Refining music is her quest
By Nailantei Norari @NailanteiNorari
Wandiri Karimi is quite a timekeeper. My photographer and I are supposed to meet her at her office—we are five minutes late whereas she is 30 minutes early. She is the director of the Kenya Conservatoire of Music, one of the leading music schools in the country. The Kenya Conservatoire of Music was started in February 1944 to provide solutions for individuals and groups of people, such as schools through the provision of instructions of music, dance and kindred arts. The school and her office are based at the Kenya National Theatre.
“I think it is important to secure a good education as artistesin order to be respected and also to be really good in what you do. You have to invest in your craft just like - doctors, lawyers, vets - other professionals do,” the guitarist, musician and lawyer explains.
Wandiri comes from an artistic family, which in a big way influenced her career path. She studied law at University of Nairobi, before furthering her studies in South Africa where she specialised in intellectual property; which is a marriage of her musical side and her incredible love for the law. Her brother, Njane Mugambi, is a renowned classical music composer who has been putting Kenya on the world classic musical map consistently for close to a decade now. Her father always wanted to be a poet, but he instead chose a path in academia and is now a professor in religious studies.
“My dad started me off on my music classes at six years. He did eventually write a poetry collection book, though he still believes as much as I do, that there is still so much that needs to be done for arts to be a well-paying career,” Wandiri enthuses.
She adds: “Of course we are not where we were several decades ago, but we could still grow through private and corporate sponsorships and partnerships.”
Before being appointed director Kenya Conservatoire of Music, she practiced law with Kairu and McCourt Advocates, where she would also teach her colleagues music a few days of the week.
As the director, Wandiri oversees the running of Kenya Conservatoire and is tasked with coming up with policies to make the institution run better and impact more people. She is boldly walking her talk as she seeks to have more women and girls practicing music while making music more accessible to schools.
“When I joined Kenya Conservatoire as the director in 2016, applications were two per cent female and 98 per cent male. That is when we came up with the idea of an all-female orchestra, whose concerts are normally slotted around International Women’s Day. These concerts are a celebration of sisterhood. We had the third orchestra earlier in March this year and we can confidently say that the number of female applicants has spiked slightly as a result of this initiative. We also have orchestras, which we take round schools in order to show school children the possibilities available through music,” she explains.
After the interview, she takes us round the institution. We go to the ballet room, pass by a room where Wandiri has had the privilege of being a student and a teacher, though at different times. We then pass by several other rooms full of piles of books and written music spanning several decades that teachers and students can access for research and practice. We meet several musicians on scholarship playing violin and a guitar. Music transcends eras, race, age groups and economic strata and Wandia is on the forefront ensuring it remains that way, transcendent of gender and even more inclusive.
“Our future as Africans is based on how well we tell our own stories. Storytellers and the arts are in a way the custodians of history. The pieces of music we play, perform and record, the written word, the stories we tell our children, the dances we record and perform are all ways of telling our stories and documenting them for posterity. That is why I truly believe that arts are the way to go, and being proficient in it through school or just practicing at home will give us more leeway to tell our stories better,” Wandiri concludes.
Wandiri is married to Tim Rimbui, a record producer, sound engineer and songwriter. Their wedding was on July 5, 2008. Together, they co-founded Ennovator Music, a recording studio and production company. However, she insists on keeping her family life private.