A year and a half ago, Mokua Rabai a saxophonist, Victor Kinama a trombonist and Mackinlay Musembi a multi-instrumentalist, started the Nairobi Horns Project. Down the line, they have shown great promise and are one of the country’s finest jazz bands. They met with Karen Muriuki and shared their story.
How did it all start for the band?
Nairobi Horns Project started as a vision for the ‘horn section’ to be commercially viable. Mackinlay was the brainchild. He had done Coke Studio, and so had I, so we figured: ‘why not have a horn section for hire?’
Who makes up your band?
We have a rhythm section. George Nyoro on keys, Moiza Basinze on bass, Amani Baya on drums, Jack Muguna on guitar and Kasiva Mutua on percussions.
How long has the band been together?
We’ve been active for almost one and a half years.
How did the name Nairobi Horns Project come about?
We wanted to be relevant, as well as have a sound of where we come from, which is Nairobi. Yes, we are all from different parts of the country, but we still do live in Nairobi. Nairobi also has some relevance, in the sense that we want to associate with the music that Nairobians like to listen to. We also want to represent our country with our different cultural backgrounds.
What is your goal?
Besides making money? (Laughs). To put Nairobi on the limelight, as well as to bring something different to the scene, which is fusion and an aspect of jazz. To tour a lot and to put Kenya on the map. Also, to make music generally and to serve humanity through our music. We always hope to stand out even as we do it.
Who do you look up to as a band?
Rabai: Chris Porter, a saxophonist, Robin Eubanks, a trombonist and James Morrison, a trumpet player.
Mackinlay: Quincy Jones, an instrumentalist and an arranger.
Which are the major projects/shows you have done?
We’ve worked with Safaricom Jazz Festival, Koroga Festival as well as our own concerts which like MJC Live. We have also collaborated with the likes of June Gachuhi for her ‘June at 20’ show. Our biggest gigs, however, have been Koroga Festival and the Safaricom Jazz Festival.
Best memory as a group?
Having a concert and people turning up at the last minute. We’d thought people were not bothered with our show whenever we looked at how tickets sales were going. But people ended up buying them at the last minute. Also having people dancing to our music and resonating to our sound and vibe is a really good thing for us.
Has your musical journey always been smooth?
Like any other journey, music is not that easy. Our challenges include finances, getting concerts, paying members of the band and also the recording process. We need resources and sponsorships for our sound to be out there. For example, the recording of an album needs an unlimited flow of resources.
What are the group dynamics?
The band is full of crazy people. (Laughs) Even the ones whose looks might give you an impression of them being serious. That’s the beauty of our band. The fact that people come from different backgrounds with different personalities, but at the end of the day, we make it work is amazing.
Would you say your paychecks are good after gigs?
It can be better. Kenyan artistes can be paid better. The fact that international artistes are paid way more when they tour while we are looked down upon really demoralises us. We put in the same effort as these international acts. We all wake up to do music.
What is your take on the Kenyan music industry?
It is really growing. Kenyans as well, are really appreciating their own sound. We can do better, though. Radio stations can play more local music, because currently, Nigerian music has taken over our channels. It’s growing much faster than local music. It will work for the good of the future generation when they listen to local music.
What is music to you?
Music for us is a blessing. I get to create, to speak on what lies deep within music as well as be creative. If I cannot express it through words, I put it through music. It’s a form of communication, service to humanity and power, far from it being a source of income.
Have you ever considered having more band members?
Having more members is really detrimental to our pockets, which is why we prefer to do collaborations. More members means more money.
Where can we find your music, apart from YouTube of course?
iTunes, Soundcloud and on our website; nairobihorns.
Tell us more about the Sanaa4Change Project.
As a social concern, Nairobi Horns Project uses music as a platform to engage young people in conversation and activities geared towards curating skills and knowledge influencing opinions and nurturing values.
We use the power of music and arts to enhance development of arts and music through knowledge sharing and mentorship as we encourage cross-cultural partnerships and collaborations amongst artistes.
Why music and arts?
Music and arts provide great employment opportunities and the entertainment industry, by virtue of ongoing innovation and improvement, is a great avenue for job creation and expression. We also realised that by virtue of their work as instrumentalists in the music industry, NHP members have developed useful connections with leading acts on the music scene in Kenya and beyond, hence the ability to reach out to many industry players.