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Tale of a lawyer and his saxophone

By Pascal Mwandambo Orido | August 16th 2012

By Pascal Mwandambo

When you watch Duncan Mwanyumba play his saxophone, you get the impression that he has done this all his life. The mastery is good and the voice accompanying the instrument soothing. He plays various tunes ranging from rumba and benga to blues, gospel and taarab. His round-rimmed glasses and bushy moustache give him the demeanour of a Country music singer.

He is at peace with himself and therefore reaches out to his listeners to soothe their souls. He soothes his soul too after a painstaking day in the corridors of the courts, for Mwanyumba, 56, is a lawyer.

“I am an enthusiast of cultural issues and music, especially soft music. When I play my saxophone, I feel elevated above the clouds, all my stress dissolves into a sea of joy and tranquility,” Mwanyumba told The Standard in an interview.

With a wry smile on his face Mwanyumba says there are two addictions that he has always stirred clear of, namely football and alcohol.

“Well, once in a while I enjoy watching football from a distance but I am neither a fan nor a fanatic of soccer. There are other pleasures of life to pursue,” says Mwanyumba, suddenly grabbing his saxophone and belting out a popular Daudi Kabaka tune.

A socialite, Mwanyumba plays his saxophone in church, at funerals and weddings in every event that he has been invited to in Taita-Taveta County.

He says he bought the secondhand saxophone in Arusha, Tanzania, in 2003 at Sh32,000 when he was working as Defence Attorney for the International Tribunal for Rwanda. He worked for the Tribunal for five years.

“I have always enjoyed seeing musicians playing the saxophone locally known as mdomo wa bata. While in Tanzania I met a sax player called Sylvester Budodi who taught me how to play the instrument. I learnt every trick and finally I could play various tunes. I was elated,” says Mwanyumba.

He says his love for music made him come up with the idea of  the East African Orchestra. He mooted the idea while in Nairobi and brought to fruition while in Tanzania. He performed with the Orchestra while still serving under the Tribunal.

As a student at Alliance Boys, he often performed at the National Music Festival at the Kenyatta Conference Centre but the one performance he has never forgotten was  in 1977.

“I competed with the late Darius Mbela who was then a Permanent Secretary. He was competing in the tenor open category and his tune was There is a boat leaving for New York.
“Of course, Mbela beat me but I was so excited to take on such a powerful figure during those days.”

Cultural extravanza
He says the late politician, who was a musician in his own right, had joined the competition as a private entrant.

Mwanyumba was behind the formation of the Koinange Street Carnival, an entertainment and cultural extravanganza which he began by virtue of the fact that his law firm offices are situated at the street.

He explains:  “I wanted to remove the impression that the street is a notorious red light district.”

“I felt obliged to tell the world that apart from the sex work, there are other important commercial activities going on there including banking as well as higher education (the University of Nairobi is located at the end of the street,” he says.

The lawyer is also behind the Malaika Festival, an annual cultural and entertainment event in honour of the late musician Fadhili William of Malaika fame.

The annual event has proved popular in the county, with cultural dances like Mwazindika being played as well as showcasing Taita traditional foods such as kimanga, munavu, kipunde and kisongo.
“My plans are to make Malaika Festival the premier cultural and entertainment event in the county,” says Mwanyumba.

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