Today on Mics and Beats we feature the Nairobi Horns Project. Nairobi Horns Project (NHP) say they are the funkiest new music outfit in Nairobi and I agree. Initially, they started out as a three-member for-hire horn section and played a few gigs with a different line-up, but earlier this year the current lineup came together.
Nairobi Horns Project is now made up of Mackinlay Mutsembi (Founder and MD), Mokua Rabai (Saxophones) and Victor Kinama (Trombone). They work as a horn section, but also as an independent act that composes original works. For their live gigs, they are backed by an additional 5 member rhythm section with Kasiva on percussions, Amani Baya on drums, George Nyoro on keys, Moise Basinza on bass and Newman Owor on guitars.
When and why did you start playing? Which instruments do you play?
We play a variety of instruments; we all started on different instruments from the ones we use currently. Mac picked up a Euphonium in a Salvation Army brass band when he was 14 years old and played for many years. Victor started on trumpet in the Salvation Army too, while Rabai picked up his music in high school; he was originally a trumpeter but when he lost his trumpet and could not replace it, he picked up the saxophone. Members of NHP still remain versatile multi-instrumentalists.
What musical influences did you guys have as children?
We all have had different musical influences as children. Mac and Vic grew up in Salvation Army brass bands where they picked up musical instruments, Rabai is a self-taught musician from high school. Along the way, we have had different influences growing up, from RnB, pop, Hip-hop, Soul and Kenyan music. We discovered other genres later in life, like Jazz and Latin, which we have also grown to like.
How is the music different from what you listen to now?
As more mature musicians, you listen to a lot more diverse material, and especially when you work as a cover musician, you learn even more content than what you would ordinarily hear in your comfort zone. This pushes you towards a music education of sorts. Musical tastes also change with time, so now we listen to a wider variety of music.
Who are your favourite musicians now? Groups? CDs?
We like different groups and horn players, as well as acts across genres. Yellow Jackets, Take 6, Trombone Shorty, James Morrison, Mercy Masika, Lokua Kanza. We are all over the place.
How do you handle mistakes during a performance?
Mistakes are part of musical performances, we only rehearse and prepare to try to reduce the incidences. Still, even the best-planned shows have mistakes. The best thing to do with a mistake on stage is to learn to be creative with a comeback, and as well have the presence to know what do to in case of mistakes happening. We have learnt however that with more experiences, you become less afraid of mistakes, and make fewer mistakes as a result.
What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?
Music is the art of communicating your feelings, and nervousness will impede this communication. Relax, be yourself. Offer to your audience what you have prepared for them in the best way possible. No one would want to be served by a nervous waiter for example…
How often and for how long do you practice?
We practise as much as we need to, both individually and as a group. As a working horn section and a backing act for many artists, we need to have tightness in arrangements and chemistry that is only achieved through constant practice. We have practised for more than a year as a horn section even when there was no work.
How would you describe your music to somebody who has never heard you play before?
Energy, Energy, Energy! We believe in throwing a good party.
When can people expect to see your live performance?
We performed at the Safaricom Jazz Festival this weekend. . Later on this month, Nairobi Horns Project will also feature at the Dub In The Park concert on August 28th and perform at an album Launch by June Gachui later that week.
Out of the songs you have performed which is your favourite song? (If you have your own music which song of yours)
We have many favourites. We love Mola, Dance Like Your Life Depends on it and Bruh Hugh, which are some of the band’s favourite original compositions.
What do you think your biggest break or greatest opportunity has been so far in your musical career?
Members have had different breaks since we all come from different backgrounds, but as Nairobi Horns, when we started out as a commercial for-hire horn section, featuring on shows such as Coke Studio and Sauti Sol’s album launch and tour are highlights for this year. Also performing at Safaricom Jazz.
You were chosen as an opening act for Hugh Masekela? Were you guys excited? Nervous?
Not nervous. We felt privileged that we could share the stage with such Jazz royalty, and such a giant of African music. We were really excited too that so many people would get to watch our act!
What did you guys do when you realized you had been chosen to be one of the Kenyan bands performing for the 2016-2017 Safaricom Jazz circuit?
We felt validated, since this is the first time this band was playing publicly, and to have our product accepted by the panel was a great feeling. We are pleased that the judges could find something they liked in us.
How much creative control do you have over what you perform?
We have 100% creative control. In as much as Mackinlay is the lead arranger and music director, we have such an amazing band that we have with Kasiva on percussions, Amani Baya on drums, George Nyoro on keys, Moise Basinza on bass and Newman Owor on guitars, there is an endless flow of ideas, energy and compositions.
Not at the moment, but that is one of the things we would like to do. The idea behind Nairobi Horns was partly spurred by the lack of horn players of a certain standard, and hence we set out to try and create that standard. The first-ever Nairobi Horn players summit has been set for the end of September.
If you had a chance to change something in the music industry what would it be?
We would love to influence the consumption of local music by the local industry.
Were you in another band/s before you started your band? How was it?
We have all been members of other bands; from brass bands in church, pop bands, other jazz outfits and ensembles and it has been a great learning experience. Essentially we all have to start somewhere and it is always a great feeling when someone can give you the opportunity to grow your skill, and stick with you as you learn the ropes.
What are the lessons you have learnt being part of a band?
In a band you learn to work as a group, to feed off of each other, accept diverse opinions and generally you learn the ropes of group dynamics.
Are there challenges to being Jazz musicians in Kenya?
There are challenges in being any type of musician in Kenya. The industry is still growing and we have yet to develop the infrastructure that supports continuous and able development of talent. Although the Jazz market is expanding, it is still a small part of the market that the wider audience is yet to fully understand and appreciate. Not that we have no people attending shows, but compared to the pop music genre, jazz attracts fewer people.
African music of any kind – the power is in the melody and groove.
What are your other interests outside of music? What do you do to relax outside of music?
Members have different interests. Mackinlay runs a firm called HiSynergy Consulting that works to catalyze growth through support to Micro and SMEs in strategy, business planning, access to financing and lean operations setup.
Rabai is a rugby fanatic; he has played since his high school days and is an ardent fan as well.
Victor is into music and outdoor activities. He travels quite a bit.
What keeps you guys going as musicians?
The love for the game, and what music does to our souls. Sometimes we feel like we need music more than music needs us.
Where would you like to see yourself within the next five years as a band?
We want to share our music with the world, so we are looking beyond Nairobi. We want to carry on this movement of good music to other places in the region and internationally. Also, we want to create amazing live performances for those who come to watch us.
If you were to perform with anybody/group in the world, either dead or alive who would it be? (You can name a couple of people)
James Brown, because he was such an act to watch. And he had a great horn section!!
What are your up-to-date performance plans? New releases? Tours? News
We are currently working to finish our recording project in the next two months, and after that, we can start planning public performances and other exciting things.
Potentash Founder. A creative writer. The Managing Editor at Potentash. Passionate about telling African stories and stories about the inclusion of minorities. Find me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We're all stories, in the end.” ― Steven Moffat