Today on Man Around Nairobi we feature Mackinlay Mutsembi. Mackinlay Mutsembi is an entertainer, multi-instrumentalist producer, recording and performing artist. He is the trumpeter with a Kenyan flag and the founder and MD of the Nairobi Horns Project. He is also a Management expert in Project Management and Organizational development.
- Did you grow up in Nairobi?
I was born here but my folks moved to Mombasa when I was months old so I do not really have any recollection of that time here. I grew up in Kisauni, Mombasa and attended primary and high school there. Mombasa was a lovely place to grow up then; it was serene, sometimes people say slow, but people are really friendly there, and there was a string sense of community where we grew up. We had a few families from bara (upcountry) in our hood, but mostly it was Swahili people and their amazing hospitality.
Kisauni is a fun ghetto. We lived next to a big walled property that had high walls and lots of trees etc, a neglected compound with all manner of animals and vermin. We would hop over these walls at great peril to go “hunting” with our catapults. Our prey would be birds mostly, and occasionally huge monitor lizards which we were really scared of but hunted regardless.
There also was kunazi. Kunazi was life; this wild berry would make us trek for kilometres to find, but was worth every thorn and scratch once you popped one. We would also trek for kilometres and cross a ravine on a wall to get to the Nyali Golf Club and have some kunazi. One day we were chased back across the ravine with some mean security fellows with sticks and their own catapults, and even as we run across the walls for dear life, our t-shirts pouches held against our chests and full of kunazi, probably no one dropped a single berry. We felt invincible. I am not sure what they call kunazi in English.
Later on however we went through a difficult period during the post election violence in 1997 where I remember a lot of difficult economic times for many people reliant on the hotel industry there; job losses, food shortages and a new suspicion between upcountry folks.
That was long ago, right now Mombasa is a really progressive place to be and hopefully moved on from these days. It is still my best place to go to any day.
- What do you love about Nairobi?
Nairobi is alive. Nairobi is an animal that needs caging. I had been to Nairobi countless times as a child, but first time I came here on my own after school, I had heard all these scary tales about the city, how they will steal your socks even with your shoes on. But it was not that bad when I came over. I remember though that before the age of smartphones I would rather die than ask for directions from anyone on the street. But that was many years ago.
Nairobi is so alive; there is something happening any day of the week. As an artist and creative, there are limitless opportunities, to create, to sell, to explore. I like that people here are so open to ideas.
Nairobi never wakes up, because it never sleeps anyways – there is always something happening somewhere, someone coming up with something new. People are hungry for success in this town and that’s a good thing.
- What would you change about Nairobi?
At the risk of sounding like an aspiring politician, I would love to change traffic and security in Nairobi.
The key to solving the traffic challenges in this city are really in offering Nairobians a working public transport solution that will make it attractive to use, and people be willing to leave their cars at home and commute. Otherwise it matters not the number of roads we built, the diversions we make and the bypasses (by themselves). Expanded roads will be filled by people who will still buy more cars since public transport is a nightmare. Solve public transport and you will solve traffic. Thika Road was a great opportunity for tram transport when it was being constructed, perhaps a design for rail transport could have been included into its overall design.
- As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
Nairobi is very receptive to what I do; as a performing artist you mostly have to create opportunities for yourself by developing products that people will buy into and this has worked for me. There is something that could be done on the overall infrastructure of the entertainment industry but I feel even with current shortcomings people have found ways to work out stuff and make honest living.
Entertainment and events are big in Nairobi and as an entertainer you are not short of work. I am also very happy about how the brand for Nairobi Horns has taken off and how people have received our music.
Despite its size, entertainment is largely an informal industry devoid of structures and systems and teeming with small scale proprietorships.
- If you had a tourist friend coming in from outside the country what three things would you say to sell them the idea that Nairobi is worth visiting.
The Nairobi National Park – That’s why we have lions roaming on or streets.
Also, I would recommend a night drive in Nairobi CBD, to the point in Upper Hill where you can see the city and then head to Westlands and check out the night scene there.
If they are brave enough, they should stop by River Road and Nairobi downtown during the day, see the hustle and bustle as people build dreams through sweat and tears.