In her 16 years in the showbiz industry, Sanaipei Tande has been known as anything but ruthless. She wore many hats during this period: karaoke host, radio personality, singer, songwriter, and, most recently, an actress, which has opened her up to a world of possibilities where she can kill a man with her bare hands and rush home to be a loving wife and mother. Her leading role as the unscrupulous businesswoman and villain Nana Tandala in the drama series Kina is a part many actors dream of. “This is a storyline like no other that has ever been acted here (Kenya), or that I’ve ever been involved in…And it’s only going to get better,” she says.
Kina, which airs on Maisha Magic Plus and Showmax, is set against two different worlds, the poor residents of Misri who work hard but barely eke out a living and the rich who control the wealth and will do anything to keep it.
As Nana, Sanaipei sits on top of the world – an ambitious and powerful water magnate who will kill, bribe, blackmail and threaten anyone who stands in her way. Sanaipei describes her as “a loving and dedicated wife and mother, and also a businesswoman who gets what she wants at whatever cost.”
This is Sanaipei’s third role in her young acting career that began with an appearance in the comedy series Auntie Boss and its spin-off Varshita, alongside Eve D’Souza and Maqbul. Most recently, she’s starred in Lulu Hassan’s Swahili telenovela Aziza, her first role as a leading lady but nowhere near as demanding as Kina, where she’s stepping into a villain role for the first time.
In only the first episode of Kina, which begins with a dramatic jolt, Sanaipei had to commit not one but two murders – one by drowning a man, the other by burying a girl alive – and then later she had to put a gun in her mouth and pull the trigger.
“It takes a lot of energy to come out of my element and portray such a character,” Sainapei says, “I’m not violent; I walk away from things. Nana being this person who’s not afraid of confrontation or handling the situation really takes a lot from me…Sometimes I feel like I’ve spent too much energy that I need to rest before the next scene.”
Nana is a woman in control of everything around her – from the operations in her company Kina Waters to every detail of her family’s lives. The world bends to her will, even in the presence of her husband, played by Jimmi Gathu, who’s the Deputy Inspector General, a high ranking official in the police force.
“I see myself as a very traditional person, therefore, having to play a woman who’s more powerful than her husband was a bit difficult for me because I had to detach from what I have known all my life and channel this boss attitude.”
Nana is hardened and evil but we also get to see a softer side that sometimes even warrants some sympathy. “She’s very soft on the inside but on the outside, she really puts on this hardcore persona because you find that sometimes she actually breaks and lets her emotions get the better of her.”
With this role, and away from her music, Sanaipei has earned new fans in the ever-expanding television fandom in Kenya. As for any backlash for her character, Sanaipei says that’s hardly demoralizing, especially for a woman like her who’s been singing for years, and who’s had some people tell her that they don’t like a song or two.
“I’ve had my experience from being a musician…I’ve learnt how to deal with the backlash because at the end of the day, your aim is to deliver this character in the way that is expected.”
Watch the full interview below: