The ‘Fro and The Trumpeter | by MacKinlay Mutsembi

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The band holds the penultimate long note, the drummer breaks, a 4 bar cadenza and the rhythm section does the last hit. We are done for the night. Trumpet, mutes and mics quickly stuffed into the case. Time to go. Then she comes over.

“Nice playing,” she says. “I like how you play that thing.” I look around; she must be speaking to me since everyone else is busy packing their gear.

She is our normal gig client; natural afro, nice teeth, great skin and horn rimmed glasses. And really polite. They can be feisty and meticulous, especially when they come with an afro. Nothing is allowed within a 3km radius of that hair so my hands stay firmly at my sides. I am half standing half crouching, as if my waist has allergies.  A drummer once said that specs mean all manner of allergies, but not all drummers talk all sense all the time – he wears specs himself.

“Which thing?” I ask.

“You know, that one you were playing. Is that the flute or the marimba? It really sounds like the marimba.”

“Well, things are not always what they sound like. Sometimes it sounds like a piano and guitar too, you know?”

“No, I know it’s not the piano or guitar. I know my instruments.” She smiles.

I’m not sure she is referring to musical instruments; she could be a dentist, a pilot, or  maybe she works for the meteorological department. There they have instruments that predict el nino. Not accurately all the time. I can’t resist asking.

“Do you work in the rain? Like say for the meteorological department?” I ask.

“Meteorological? Why?”

“They predicted El-nino but it never happened”


“Never mind,” I respond, zipping up my trumpet case. And my lips.

“Really nice playing BTW,” she says again.

“Thanks.  Glad you enjoyed.” I mean it this time.

“What was that last piece you guys played?”

“El Nino”


“El Nino. Michael Brecker”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. I don’t work in the met department. For real.” She looks concerned.

“El Nino. Composed by Michael Brecker. That’s the last piece we played. You’d asked…? ” I explain.

“Oh, I see,” she says. “It sounded interesting. I love jazz. Who is Michael Brecker? I have heard that name before. Did he come for Safaricom Jazz or something?”

“He was a saxophonist. Some regard him as among the most significant influences since Coltrane.” I reply.

“That sounds interesting, did he come for Safaricom Jazz? I kinda feel I have heard that name before” She asks again.

“Maybe for the 2005 edition,” I respond. “He was probably too ill to tour in 2006. He died 2007. Cancer got him.”

“That’s so sad.” She pouts. “Was there a Safaricom Jazz in 2005 though?”

“We could ask Brecker… But I don’t think he talks to people anymore.” She smiles. She gets dry humour. “But, no, there was no Safcom Jazz in 2005.” I add quickly.

Case slung onto my back. I wanna make a quick exit tonight. I have an early Monday morning meeting with my friend Duncan. He calls them “breakfast meetings”. He is the first guy who ever told me to turn up for a breakfast meeting at 630am in town. He is luhya. No, he didn’t turn up himself, says he got stuck in traffic.

Back to my reality.

“So that thing you play. The flute… how do you make it sound so nice?”

“The trumpet”


“The trumpet. That’s the thing I was playing.”

“Ah, I see. Yes. By the way there is a song called Trumpets by Jason Derulo. Know it?” Polite smile. Teeth are organized.

“Oh yeah. I have seen the video. The one where a dozen trumpeters turn up every time the guy is about to get laid?  I know it. I don’t know what is wrong with those trumpeters”

Then she LOLs. No, it is not those bellows that display hidden discolored sukuma-capped molars under layers of pink at the back of the mouth; It is this meek quaint fragile laugh, as structured as our church choir, but so genuine it makes her ‘fro quake. Lady just got some life!!. Maybe she has no allergies or isn’t too feisty. But then again, she has all natural hair and has horn rimmed specs, and looks really nice.

“Ah, you’re so silly. So tell me…” She is quite unfazed.

