Lofty and Fridah: From mentorship to a TV ‘couple’
In one moment, Fridah Mwaka alias Kichuna was just another girl struggling to understand what it takes to be a media personality. In the next, she was a Kiswahili news anchor.
It was never in her wildest dreams that she would one day present news alongside Lofty Matambo — as they have been doing on NTV for the past few months.
Ten years ago, Lofty was working with KTN while Fridah was in university, studying journalism.
A time came when Fridah needed coaching to conquer a talent search show that Lofty, who had met her through a friend, was willing to offer for free.
It was Lofty’s kindness and willingness to assist — and her teachable personality — that brought them together.
Today, they are a spectacle. Always seated on Lofty’s right hand side as they read Kiswahili news or co-host shows on NTV, the chemistry between the two is unmissable.
They flawlessly take turns in delivering the news. Sometimes, one can pick an incomplete sentence from the other and finish it.
“To pull a perfect on-air couple, it is always wise to pair individuals with compatible personalities,” Lofty says. “But it takes a deliberate effort from those paired to create adequate time to bond and get to understand each other better. Otherwise, the ‘marriage’ flops.”
“For purposes of career progression, never agree to be paired with someone with whom you don’t click,” Lofty warns. “It’s disastrous.”
Fridah remarks: “Over time, I’ve come to know him better. And we’ve bonded so well that we effortlessly pull the screen characters. It has taken time to mould.”
Fridah and Lofty worked as colleagues at KTN for years. But they hardly expected to quit the station and be an on-screen “couple” elsewhere. Then NTV happened.
Lofty did not think of such a mix even in his wildest imagination.
“Our relationship was on a mentor-mentee basis. She was tapping into my experience as I learnt from her,” Lofty recalls, referring to a KTN show aimed at picking the best talents for news anchoring.
“I advised her to venture into Kiswahili; that was a unique selling point to beat the stiff competition that lay yonder.”
“She never made it to the finals,” says Lofty. “It wasn’t her time. I could see how disappointed and heartbroken she was.”
That was in 2015.
Lofty thinks the loss strained their relationship. But later, she was recalled to KTN and this time she was hired.
“It was not until when she was recalled to KTN that we regularly checked on each other again.”
Lofty’s first impression of Fridah was that she was made for the showbiz side of things.
“In my assessment, she had a hankering for fashion and art while I was into hard news. I only imagined her interviewing the who’s who on the art and entertainment scene. How, then, would these paths merge later?” Lofty wonders.
They were in the same Kiswahili team at KTN for some time then unexpectedly, Fridah resigned.
Days later, Lofty also parted ways with his former employer, only for them to be reunited at NTV.
Many think the two left KTN at the same time and signed their contracts at NTV simultaneously. Lofty says that wasn’t the case.
“Each of us was contracted individually and at different times. We didn’t even know that we were bound to be co-presenters. I was kept off-screen for a while until Lofty came and we were paired,” Fridah recalls.
The two anchor the 7pm news on NTV on Friday and Saturday.
“He is my twin. We are an on-air couple, if you may,” Fridah explains. “And we’re also good friends in real life and nothing beyond that.”
At NTV, other than being a presenter, Lofty is also a Kiswahili news editor.
While Lofty prefers keeping his relationship matters to himself, Fridah’s marriage is in the public domain — as much as she prefers not to mention her husband’s surname after hers.
“We had agreed not to mention his name on air,” she says. “And he is okay with it.”
Growing up, she always wanted to marry an only child or an orphan. The heavens gave her the former. Her husband was her childhood friend. They schooled together and interacted often.
But they never knew that they were meant to be soul mates. They ignored the mystic connection between them until they couldn’t ignore it any longer, Fridah narrates.
The first time they were both interacting in a wedding setup, Fridah was a flower girl and her husband was the boy escorting the bride to their event.
Lofty, on the other hand, was “just too obsessed with journalism” that he can let other things wait. For one, he forfeited a medical career to pursue journalism.
