ian will be on the panel of judges.
However, the no-nonsense judge, who tells you his version of the bitter truth, never mind your feelings or ego, has always managed to electrify an audience, be it on stage or as a judge with his stinging barbs.
In an interview with The New Times’ Susan Babijja, the seasoned entertainer gave a glimpse into his personal life, his experience in the entertainment industry and his stint as a judge in TPF. Excerpts;
Q: Who is Ian Mbugua?
A: Ian Mbugua is a husband, father, teacher, singer, actor, director and entertainer. I have three children. Two are already in university and the youngest just 16. Ian is an ordinary guy who gets far too much attention.
Currently, I am a manager of the Burundian Theatre, Brookhouse International Schools and a teacher of drama and music. Previously, I was a Managing Director of Phoenix Players, Kenya’s only repertory theatre.
Q: Education back ground?
A: I had training in education, counseling, psychology and theology.
Q: When did you join the music industry, and how did you become a music expert?
A: I have sung and acted since my youth. I am not an expert in music. I am an expert in knowing what I like and what I dislike.
Q: Ian, you are a man who divides opinions; you are liked and hated in equal measure. How do you manage to build this character?
A: Really? Didn’t know I did! I simply give my opinion which I, like everyone else, I am entitled to.
Q: You are known not to show mercy to weak contestants, why do you come forth as a tough person?
A: I have strong opinions which I bring out strongly. The music industry is tough. People need to be shown how tough it is so they can be better prepared.
Q: Do you come across as a tough person in your day-to-day life?
A: I don’t consider myself tough but I can be strict.
Q: Tell us a bit about your experience in Tusker Project Fame?
A: It has had its joys and frustrations, all of which I have endured.
Q: How have been the auditions in Rwanda compared to other countries?
A: Rwandan artistes need to come awake more, they are too shy and the songs they listen too are too limited.
Q: How many participants did you get and how many are you targeting to remain in the competitions?
A: Actually, we received 80 participants, among them, 10 Rwandans were selected and 1 from Burundi for the final auditions. We are going to hear the voices got from the auditions and remain with five.
Q: What were the challenges faced during the Rwanda auditions?
A: People with very good voices were choosing wrong songs, others have good voices but they are shy which leads to their failure on stage. This as a big challenge, something like that is a gamble. I wonder whether they can improve.
Q: How were the auditions in general?
A: You need to come up more. I find Rwandans are very shy, they don’t sing out, the kind of songs they listen too are very limited and there is communication problem when you talk to them and they do not understand. They instead become shy.
Q: What do you think is missing for them to make the cut in the music industry?
A: Good! Serious producers, promoters, songwriters, financial backers – that’s what is missing.
Q: How different will this year’s contest be?
A: I can’t see the future, so let’s wait and see
Q: What do you do in your free time?
A: I listen to music and sing. I also spend time with my family, go to concerts and theatre.
Q: Who is your favourite musician?
A: I do not have a favourite anything.
Q: Tell us about your acting career?
A: I have been acting onstage and screen for over 30 years. I have been acting as a teacher of drama, art, music, English in elementary, secondary and post secondary institutions.
The first and only Kenyan to appear in Egoli, a Place of Gold, the shooting was done in South Africa. I acted in MNET-sponsored Kenyan drama series, ‘Changes’. Voice-over artiste for award-winning documentary, ‘Flip Flop Flotsam’ - shot in Lamu, Kenya and recorded in London, UK. I am the director of ‘The crowded bed’-a short film on sex education.
I have directed more than 100 plays, mainly on the Phoenix stage. These included musicals, comedies, dramas, classics, Shakespeare and original works by Kenyan play wrights, soloist in several classical concerts with Nairobi Music Society and Nairobi Orchestra.
Q: Are you seeing any one or you’re married?
A: I am married with three children. Two are already in university and the youngest just turned 16.