The story of 27-year-old Mary Boyoi is synonymous with the hard struggle in Southern Sudan - from living in harsh conditions to a successful outbreak and recognition in the music industry.
Former child soldiers who have lived in Kenya such as Jal and Lam have made it in music, and Boyoi [...] is walking along the same path, as she launches her debut album, Referendum, in Nairobi today [apparently Saturday]. But unlike her two compatriots, she was never a child soldier, although she grew up in the same era. She, like many peers, was a victim of forced marriage.
The 12-track album talks about real-life experiences, especially what the Southern Sudan people have gone through, and her vision for her country and people. "The [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] signed by the Sudanese government here in Kenya is a major boost; this is why we are singing for our people to know where we are coming from, and we should all stay together [in order] to make things work," says Boyoi.
Singing with a sharp voice, her songs also talk about life in a foreign land, the struggles [that] women and children go through when the men are fighting, as well as the mission and vision set by the Sudanese leaders.
Boyoi grew up in a large family in Juba, where she started singing as a child. Her father, an SPLA commander, was killed in the war, when she was nine years old. She and her seven siblings were raised by her mother.
"But I lost one of my brothers last month; someone shot him in Sudan," she says.
At 16 and in Form Four, her mother decided to marry her off [in order] to get enough dowry to enable her to raise the family. This was the beginning of her travails, and her husband, who came to Kenya for further studies, often abused her.
"We came to Machakos in 1998, where he was studying," she says. The man used to lock her in the house the whole day, and made sure [that] she did not talk with anybody - not even neighbours.
"I had to escape one day, but when I made it to Kitale, on my way back to Sudan, I ran out of cash," Boyoi recalls.
Luckily, she knew someone [whom] she would stay with in Kitale. But after two weeks, the man caught up with her and brought her back to Nairobi.
In Nairobi, Boyoi was subjected to torture again, but this time, she was saved by UN officials who took her to a centre at Hurlingham, Nairobi, that handles issues of women and child refugees.
She started recording with Tuff Audio, in the city, in February.