Side hustle: Medical student finds fame as rhumba singer

Serah Nyaboke, a 27-year-old, clinical medicine student at Kisii University who sings rhumba. PHOTO | POOL

Serah Nyaboke’s dream career may be studying medicine as a second degree but her heart is singing rhumba. The 27-year-old clinical medicine student has made her name as a singer, thanks to TikTok.

“It [singing] is good for your mental health,” she says.

Her remake of Ndaya by hit singer M’pongo Love attracted 1.2 million YouTube views. And belting out Les Wanyika’s Afro, garnered her 720,000 TikTok views.

Last year, during the East African Regional Business Awards, she was awarded in the music industry category.

“I was awarded by former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka,” she says.

The numbers girl who studied maths and physics as a first degree says she started singing young.

“I started singing in the church choir at the age of five,” she says.

Her parents were fans of rhumba which tuned her ears to the genre of music associated with old people.

“I grew up listening to my dad play the likes of Franco and Yvonne Chaka Chaka,” she says. “And he gave us access to the computer hence the ease in using video-editing software.”

Seven covers

Serah has released several renditions of songs that include Brenda Fassie’s Vulindela, Franco and Jolie Detta’s Massu, and Mbilia Bel’s Nakei Nairobi. She follows the full process of recording a song—going to the studio to record an audio and then later recording a video.

“It’s a whole production,” she says. “There are some that I’ve recorded but not released to the public. More are coming.”

Serah Nyaboke, 27, is passionate about singing rhumba and gained her fame on TikTok.

She takes time to learn the lyrics and give them her touch.

It is a skill she says she learnt well when participating in music festivals.

“In high school, I used to participate in music festivals. We used to do renditions,” says the alumna of Sironga Girls in Nyamira County.

“Schools from western used to do very good rhumba and zilizopendwa (classics) renditions. The influence came from there.”

Making progress

Advertisements run on her YouTube videos, meaning she makes some income from the platform.

“Monetisation is the future. It’s a work in progress. I’m looking forward to monetising fully because people love music,” says Serah.

Regarding TikTok, she noted that she is still learning the ropes of making a dime from the platform.

“I blew up in TikTok without me knowing. I wasn’t much into TikTok. I don’t know much about monetising TikTok,” she says.

Another income source from her singing is the gigs. She has been hired to perform in a couple of events across the country.

“I’ve gone as far as Kitui, the interior parts of Kitui, just to do a live band show. That was in December 2023. So, this is a promising career. I didn’t know that music would pay. Now I’m working on monetising it fully,” says Serah.

The rhumba genre is still male-dominated and traditionalists still frown at women singing on stage. But the songbird says growing up, she has always found herself in male-dominated fields.

“There are only five girls in our class of 28, similar to when I was doing my first degree [studying maths and physics]. We were fewer girls,” she says.

On singing a genre loved by oldies, she says, she wants to connect to the generation that used to listen to these songs.

“Eventually, I’m going to make my music, but for now, I just want to preserve the memories, prolong the music for the next generation,” says Serah.

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.