The Real Queen’s Gambit: How Kenyan Elsa Majimbo Is Winning Over A Global Audience, One Move At A Time
One of the brightest stars to emerge from 2020 is Kenya-based social media sensation, Elsa Majimbo. If you haven’t seen her viral Instagram videos, which often feature tight closeups of Majimbo rocking her Matrix-style tiny sunglasses and always showcase her infectious laugh, then you’ve likely caught her being interviewed by Anderson Cooper, or heard her voice on TikTok or Instagram Reels. (Majimbo’s now-signature quotes have become a popular soundtrack for many content creators’ social media posts.)
In a year marred by anxiety and uncertainty, Majimbo’s hilarious videos have provided joy for millions around the world — and continue to do so. With a reach of 1.3 million Instagram followers (and an engaged online community that only continues to thrive), and partnership deals with the likes of Fenty and MAC, the 19-year-old celebrity is proving that when it comes to fame, there are no boundaries or borders.
Most recently, Majimbo dropped an ASMR-style song called “Snack Queen,” produced by Cautious Clay, to strategically coincide with U.S. Thanksgiving. It’s also an ode to Majimbo’s signature snacking habit on social media — and after all, has there ever been an ASMR trap song about snacks? Well now, there is.
So who is the Internet’s favorite comedian whose Instagram biography includes the titles “15x chess champion and professional bragger”? (Spoiler alert: only one of these claims is true.)
Born and based in Nairobi, Kenya, Majimbo was studying journalism when the pandemic hit in March (she had approximately 7K followers back then).
While at home during lockdown, the teenager with natural comedic talent and timing began filming short Instagram video clips from her bedroom. As fate would have it, boredom can blossom into beautiful beginnings.
The clips went viral, especially on TikTok and Instagram’s newer feature, Reels, where people posted themselves using the audio of Majimbo’s signature voice and laugh, along with her hilarious taglines. Majimbo’s profile took off like wildfire, along with her love for binging on potato chips and streaming content.
For Majimbo, 2020 has become the year of Netflix and thrill.
Majimbo’s satirical style of comedy (punctuated by her lo-fi video technique) has struck a chord with a global audience, clearly craving humor and a dose of optimism in otherwise trying times. By leaning into her voice and relatable content, Majimbo has become a breakout star with a positive impact.
“I initially made my videos to bring joy to myself. I would make them and I’d think, I am so funny! I would watch the videos and just laugh!,” Majimbo shares. “I wouldn’t care if other people found them funny or not. Turns out, the videos have also brought other people joy, and I’m so happy they did.”
Majimbo’s lockdown-themed Instagram video with the now-famous “I want you to come over, but it’s a pandemic” is the most popular. After being nominated for the E! People’s Choice Awards in the African Social Star category, Majimbo satirically taped herself looking for her humility in a big purse (a nod to her “professional bragger” title) — she ended up winning the award.
Majimbo is also passionate about chess, a skill which has earned her the title of 15-time chess champion. Although this is clearly stated in her Instagram biography, no one thinks she’s being serious.
But once you look deeper and notice Majimbo’s swift and strategic process, it’s clear that she conducts her business as exquisitely as a chess player. Just like a chess master, everything Majimbo does is intentional, calculating and thought out. She is always several steps ahead when it comes to plotting her next move.
A strong theme in The Queen’s Gambit is to “never count anyone out” — and this holds true for Majimbo, who is proving that success can be achieved despite the sexism, colorism and limited resources she faces in her native Kenya.
When Majimbo’s star began to rise earlier this summer, brands were clamoring to partner with her. The thing is, for Majimbo, it’s about the long game and operating with her instincts — just like in chess.
“I definitely tend to always go with my gut and trust my intuition,” Majimbo explains. If my gut says one thing and I’m like, Oh no, let me just try it, it always ends up going south. My gut is like my guardian angel, always telling me what to do. Chess is an intuitive game because you don’t know what move your opponent will make next, so you have to make yours based off your gut. I always trust my intuition.”