“I am a trained medical laboratory technologist. I practised it for a while before I decided to follow my passion — journalism,” Lofty offers.
Also, his commitment to excellence in journalism has had an effect on his relationships.
“I am a go-getter and a perfectionist. The ladies I have dated complain that I love my job too much. This has always cost me my relationships,” confesses Lofty.
Lofty and Fridah both come from Kilifi County.
“So remote is our place,” he explains, “that when the first motor vehicles arrived at our place, the villagers would touch and say ‘Dzariguta karinenere (I touched it and it didn’t say a word)’. These days, I use it to encourage others that if I came from such a remote place and made it to be a household name, then they, too, can make it.”
With her experience spanning almost six years of appearing on screens as a Kiswahili news anchor, Fridah is in her prime. Nevertheless, she is alive to the fact that she will hang her boots someday.
When she does, she hopes to be remembered for her broad, warm smile — because “it is a sense of hope”. But that is not her only wish. She desires that the world never forgets how she wowed her audience with Kiswahili and how she impacted people’s lives.
“My smile transcends into prisons and wards to brighten up the day of the sick and the detained,” she says.
These are the very groups whose hearts she has always endeavoured to touch. Had she faltered in becoming a journalist, she says, being a lawyer was her plan B.
“I’d speak for them, the voiceless, just like I do with journalism. And, had the worst got to the worst, I would have been a designer to dress the inmates with elegant designs. This way, I believe I would have put smiles in their souls,” she narrates.
When the lights and the cameras go on, on the count of three, it always is the smile that greets the viewers and, most times, wows them, almost to a point that it seems news reading is scripted to depict how happy anchors must be. Fridah says that is the nature of the game that the players have to abide by.
Reading news, to her, is like acting, with a script of real-life happenings. She says she endeavours to remain as natural as possible.
“The Fridah Mwaka you see on TV is the same one you’ll see in person,” she says.
She adds that the flame that keeps her going as a brand is the same that fans Fridah the personality.
But even with the glamour and fluency through which she connects with her audience, Fridah is saddened that she has sometimes broken news inaccurately. Not once; not twice.
“In my journalism career, sometimes I’ve broken the wrong news as result of a wrong brief from the producer; or sometimes as a result of technical studio hitches. It always breaks my heart and leaves me feeling embarrassed,” she says.
Fridah was always a talkative and bubbly soul, a quality her parents interpreted as best fit for a journalism career and nurtured it.
Fridah admits to being a perfectionist who has rarely experienced the pain of losing. The loss in the Presenter Season 2 competition slapped her with the rude realisation that life does not always mean winning.
“I felt I’d embarrassed myself. I felt I’d failed everyone who vouched for my success. And I doubted myself,” she recalls. “For a minute I was like, ‘Is this really what I want to pursue?’ Fine, I’ve been singing journalism since I was a child.”
“I blame myself for failing. I panicked and lost. The loss hit me hard because of the 8-4-4 education system that I went through. Only the best are recognised. Runners-up are hardly acknowledged,” she says.
She figured out that if she were to emerge victorious from the loss, she had to repackage herself. And so she did. When the opportunity came, she was ready and she took up a news anchoring job for the first time after turning down several offers.
“When the right time came, I rose again. I now sit beside Lofty, anchoring news alongside him.”
Of all the lessons she learnt during that period, she holds one dear: “Hakuna mkali, kila mtu huanza na hali (There are no pros; everyone starts somewhere).”
“Every evening, I audit and criticise myself. I know when I erred and where I outdid myself. I have a diary for that. When I finally leave the newsroom, I’d want to publish these memoirs,” Fridah says.
They were once strangers then became friends, then colleagues at one media house and later at another. What do they make of this?
“Anchoring news with my mentee is largely a humbling experience as much as it is fascinating. It is the spontaneity, the chaotic vibe, the unpredictability and the creativity of the newsroom that keeps me sane and going. I’m in the right place,” Lofty says.
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