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Blowing her trumpet

By | Updated Wed, October 19th 2011 at 00:00 GMT +3

Only in her twenties, Christine Kamau is one of the few female musicians who is not afraid to blow the trumpet. The vibrant afro-jazz trumpeter and composer talked to FLORENCE ONYANGO about her life, family and music

Where did you learn to play the trumpet?

I’ve been playing trumpet for close to eight years now and the saxophone for about eleven years. I learnt the trumpet at the Kenya Conservatoire of Music under Kagema Gichuhi. I taught myself the alto saxophone and trombone. I’m also a classically trained pianist. I initially started out by taking private piano lessons in Nakuru where I grew up.

I went to Limuru Girls’ School, and I was the music prefect there. I already knew how to play the piano, but I learnt the other instruments after high school.

What made you change from the piano to the trumpet?

It was somehow a natural progression from the piano. I started with the piano up until Grade Eight in terms of music class, and then I just took an interest in the saxophone and picked up on it. It was simple curiosity I guess, plus I absolutely love playing horns.

Why do you think most girls pick instruments like the recorder or the flute and avoid the trumpet or the saxophone?

Socialisation. In many bands, the horns (trumpets, saxophones, trombones) tend to be played by boys so I guess with not many girls playing them, horns have come to be viewed as being ‘masculine’. As a result girls tend to pick up the other wind instruments.

In my opinion and from experience, I think women can make really good horn players! For example, Ingrid Jensen is a world famous trumpeter from USA and Sarah Morrow is a jazz trombonist who plays in international jazz circles.

And this is what you do as a full-time career?

Yes. Music is what I have always wanted to do.

What are your aspirations for the future?

To record more albums, to travel and get to perform internationally.

What has been the best aspect of being in the music industry?

Personally, I would say being able to do what I love to do as my career, which doesn’t feel at all like work. I enjoy it a lot.

Do you get some skeptism because of your gender from other saxophonists?

No, on the contrary, people have been quite supportive.

And what perception has the audience had of a woman playing the saxophone when you perform?

Initially people are usually quite curious and ask me a lot of questions. Eventually they warm up to it and become encouraging.

Where do you play?

At various events with my band African People, in church and with the Kenya Conservatoire of Music Orchestra.

Have you ever performed with other artists?

Yes. I’ve played with Eric Wainaina’s Mapinduzi Band.

Who is your inspiration in the music industry?

Locally, most definitely Eric Wainaina. I admire the social consciousness in his music. Internationally it is Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Moses Khumalo, and Kirk Whalum who are some of my favourite artistes.

If you had a chance to collaborate with any artist in this world, who would it be?

Most definitely Hugh Masekela. He plays the trumpet with great ability and his compositions are distinctively African and beautiful.

You mentioned that you have a band called African People, tell us more about it?

We are an energetic six-piece band that consists of myself on the trumpet, Emmanuel Kute is the alto saxophonist, Daniel Machari on the drums, keyboardist Ken Simiyu, bassist Isaac Khakula and guitarist Mathew Makumi.

How did you meet and form African People?

It started sometime last year around February. I got a couple of my friends together and we started jamming.

What is the inspiration behind the name African People?

It is named after one of the songs that will be in the album. It’s an instrumental song that celebrates the African identity.

Is it intimidating to be the only girl in the band?

No, not at all, because I basically knew all of them before we started the band.

Do you have an album out yet?

I am actually currently working on my debut album. It is called This is for You. It is a live recording of original instrumental afro-jazz music. It will be available around December but the actual launch will be sometime early next year.

What is your favourite song in the album and what was the inspiration behind it?

I love all the songs in the album but the title track This is for You is one of my favourites and was inspired by Hugh Masekela’s 1968 hit Grazin’ in the Grass that went on to sell over four million copies.

Do you write your own songs?

Yes! I compose and arrange all my music.

What’s your worst fear about what could happen to you while performing?

I prefer to focus my energies on making things work out just right in my performances!

What has been your greatest achievement so far?

Doing a live recording of my debut album right here in Nairobi.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on developing a career in song writing, composition and becoming a better jazz musician and performer.

You grew up in Nakuru, how was your childhood like?

I am the last born in a family of four children — two girls and two boys. We all grew up in Nakuru with our parents. My childhood was quite enjoyable, I had the opportunity of spending my school holiday sessions taking music lessons and practising.