Scott The Violinist and I plan to meet in Lavington, at the Mambo Italia restaurant. He arrives late, and in a panic.
“I’m so sorry! I really am. I had a class that ended late.”
I’m smiling. And I’m confused. “What class?”
Scott 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,” Scott 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 beef lasagna. Both are fantastic, he says.
I tell Scott that a tuna pizza sounds very strange. He laughs.
The tall waitress returns, smiles and asks for drink requests. I suggest water for myself to begin with, but Scott quickly opposes this, “You can’t just have water Yvonne. You have to get something proper. Maybe a lemonade; with sparkling water in it.”
A lemonade it is – with sparkling water.
Scott, I learn, is very 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. All very refreshing qualities to witness and discover.
Scott Mwangi, I also quickly learn, is his official name. “Scott The Violinist,” arose from his astounding prowess as a, well, violinist.
He has been playing the violin for years now. Scott thoroughly enjoys everything that comes with it: the music, the bands, and most importantly, the variety in the audiences.
Scott has performed at highly notable functions, including Forbes’ Person Of The Year 2016 gala. He also popularly performs at the Galileo’s Lounge in Westlands on Wednesdays, during their 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 their father is a music veteran.
As we share a late lunch on a warm afternoon, Scott (who I once watched play Bagatelle’s Second Violin to a thunderous standing ovation), openly talks to me about his musical journey, his life’s joys and trials, as well as the lessons he’s learnt along the way.
Here’s what I found out:
Scott, 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. But, here we are.
Funny, this thing called life, huh?
(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?
(Pauses, looks away, then looks back) That it’s okay to make mistakes. That it’s okay to grow.
I’m also learning 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.
How is it working with bands?
(Smiles) 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 be, 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. We try and change things up to make the sessions exciting.
What would you be if you weren’t a violinist?
I’d be a conservationist. I’m really into nature. I’ve actually been trying to see how to marry my skills in music and my interest in conservation.
What would you consider to be some of your greatest musical highlights?
Performing for Forbes’ Person Of The Year. That was fantastic. It was a major highlight.
Performing at the president’s son’s ruracio (traditional bride price ceremony) was definitely another highlight, 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, it was incredible.
How hard or easy was it, when you were first starting out?
It was tough. It was great to have gone to Upper Hill High School, because 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?
So 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 been turned into 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.
Right. Your parents, tell me a little 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, 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?
I could never understand the basis, of such things, such arguments, 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 of a parent is he?
Oh, he’s easy! (Shows me a darling 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 when you were 21 years old?
Oh, there’s a lot I wish I knew. 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 supposed to be that hard! (Laughs)
Any last words?
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 early. Start now.