The beauty of music is in the fusion of instruments


Mackinlay Mutsembi [Instagram]

If you are a music lover in Nairobi, chances are you have seen a show featuring Mackinlay Mutsembi in some capacity. You may have watched the Nairobi Horns project, an ensemble of three horn players accompanied by an electrifying band, playing uptempo jazz and jazz fusion.

Or maybe you frequented the Geco cafe on Mbaazi Avenue on Tuesdays, where that same band performs as Mackinlay and Friends, playing anything and everything from jazz, jazz fusion, reggae and benga.

Here in the artistic restaurant, which one journalist described as “slithering with goof vibes”, you can listen to the band cover everything from the Bee Gees and Bob Marley to Nameless and Jill Scott and be sure to have a great time.

“I always wanted to play, have the maximum energy and have a great party,” Mustembi says. “That’s one of my guiding principles – every day we have to have a great party on stage. And different genres have different ways of throwing the party; the way you throw a reggae party might not be not the same as the one you’re throwing a jazz night with, but the energy is the same, I think.

The performance energy of these sets is truly delightful, and no matter what genre they’re playing, you’ll definitely find it hard to sit still.

After all, Mustembi rightly states that “at the end of the day, music is music, when you consume music, you don’t think I listen to that genre, either you like the music you listen, or you don’t like it”.

From his early days as a euphonium player in the Salvation Army band as a teenager, Mutsembi has honed his craft to become one of the most skilled and versatile instrumentalists in the country.

The trumpet is generally not considered a prominent instrument outside of classical and jazz music, which is played in major orchestras and jazz ensembles.

Outside of these genres, the saxophone is generally preferred by contemporary pop groups as a more versatile instrument with a more appealing sound.

Mutsembi says that at the start of his playing career in the 90s, “people thought the trumpet was an inferior instrument because we hadn’t heard people playing at a certain level”.

He then filled the void that existed within the music industry for highly skilled brass instrumentalists.

He says his overall goal was to “get the sound of the trumpet into as many spaces as possible and make sure we have a lot more people playing this instrument. I tried to put it in House music, in Hip Hop, that’s why we play a lot of genres.

But Mutsembi is also more than just a trumpeter and performer – he’s also a talented composer, music producer and creative entrepreneur.

He says one of his idols was Quincy Jones, whom he admired for his versatility; “I love how he was able to do a lot of things, with his music, without having any creative limits.”

Jones was not just a trumpeter but a composer and even wrote for Frank Sinatra in 1958. Similarly, Mutsembi wrote most of the music you hear at a Nairobi Horns or Mackinlay and Friends concert.

“I write for Nairobi Horns. The music that Nairobi Horns have played and recorded is 95% my compositions,” says Mutsembi, which is no small feat considering the different parts and harmonies played by each individual instrument.

Indeed, the performances of Nairobi Horns and Mackinlay and Friends are layered and technically complex, and it’s an impressive skill set to be able to write and theoretically weave all the distinct sounds and tangents of the various instruments into one harmonious piece. .

As a session musician, composer and producer, Mutsembi and his trumpet have featured on some of Kenya’s acclaimed artists including Sauti Sol, Okello Max and Jua Kali.

Mackinlay Mutsembi has worked with some of Kenya’s finest artists.

He also produces the Nairobi Horn albums and is also an executive producer of LiveRoom KE, an online video series that takes you into the studio to hear and see the creative process of popular recording artists.

Many would-be musicians may be discouraged from pursuing their dreams of becoming full-time creators, but Mutsembi’s career proves that with passion and determination, it is possible.

“The other area for me is producing concerts, creating these platforms for more people to perform. There’s a limit to what you can humanly do as an individual, but if you create these platforms -forms, a lot more people can happen, and you still have something to do with it,” he says.

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