she shapes the city

Mumbi Mbugua ~ Musician & Economist

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Mumbi was #SheIsNairobi’s littlest (in height) lady as well as the youngest but she can more than hold her ground amongst the powerhouses involved in the campaign. She is a violinist with the National Youth Orchestra of Kenya (KNYO). Music is her passion but from 9 to 5 Mumbi is a Financial Economist.

Mumbi believes that the Nairobi environment still doesn’t consider creative professions as a viable option “You know the problem is its been inculcated in us that the arts are for people who are not serious and if you are pursuing music maybe you’ve failed in school”. For Mumbi and her fellow musicians, failing in school is clearly not a problem, she plays amongst engineers, environmental scientists and architects. However there’s still no orchestra in Nairobi that pays its artists, and although classical music is gaining in popularity ticket sales are spent on printing programs and hiring venues.

For Mumbi music is transformative, she says “I believe in the ability of music to change lives” and she practices what she preaches. Working with El Sistema Kenya she teaches music to school students in Kawangware slum. This informal settlement in West Nairobi she describes “as a whole different lifestyle” from where she grew up. She has learnt a great deal from her work there “I try not to go into these areas with preconceived ideas.” She explains “I didn’t want to go in acting like a snob….. It’s a humbling experience.” Some of her students are showing the talent and interest it takes to master their instrument and Mumbi believes music “gives them an option that no one can take away from them and is an alternative if for some reasons they can’t make it all the way through school.”

This violinist/economist is excited about the way Nairobians are connecting with each other over shared concerns, particularly through social media. Recent protests she feels are a positive sign of Nairobi residents coming together for issues they believe in. Mumbi still has worries about her city though and wishes for a safer society. Perhaps it’s because she’s small she says but “there’s no day that goes by that I don’t get harassed, it could be just words or people grabbing my hand, touching my face”.

Mumbi would like to set up a business selling accessories for instruments, during her musical career she has seen that quality is hard to find. However she is hesitating, she sees that “it is hard to do well and be ethical”. A private business may require red tape to be cut and back handers to be pushed through “I don’t want that on my conscience” she says. Meanwhile she has more than enough to keep her busy, make sure to look out for her at the next KNYO concert!


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