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He earns Sh40,000 a week from art, cakes and music

By Moses Michira | Oct 14th 2014 | 4 min read
By Moses Michira | October 14th 2014
Edwin Masongo

Nairobi; Kenya: Just call Edwin Masongo an artist extraordinaire. But in the typical Kenyan street definition, he is the perfect example of a ‘hustler’. It is difficult to reconcile how Edwin, 27, fits in three different jobs that are worlds apart – pushing the boundaries of creativity in pursuit of earning a decent livelihood.

He represents the new-age Kenyan youth, who is making extraordinary steps to dodge unemployment through enterprise. His age alone is nothing to report about, but his talent in baking, painting and music, would impress many, considering he has no formal training in any of the fields.

We meet the young man, then donning an orange overall, as he paints the gate and walls of a baby day care centre in Nairobi’s Tena Estate. The bright-coloured picture of a rabbit is fast taking shape behind the five vowels of the English alphabet.

In about two hours, he will head to a nightclub in downtown Nairobi where he is a reggae deejay. “I am most relaxed when I am working – this is what I love to do,” he says, a painting brush in his right hand and a small tin full of paint in his left.

 Creative mind at work

Earlier in the day, Edwin was at Larimar Bakers where he is the creative mind behind their custom designed cakes. A typical day at the cake house in South C involves thinking through clients’ needs and actualising their thought.

He fondly remembers an assignment to design a birthday cake for a client who has four-year-old twins, a boy and girl. The client’s needs were simple: “Bake a cake that my kids would love. It cannot be an ordinary cake, I want something as unique as them,” Edwin remembers the client’s instructions two days before.

His boss Martha Larimar promised the client that her needs would be met and exceeded, well aware of Edwin’s capabilities. “He is good with designs and colours,” Martha told Business Beat, adding, “I am glad to have him in my team.” After asking the client what her kids’ interests were, an idea was born; a cake with a yellow square base with two shoes resting on it. “Think of it as a typical shopping day out and the two are trying out new shoes,” he said of the ingenious, artistic idea.

A pink boot for the daughter, and a corresponding green, old-school type canvas shoe for the son. “It just made sense even though combining a theme for a boy and girl is one of those rare ideas,” he says with a smile,his focus remaining on the nearly complete decorative paintwork. He chose cartoon character Ben 10 as the theme for the boy’s boot - complete with the logo and a painting of the star himself.

In another 30 minutes, he is done painting. He cleans his brushes in an industrial solvent and puts them out to dry, before we sit down for an interview. In a few minutes, the paint will be dry, at which time his client will inspect the work and pay the agreed fee of Sh1, 800.

 Fascinating cake designs

Edwin obviously enjoys designing cakes. He reaches into his pocket to fish out his mobile phone to show us dozens of his own creations.

Among his fascinating designs are a cake replica of Kenya’s favourite meal - ugali served with fried fish, vegetables and a tomato, onion and cucumber salad. The ‘meal’ is served on a green platter with the inscription ‘Ideal African Cuisine’. Then there’s the replica of a checkered lady’s handbag, and another of a Maasai gourd next to the beaded regalia worn by Maasai women. This one, we learn, was prepared and presented for the Miss Tourism contest held in Narok County, a few weeks ago. Such cakes would sell for anything up to Sh50, 000. But it is perhaps his freehand paintings that are most breath-taking.

At Edwin’s studio, a few portraits in various stages of completion meet you, together with dozens of other paintings. An imposing, giant-sized portrait of a woman (his late mother) stands out. It is a priceless piece of art, he says, but most of the others are commissioned. A portrait sells for anywhere between Sh10, 000 and Sh30, 000.

But he once sold a piece for Sh67, 000. He used the money to pay his final fees installment at Buru Buru Institute of Fine Arts. In a few minutes, he will be heading out to his night job.  It is only a quarter past five, according to the wall clock. But that is before you realise the clock is ticking anti-clockwise - it is actually 7.45 pm.  He says an artist’s view of the World is almost always different from ordinary. Edwin’s average earnings are Sh40, 000 a week. Very impressive for this jack of all trades.

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