Karungari Mungai broke through the music industry as Miss Karun with the defunct pop group Camp Mulla. Now known as Runkah, she is relishing the chance to showcase what she is all about. She gets candid with Alfayo Onyango
How is going as a young mother?
I’ve just been busy working on myself, getting on the grind. A lot has been happening since I became a young mum. Motherhood has been a great way for me to grow; it can be super amazing at one point and the next it’s really difficult. So, I’ve been trying to be a good parent, waking up early to play with my son Mango and making sure he grows into the person he wants to be.
Just watching him grow for these two years has been life-changing. I have to manage my time well, prioritise differently and even change friend circles, I guess. I’ve been making music too, but behind the scenes, so I just take it like it’s part of growth. My baby’s dad to has been great with making sure everything is cool and he takes parenting well in his own way.
What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt in your walk of life?
Generally, I think just seeing my son grow and learning to become his own person has been great. It’s been something I’ve picked up in my career and even life in general. Sometimes Mango can be around someone I don’t like, but he gravitates towards them and I’ve just had to embrace such kind of things and let growth do its job.
You had brilliant time with Camp Mulla. How has it been going solo?
Personally, it’s an exciting challenge. Unlike before, now I get to have my own control. Also, I have to deal with the pressure coming all back to me as an individual. I’m having fun building a team, experimenting more and having control of different aspects of my career. I can decide what type of sound to pursue, what to play and where. However, it’s challenging adulting and trying to build my brand.
Is doing your own thing more of a relief to you?
Yes, it is. In late 2017, we were trying to make Camp Mulla work. I really had high hopes for it to get back together and put all my energy into getting it to work, but it couldn’t work, so I had to channel all that energy into my own growth.
It’s painful and heavy because the last time we (Camp Mulla members) tried to make it work, it was too difficult and it got to a point it was like revisiting old wounds. So, we just decided to go our own way because it just wasn’t meant to be. But we will always be friends.
Soon after the Camp Mulla break-up, you went to school in the US. How was the moment for you in your diary of life?
I was in California for one and a half years and then Boston for two years. In Cali, I was in a music school dealing with vocals principles alone, then I wanted more in-depth music skills, so I moved to Berkeley College in Boston for electronic music production and sound design.
It was cool and challenging because I had to learn how to fit into that American culture, which honestly wasn’t the thing for me at that point in my life. I had permission to be there and had a school visa, so I had to make the most of the opportunity to learn the culture, make friends and get as much as I could about the music industry.
Still, with that, I had an internal resistance that made me feel like Africa was the place for me. I got to learn a lot, but the American music industry to me was jaded because it felt like everything had been done, while back home there were plenty of opportunities. I never finished my course because I had my son, but I learnt key things like playing the bass and joined an acapella group.
Who have been your biggest musical influences?
I follow so many music career paths, but SZA comes to mind right now. Vanessa Beecroft isn’t a musician, but she’s a stage designer who motivates me. Anybody who is shamelessly themselves can inspire me. Shout outs to Barak Jacuzzi for the friendly competition as well.
Do you feel like your music has changed with time?
You have to tell me that. I’m just being myself, and when I was in Camp Mulla, you might just get to see one side of the coin. I was 16 at the time and did not have the confidence to say exactly what I wanted, which is what is coming out now. It’s just the plight of a group sometimes as well as me trying to find myself. After Camp Mulla, I dropped an album called Sun & Moon and when I listen to it now, it sounds different to what I’m doing.
If you could turn back the hands of time, what would you do differently?
I think I would tell myself to own every moment, be myself and don’t take people for granted. I think life was moving too fast and some of those moments just kind of went over my head. Now looking back I’m grateful and don’t overlook situations and people.
What’s a typical Runkah day like?
As an artiste, every day is different. These days I wake up early to have breakfast with my son, play a little before he goes to school, then usually at 11 am my band can come through to my garage space to practice, so I just help set up. I can then write a song and embark on the day’s errands but it varies.
I’ve also done a couple attachments as I’ve worked at a marketing agency and a design company, so I’m out here getting life skills and not boxing myself. While I stayed in Boston, I would go to New York and meet artistes that worked three jobs a day. That exposure made me get out of my comfort zone.
What are you most excited about with the new generation of Kenyan artistes?
Kenyans are amazingly talented. I’m happy people are owning it and dropping the fear to express their artistry. I’m excited to see what it means for the industry because when I was starting out, some people could sing, but just had to stay at bay because of perceptions cast on the art. Artistes can actually go fully independent now.
Who has been your greatest mentors?
I have to big up Blinky Bill and MDQ for really paving the way and holding my hand. I have bugged them a lot asking them all kinds of questions and they always make time for me. In 2018, I was in a crisis contemplating quitting music. But I had a random meeting with MDQ and she gave me so much encouragement. At that time, I was halfway planning the Roses music video and I didn’t want to do it. She really gave me hope and it gets hard when you’re alone sometimes.