Scott and I plan to meet at Mambo Italia. He arrives late, and in a panic.
“I’m so sorry! I really am. I had a class that ended late.”
I smile in confusion. “What class?”
He tells me he teaches a group of children how to play the violin. He likes it. “Kids are the most beautiful thing. They are honest in their feedback. When they love something, they love it. And if they don’t, they simply don’t,” he explains, before apologizing again.
As we settle in for the interview, the waitress arrives with a menu. Scott, who plays jazz at the same venue on Friday evenings, recommends either their tuna pizza or lasagne. Both are fantastic, he says. I tell him a tuna pizza sounds very strange. He laughs heartily.
The tall waitress smiles and asks for drink requests. I suggest water to begin with, Scott declines. “You have to get something proper. Maybe a lemonade; with sparkling water in it.”
I smile. A lemonade it is – with sparkling water.
Scott Mwangi, I quickly learn, is like that. He’s appreciative of time, extremely disappointed when he doesn’t keep it, wittingly discerning of what he wants and what he doesn’t, and is very well cultured. It’s all very refreshing to witness and discover. He also doesn’t try too hard. He has a quiet yet distinct je ne sais quoi about him.
Scott, who has been dubbed “Scott The Violinist,” has been playing the violin for years now. He thoroughly enjoys everything that comes with it. The music, the bands, and most importantly, the variety in the audiences.
He has performed at extremely notable functions, including Forbes’ Person of the Year 2016 gala. Scott also performs at Galileo’s in Westlands on Wednesdays during the Country Music Night.
His musical genius, however, doesn’t come as much of a surprise as his is a family of musicians – the equally renowned Dj Protégé is Scott’s brother and his father is a music veteran too.
Scott (who I once watched play Bagatelle’s Second Violin to a thunderous standing ovation) openly talked to me about his musical journey, life’s joys and hiccups, and the lessons he’s learnt along the way:
How is it working with bands?
It’s exciting. Different people bring in different skills and we make good music. It’s enjoyable.
Does it get tiring, repeating some songs weekly for certain crowds at certain places?
It can, but the motivation almost always comes from the audiences. When they get excited over a song, and you see how happy you make them, it’s encouraging. We also don’t always play the same songs every week. It needs to be a bit exciting.
What have some of your greatest highlights been this year?
Performing for Forbes’ Person of the Year. That was incredible. It was a major highlight. So was performing at the president’s son’s ruracio, I hadn’t fully grasped the gravity of the occasion. But it was nice, bonding with them on a personal level, making the family happy on such a special day.
How hard or easy was it when you were first starting out?
It was hard. It was great to have gone to Upper Hill High School, it’s a school that’s huge on promoting talent, so that helped a great deal. But nothing can prepare you for real-time audiences. (Smiles in thought) Nothing!
How do you mean?
Here’s an example: one time I travelled to Nanyuki for a performance. The crowd was too charged for me. Guys were there to party. And here was a fellow on stage, having technical hitches, and no music playing. I panicked. Guys started booing, throwing things at me…it was terrible.
But I’d travelled all the way from Nairobi, I wasn’t going to give up. I had to at least try something. I had to go back home knowing I did something.
Eventually, I got things fixed, then started performing, and then people began to realise, “Oh, we have something here, there’s something serious going on here, this guy can play…” The same people that booed were now ecstatically applauding. It was crazy.
Yeah, wow is right! (Laughs) That was hard, but I had to push through. I just had to. And I’m glad I did. Like with any job or skill, music is a learning curve. Dealing with audiences is the same. And so is handling demanding clients.
Do you have a manager?
No, I don’t.
I prefer dealing with clients myself. I want to go to briefings and know exactly what’s required. The problem with having managers as an artist sometimes is that by the time the brief leaves the client and gets to you, it’s turned to something completely different. Then you show up on the day and you realise, “Wait, I wasn’t aware of this or that.” And that can be chaotic, especially when there’s almost nothing you can do to change some things up. It can be terrible. It’s best if I just do some of these things myself.
Did you always want to be a violinist?
(Laughs) No, not always. Like other kids, I wanted to be a pilot or something like that. But that changed when I first held a violin. This was in high school. I never even knew I could play it. And here we are.
Funny, this thing called life, eh?
(Laughs again) That it is. You just never know where it’s going to take you next.
But, is it generally turning out the way you planned after high school?
Life? No! Not at all. (Bursts out in more laughter) It’s certainly not. But I’m okay. I’m doing okay. And I’m happy. I’m learning, I’m growing, I’m taking as it comes.
What are you learning?
That it’s okay to make mistakes. That it’s okay to grow. That friendships, genuine friendships, can be a beautiful thing. That relationships should make sense. You shouldn’t be draining each other out. And also, that patience is an important virtue.
We rush things a lot. Everyone wants everything to happen right now. I think it’s okay to wait, to let things happen, to see where life takes you. The best things take time.
What would you be if you weren’t a violinist?
I’d be a conservationist. I’m into nature a lot. I’ve actually been thinking of how to marry my skills in music and my interest in conservation…
Tell me about your mum?
My mum… I miss her. She died when I was so young. I miss the little I remember about her. I have vague memories now, but they’re something.
What do you think you missed out on for not growing up with a mum?
The art of interacting with aunties. That has to be one of the things my mum would have helped with. When I was younger, my aunties and I…it was just strange. They’d walk into the house and make a fuss over lunch dishes that were in the sink. They’d actually make a huge fuss. I used to look at them in amazement. It’s something I never understood. How can dishes in the sink be the subject of an actual quarrel? How? Such things, such arguments, I could never understand their basis, I suspect having a mother around would have helped with things like that. (Laughs aloud)
And now, do you understand your aunties?
I do. Sort of. (Smiles) I’m older now, so some things naturally begin to make sense.
Your dad, what kind is he?
Oh, he’s easy! (Shows me a photo of the both of them together) We get our musical talent from him. He’s such a boy’s boy. We try and meet every Sunday at what used to be my mum’s favourite hotel; he, my brother and I, and we just bond in the afternoons. He also redirects our steps where necessary. He corrects us, tells us what should have been done differently, what should not have been done at all…things like that.
What’s the most recent thing that made you quite sad?
(Thinks hard) My uncle’s passing away. That was difficult. He was there for me when I was starting out. When gigs started coming in, he couldn’t believe it. He was so proud. Then he fell sick, he had a stroke, and passed away… (pauses)…I’m glad I did my part and made him proud.
Is there anything you wish you knew at 21?
Oh, there’s a lot. But that’s the thing with life, we spend so much time trying to figure things out in the moment, but it’s only later on that you realise, oh, this was how it was to be done! It wasn’t that hard. (Laughs)
Savings! They are very important. No matter how little. It’s once you start saving that you realise how important they actually are. Don’t get to a point where you look back and wish you’d started saving. Start now.
Yvonne Aoll is a writer and freelance journalist. You can read more of her work here http://www.cottageaoll.com/