This is why Majimbo has what can be perceived as “the audacity” (a word she uses ironically, in her videos) to refuse certain brand partnerships, by considering and focusing on the long game. She is unapologetically betting on herself, and being strategic about owning her IP and brand equity. (A critical business lesson for any creative today.)
“When you’re playing chess, it’s all about the long game. And if your opponent is equally as clever as you, you have to be really clever in everything you do. Even if the brand or company approaching you makes it seem like it’s something you need or something you want — that’s when the end game comes in,” Majimbo asserts.
With partnerships like Fenty and MAC already in her portfolio, Majimbo has been discerning when it comes to the merch deals, partnerships and ambassadorship opportunities presented to her.
It’s further proof that she is doubling down on her worth and keeping her sights on long-term brand equity rather than quick wins.
“It’s big money, but I know that bigger opportunities are on the way and I’d rather wait than jump on what’s coming in right now. So I’m thinking about the long term. It definitely requires patience and hard work, and being consistent and believing in yourself.”
Another tactic in Majimbo’s arsenal is consistency, a critical tool for successful chess players. In her case, there’s a lot of A/B testing when she posts her videos to Instagram, and measuring different segments of her content based on engagement. In other words: nothing is random.
“I feel like being consistent just helps my mind run and helps all the ideas flow. It keeps me happy and keeps me busy. I feel like when you’re consistent and you finally get the achieved goal, you learn that nothing can be built overnight and you learn to put one brick at a time to build your empire.”
While Instagram’s algorithm can make it challenging for content creators, Majimbo explains that the “Explore” page helped catapult her videos and content by showcasing it often: as she says, “the Explore page just ‘got me’.”
“Now I’m focusing on all my platforms. Making sure they all thrive. I’m continuously perfecting my art and I’m perfecting it until now, and I just tried to build a team around me that I trust — I removed all the negative people, all the people who just came with very wicked vibes.”
She recently put her journalistic skills to use as the host of her newly-launched IGTV series, Bedtime With Elsa (her first guests include musician Jorja Smith and comedian and talk-show host Lilly Singh). She is also launching a podcast in the New Year.
While Majimbo might joke about her work ethic in her Instagram videos (with her viral quote “Everyday slaving, everyday labor”), she is getting the last laugh.
“The fact that people told me I couldn’t do it — I think that’s what drives me so much. Maybe it’s because I’m dark-skinned or I’m African, they say that I can’t achieve certain things, and I’m like, okay, we’re gonna see about that — and I just go for everything headstrong.”
The mantra she always go by? “Chance favors the prepared mind, and opportunity favors the bold. Because I have this opportunity and so many people would say it’s luck, but I believe there is a very thin line between luck and opportunity. I feel like there’s also quite a number of people who say, Oh you know, I’m famous now, I’m untouchable. You always need to know where your head is at and I feel like you also need to carry yourself with some type of humility. Being in such a space should humble you — strangers go out of their way to support you, so you should be so incredibly grateful.”
Another parallel to The Queen’s Gambit: surrounding herself with the right people. Majimbo’s manager, Mo Kheir, helps mastermind the moves, behind the scenes. Kheir, who is an architect-turned-brand developer, is also the host of the podcast Turning Point and author of the book, Alien Of Extraordinary Ability. (Spoiler alert: while Beth Harmon in the Netflix series was a natural wonder, a big part of her success can be attributed to her support system and those in her tight circle.)
Majimbo jokes about being a “professional bragger” and binging on junk food, but in reality she’s humble and swears by eating healthy foods — for her, hydration is key!
“I like junk, but I don’t eat it as much as I imply! I also tell people not to work. I’m like, guys, don’t work, work isn’t meant for you, just rest! And I work a lot. I work so much for what I want and what I’ve achieved and for the life I’m aiming for. So I always feel like I’m cheating people — but we laugh. I laugh, they laugh. So everyone wins.”