I realize that we are now sitting down at the bar. Somehow we have decided that neither is a serial killer. With my case still slung onto my back on the bar stool. Case is taken off and stood just by the bar stool. Chris hands me my glass of mango juice with ice. I still wanna leave in five minutes, but seems like I am going soft today (not there where you’re thinking). I even smile a bit, displaying my scattered front teeth for good measure.

“What do you wanna hear? I have 5 minutes” I serve an even wider smile to cover the sting of my words. My smile, not my best attributes even on a good day, but then again, it’s almost midnight in some pub in Lavington, and I have been playing for some 7 hours since 1pm this Sunday. I can even feel my trumpet sweet spot.

The trumpet sweet spot – it is this exact position where you place your trumpet mouthpiece on your lip. Over time, this spot is marked and takes the round shape of a mouthpiece, a dark ring or just a sweet spot.

“What’s your name?”


“Interesting name. How did you come about? The name I mean”

“My dad gave it to me. Some dads do that sometimes when their kids are born”

Another quaint laugh “And the trumpet. How do you even play that?”

“Well… that could take long to explain, but in summary, you refine your whistling, you learn your fingering, practice your tonguing, and you will make the trumpet do anything. Talk, coo, scream, whisper… Whatever noises you want it to make, you just need really sensitive lips and sleek fingers… If you can do all these then you can really play it.”

She laughs again. Quite guardedly this time. Maybe I am a serial something after all. I smile or grin even harder.

“Interesting. Hope it’s true. It sounds… interesting. Is that what you learn in trumpet school? ”

“Especially in trumpet night school.” Straight facedly. “That’s where it mostly comes together.” I reply. “Playing in the evenings, you create a lot of ideas and tricks over time. And bruises too.”

“But you like it? Playing trumpet?” this conversation is an interview

“Yes. A lot. It is fun to play. Do you come here often?” maybe I should ask a question too – that’s what people do in conversations, right?

“No, first time. But I think I will come again. I have seen you somewhere before. In Westy last Wednesday.

“Yeah? Nice one. So why do you come out in  the evenings anyways?”

“Yes, I like jazz. There is nothing like instrumental music. So soothing and artistic. And expressive. Like Kenny G… You know him? He plays sax really well. I love his albums.”

“Which one, Kenneth Gorelick or Kenny Garett?” I ask. I am probably being a pompous ass – who even calls him Kenneth Gorelick anyways. I am suddenly fidgety again. I wanna go home. I have to meet Duncan at 630am.

“The one with really cute hair.”    “ Ah, that’s Kenneth Gorelick”

“Listen, so I have to head now. Sorry I am in a bit of a hurry. Maybe we can chat more next time?”

“Sure, I will come prolly come next week.” Did she just say “prolly”?

Carries on. “What was that last piece again? I wanna go check it out” She takes out her phone. Yellow notepad app opened, not dialer.

“El Nino. By Michael Brecker. El Nino, you know? Lots of rain water. No dryspell?” My wink probably looks like a scowl. I am not Team Mafisi.

“Got it. Thanks” Another laugh. “My name is Mercy BTW.” arm outstretched. She is kind.

“Nice meeting you Mercy. Check out the other Kenny G as well. Kenny Garett.” She taps away on her screen.

My phone starts ringing. That’s my ride home. I am out of here.


The Magunga

MacKinlay Mutsembi playing with Afro Sync Band  at the Safaricom International Jazz Festival 2015 – The Gospel According to Jazz – featuring Grammy Award winner, Kirk Whalum


Source: Cover Image


About Author

I am a lot of things, including a Management Consultant at Hisynergy Consulting by day and trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist composer, arranger by night. Sometimes I am inspired to write by my nightly forays as a moonlighting trumpeter.


  1. I love to sing and listen to music but don’t know the first thing about sheet music,composing,arranging et al so the first few sentences i could not ‘hear’ or draw a mental pic of.

    Nice read

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