Music

Finding joy in a sax after cancer

LINDAKAWIRA

Linda Kawira a singer, saxophonist and founder of music therapy programme Project Brave. PHOTO | POOL

Summary

  • When Linda Kawira was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 as a 21-year-old university student, she thought life would never be the same again.
  • The singer and saxophonist admits that until her diagnosis, she had never cared much for music, but as it would turn out, music offered her a path to recovery and provided a platform to support other cancer victims.

When Linda Kawira was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 as a 21-year-old university student, she thought life would never be the same again.

The singer and saxophonist admits that until her diagnosis, she had never cared much for music, but as it would turn out, music offered her a path to recovery and provided a platform to support other cancer victims.

During her treatment, she was told by doctors that her body could not cope with any strenuous activity.

“Even walking up and down the stairs would leave me with shortness of breath,” says Kawira.

“Radiotherapy on my chest meant that I would not be able to do things that require a huge intake of breath and so the saxophone would be the last thing my doctor would think I could do,” she says. “Since I was told I could not manage, I took up the challenge and did it,” says the 30-year-old.

While she saved up money to buy the instrument, she started theory lessons on YouTube and eventually was able to afford a saxophone. She plays an alto saxophone for beginners. (A saxophone ranges from Sh65,000 to Sh120,000).

She used the same online platform to learn practical skills. It has now been four months since she first started playing the instrument.

To enhance her abilities, each week, she asks her friends on social media to propose a song that she can learn in four days.

“Practising the songs that my friends suggest helps keep me accountable while improving my playing skills,” says Kawira.

“There is a difference in the quality of the sounds produced by the different types of saxophones but only a professional would be able to distinguish one pitch from another.”

She spent hours online researching music therapy and the healing benefits on patients.

“Our experience shows that when music is introduced to patients, then it changes the dynamics of cancer support groups and adds life to the sessions,” she says.

“Most young survivors brighten up whenever music comes into the healing equation, they sing and dance.”

The patients are also taught music skills like playing the guitar and that keeps their minds occupied and presents them with a new challenge."

She started a music healing programme called Project Brave and among their exciting ventures involved monthly music sessions with children at the children’s cancer ward at the Kenyatta National Hospital. They also deal with older patients at the Nairobi Hospice where they have planned Christmas parties for the last two years.

The project has recruited up to 50 members mainly drawn from music students at various institutions. Whenever they hold performances at weddings and social functions, they agree to be compensated either in food donations that can then be provided to needy families that have cancer patients.

The food is donated through the hospice that has an existing network of needy families.

Kawira and a group of friends have also formed a singing quartet called Waridi Music in 2016 which also performs at concerts to support the recovery of patients.

“We are a unique performing group because we sing every genre of music depending on the requests from patients,” she says.

Each member of the group has a specific genre and so they can perform everything from pop to jazz, rumba to gospel.

Initially, the group would hire a band but each one of them now plays an instrument and so they can sustain their shows.

“Two of us are guitarists, one plays clarinet and I play the saxophone,” says Kawira. Besides, one member of the group studied music at Kenyatta University.

The group’s last performance was in Nairobi's Korogocho earlier in the year and since March they have not held any shows due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

“We are optimistic that we will be back soon sharing the joy of song and dance with cancer patients,” she says.