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Rise of contemporary violinists

Ages ago, an upcoming musician would have scoffed at the idea of playing a violin, but the rapidly evolving show-sphere demands reinvention, making space for these artistes. Cynthia Mukanzi  and  Virginia Wambui have the story

In the hands of a good strummer, the tone of violin notes will calm the faintest of souls and overshadow other instruments. These top violinists have amazed audiences in Kenya yet their story is untold.

Violin has suffered minimal usage in the mainstream music industry, but it is steadily gaining momentum and these are some of the stars stringing their way to the top as agreed by music experts.

Nelfrey Ongeri

His face is synonymous with poetry events. Nelfrey took on the violin in 2014 after training for almost three months. Since he wasn’t classically grounded, Ongeri had to burn extra fuel to get a grip of the art. Within no time, his efforts became conspicuous.

“After the training, I practised six hours a day; three hours in the morning and the rest in the afternoon” he says. No one forgets a first and his stage debut was with singer Swiga, who would later take him on as her official strummer. Although he also plays for Sero, Ongeri tends to gravitate more towards poetry; and not that he loves music less.

“Violin somehow blends purely with poetry because of their sensual, smooth and intimate nature. They belong together,” he says. Ongeri who is a bandmate of Tha Movement, has played at some of Nairobi’s biggest concerts such as Sondeka and Its Big festivals, but still can’t believe he is here.

“Violin playing is an art that demands creativity and technique reinvention. You might think you nailed the show, but when you watch the likes of David Garrett, you will be humbled,” says the KCA student who is crafting an album.

Oscar Chilumo

Strumming his heart out at the 2016 Groove Awards ceremony, it is hard to believe that Oscar Chilumo is the same person who could not afford a violin when he badly wanted one in high school. “I finally laid hands on one after saving up for it in college,” he says.

He started playing as a classical musician in 2013, for one and a half years. “I am now in the String Quartet band which plays African, traditional and contemporary music,” says the performer and orchestra teacher, adding,

“Back then when I began playing, it was hard to convince artistes to let me play with them. They didn’t see the value or need of a violinist in their performances.” Chilumo is elated that people are finally warming up to the distinct tune. He says that he does not play the violin for fame, but if it comes with it, then it is a welcome fete.

Kimberley Champagne

Kimberley Champagne.
Kimberley Champagne.

Being the only girl on the list is obviously indicates this art is male-dominated. Calling it the love of her life, Kimberly has been playing the violin for the last nine years. “I picked up the violin when in Class Six and never looked back.

All through my adolescent life, my violin was present,” she writes on her blog. She has performed at different functions WHICH have enhanced her growth. Playing at the National Youth Orchestra of Kenya doesn’t mean that she is exclusively tied down to that.

Under the mentorship of Scott the Violinist, Champagne is one rising star. She performed at the Classics in Coast during a 2014 tour and also featured in Sauti Sol’s banger Nerea.

Brian Luvasi

His passion and inspiration for the violin came from his violinist friend in 2009. “My big break was when I did a cover of Pascal Tokodi’s Sitaki, which received massive airplay and also performed at the Junk Fest at the Botanical gardens,”said Luvasi.

He is currently teaching students at Kilimani Junior Academy how to play the violin.“ I do not have any compositions yet, but am currently working on a soon to be released album,” says the member of Usoni Band.

Scott the Violinist

Ask any Nairobian to name a violinist and Scott is what you get. Scott the Violinist has been a dominant force in the industry but as more arise, he says he is not intimidated but rather elated. “Kenyans have a hunger for something in music and it is a tremendous paradigm shift. It shows that people are more keen to creativity,” he beams.

Benjamin Wamucho- Ghetto Classics music director

Benjamin, says despite the challenges they face, the future is promising for young players. Ghetto Classics is a community programme that uses music education to provide destitute children in Korogocho with opportunities to make something of themselves.

“We started out with hiring instruments, but now, we have a full bank that exceeds the students,” says Wamucho. With an approximate of 15 violinists, he says that eight of these are advanced and only two of the latter are girls.

“For girls living in slums, many factors contribute to their absence in the general orchestra programme. We hope that this will change and will see more girls in the art.”

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