Some of you have seen him play and some of you may have even stopped to listen to him. Gracing your sidewalk just outside Kencom opposite the Upper Hill bus stop and sometimes at the Aga Khan walk is a tall, sharply dressed man, blowing his saxophone without a care in the world. That man is Moses Odhiambo.
Moses Odhiambo is a self-taught saxophonist whose musical journey started in secondary school with him learning to play several instruments including his most beloved of them all, the saxophone. As much as he fell in love with the skill, he couldn’t pursue higher education to continue learning and practice of music due to lack of school fees. But that hasn’t deterred him from passing on the skill to others who are interested in learning to play. When he is not soothing the souls of people in the street, you can find him tutoring kids in different parts of Nairobi.
Here is his story
Did you grow up in Nairobi?
Yes, I grew up in Nairobi, I have grown up in Soweto, Kayole and Umoja 2. It was very challenging because we had to change homes every now and then due to house rent issues but I also made a lot of friends in the process.
Describe your typical day.
My daily program keeps on changing every now and then based on different engagements but basically, it’s all musical. If not practising its teaching if it’s not teaching, it’s performing. I rarely have time for other things and my day cannot end without me playing music, whether it’s for me or for an audience.
What is your most favourite aspect of you do? What has been the most satisfying moment in your life?
I would definitely say being a musician. Music helps me express myself the only way I know how and playing music to strangers in the streets gives me great satisfaction.
How did you end up on the streets doing music?
My dream has always been to bring a difference on the streets of Nairobi. I was once a street kid in my childhood, I ended up in the streets in 1997 after my mum and dad got separated. In the year 2000, I got sponsors who took me back to school up to secondary level at Pumwani Boys Secondary School; this is where I learnt about music. After my time as a street boy, I wanted to do something that would make a difference by giving back to the society and that’s how I ended up performing in the streets.
I’ve had different reactions from the people who hear me perform. Some think I’m doing it to show off, some think I have nothing else to do and most think I’m a beggar. I had an encounter with a man who wanted to give me money after hearing me play, I obviously refused but he said he wasn’t giving me the money because I was a beggar, but because he appreciated my art.
At the end of the day, I want to change someone’s perception about the people they meet on the streets and about jazz music as well. I also want to remind the kids living on the streets that their present state doesn’t have to determine their future; there’s always hope for greater beginnings.
When do you perform?
I perform regularly on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at Kencom and at 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Aga Khan Walk next to Java. However, on other days when I have some extra time to spare, I still go there to play.
If you had a chance to start your career life all over again, would you have chosen a different path and what would you have done differently?
I would still choose music that’s the only thing that keeps me sane, it makes a lot of sense to me that I don’t think I would forsake it for any other career path.
If you had the chance to change people’s perspective on music, especially jazz music, in Nairobi, what would you do?
I would stage free shows for jazz music so that the people would really know the superior quality of jazz music over the other genres of music. We’re lucky to have such an upbeat entertainment scene, especially in the city. I especially love what Safaricom jazz is doing to inculcate more jazz music and jazz related events in the country.
Jazz is such beautiful music, more people should get the chance to fall in love with it the way I do.
What do you love about Nairobi?
The matatu culture, it’s just a unique identity of Nairobi and it helps showcase our artistic talents. I also love how the entertainment scene is so diverse.
What would you change about Nairobi?
I don’t like how city askaris harass hawkers. Something should really be done about it.
As a professional how is it working in Nairobi?
Nairobi is comfortable for me, I came up with a new idea and so far, people have liked the idea but in the near future, I would like to expand to other cities too.
Who has been your greatest inspiration so far?
My mother, she has never given up on us even when things got difficult for us.
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?
I would tell them that Nairobi has game reserves and other tourist sites that are unique in the world, our city is as good as any other city in the world worth visiting and if you ever do come to Nairobi, you would have the rare opportunity of enjoying jazz music in the streets by the first ever street saxophonist.
Featured image by Gallery Khately.