Complex is the single word that can best describe Cynthia Umurungi a.k.a Ginty. She is a girl of many faces and trades: she is a radio presenter, businesswoman and the national commissioner for the National Youth Council. But even with her impressive CV, she still strikes you as an ordinary lady. Lifestyle’s Collins Mwai caught up with her at K FM studios recently
Ginty was a childhood nickname given to me by my dad. I did not use it much when I was growing up but when I ended up on radio I figured it would come in handy. It caught up very fast. Some people know me as just Cynthia, others know me as Ginty. Ginty is the entertainer and Cynthia the serious one.
How did you end up on radio?
It was during my Senior Six vacation. A friend of mine who was a presenter at Flash FM passed by our home and urged me to try a voice test. The next day I went and the voice test was okay but my first day turned out a disaster. All was going fine until I was handed an announcement to air. From there I went back eager to learn and get better. Back then it was quite difficult since there were only two major stations and not as much Internet to aid learners. We learnt through practical experience.
What’s the most interesting show you have ever had?
I like the one I have now since it’s an urban youth show. Back in the day I also liked a show on Radio Flash called Top Seven at Seven. I am the one who started it; it was my baby.
Did you ever think you’d end up in the media?
No. I ended up here by chance. I think that’s the reason I still went to university. But I always knew I wanted to be in a position to talk to people and touch their lives and make their dreams come true. If I wasn’t a radio presenter I think I’d have been a writer or a lawyer.
What did you study at university?
I studied physiotherapy but I have never practiced it – formally. Initially I wanted to work with sports teams as a sports physiotherapist or with old people to ensure their fitness. Sadly, there are no such opportunities here.
You were barely 19 when you got on radio… What was it like? Did you feel sweet?
(Laughs) No, I didn’t. Actually, it was challenging because I had to learn fast. Presenters were not well paid so there was little to feel sweet about. I was a normal girl. I also had to leave radio for a while to pursue my studies. At school I had a real culture shock; I had never been to a boarding school before, I had never been with girls who bathe communally or walk around totally nude. I never got used to it.
You are known to be a radio journeywoman… Why is this so?
I move to grow. I have always wanted to avoid routine. Every time I move I grow career wise and as an individual.
How has being on radio changed you?
It has given me much confidence. I seek to understand as well as to be understood. It has made me conscious of what I say since lots of people are listening to me. I have to be entertaining as well as add value to their lives. It also keeps me creative.
Are you a health freak?
Kind of. I am conscious of what I eat but that doesn’t mean I don’t eat fast foods. I also work out a lot.
Tell us about your association with the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission…
I was appointed by the Cabinet as a commissioner in the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission. We are 12 commissioners and I happen to be the youngest. They always call me a kid. I was also voted secretary of the National Youth Council. It is real humbling having such positions. I don’t consider myself powerful in anyway; I look at it as a chance to look out for the welfare of young people and advocate for policies that will make their lives better.
Being in all these circles hasn’t changed me much. I am still an ordinary chick; you can find me sipping milk and eating mandazi in Nyamirambo while chatting with ordinary people.
How has being in the spotlight influenced your conduct, dress code, etc
Actually, it hasn’t. I don’t care much about society’s perception of me. I believe what matters is what is deep within me, not the clothes I wear or people I talk to. It should be how I act and treat people. But I also have to balance as I move from one circle to the next – entertainment and policy-making.
So, what is in the future for Ginty?
I am completing my masters in Business Administration and also pursuing a technical course in Multimedia and Filmmaking. I am also making a documentary titled Not That Dead. It is about a young man who was displaced by the 1994 Genocide and adopted by a Good Samaritan. He traces his way back to his family through Facebook. It is a true story.
These documentaries… don’t you think too many have already been made about the 1994 Genocide?
I think the more the better. Everyone was affected in a way. Everyone has a story to tell and it should be told. It is a sure way to recovery and ensuring we never forget how easy it is to fall.
What do you do on weekends?
I work out and also watch lots of movies and TV. I am fascinated by the work that goes into production. I also frequent restaurants and coffee shops. Sometimes I also drive in the countryside.
Talking of driving, what type of car do you drive?
I drive an old Toyota Corsa. It is about 20 years old but it is strong. I built it myself; I know my way around engines.
Is Ginty single or taken?
I am single. I don’t really have a list of specifications my ideal guy should have, but I would like someone intelligent, open-minded, and easy going. It would be better if he also reads a lot. He should also know how complex being simple is.
(Laughs) He should have a nice watch and maybe nice shoes.
Could it be that you scare away men with your money, fame and influence?
Maybe yes, maybe no.
Okay, let’s get this age thing out of the way… How old are you?
Your greatest fears?
I am afraid of failure. It’s funny it is the only thing I learn from. It also scares me imagining a scenario where Rwandans cannot be free in their own country as it happened in 1994. My dad passed away before he could return home; I wouldn’t want to imagine that happening to anyone else.
What are your favourite accessories?
I have a thing for watches and shoes.
You travel a lot, what destination blew your mind?
Moscow. I liked everything about it – the people, the weather… I also liked Rome because of its architecture.
What is the one thing people do not know about you?
That I write poetry and that with every paycheque I always buy a book. I read a lot; my favourite author is Agatha Christine.
I listen to almost all genres, including rock, but African music has a special place in my music library.
What is your take on the local music industry?
I think it needs to be shaken, stirred and sieved. Some artistes are very good but rarely get airplay while others are not serious and get a lot of airplay.
At times some radio presenters are to blame; they take bribes to play music. But that can also be blamed on some radio stations that do not remunerate their presenters well. It is like arming a soldier well but not paying him enough – of course he will terrorise people and ruin things.