Kenyan architect wins Sh7.5 million to pursue love for music

Jesse Mugambi

Jesse Mugambi is a DJ & a Masters Student of Sustainable Design at Brighton University in the UK whose concept Studio Can-V won the Jagermeister #SaveTheNight Fund of 50, 000 euros. PHOTO | POOL 

Three years ago, Jesse Mwenda Mugambi had freshly graduated with a degree in architecture from a UK university and in between working as an intern he was also pursuing his passion as a DJ.

“As much as I played in different places, it was still difficult even for someone in my privileged position to get opportunities to perform at a club,” he recalls. That experience made him determined to work towards bridging the socio-economic barriers that hinder the progress of talent in Kenya.

Together with his close friend and fellow architect, Davish Gokhoola, he conceptualised Studio Can-V as a cultural hub to make performance spaces accessible to people across different strata in society.

The project has been declared the winner of the Jägermeister #SaveTheNight Fund of 50,000 euros. “I received the news about a month and a half ago but it has been made public just this week so I am still quite thrilled,” says the 25-year-old.

The German alcoholic drinks brand launched a fund in 2023 to find the most innovative projects to “protect or improve the beauty, safety and sanctity of dance floors around the world”.

“Music has always been an active part of my life right from my school days in Nairobi,” said Mugambi in an interview with BDLife via Zoom from Brighton this week.

“I took a break from active DJing for a while as architectural projects took up much of my time. In 2021, I fell in love with the music all over again during the pandemic as venues were being shut down which fuelled rage among entertainers and that sparked something in me,” he says.

So, on his return to the UK, he started DJing actively playing his favourite Afro House genre at gigs in Turkey, Spain. “I realised that music is not an equitable business because not everyone has a platform to perform like they want to, not everyone has the space to learn how to make music, to DJ, or even to connect with artists who are willing to offer master classes.”

Studio Can-V was conceived as Mugambi was submitting the final project for his architectural degree course. “In all types of architecture, you start with a blank canvas, a white piece of paper on which you sketch your ideas. We shortened the name to Can-V, a studio where people can create whatever they choose to without any limitations,” he explains.

The creative hub consisting of studios with mobile facilities and performance venues designed from decommissioned shipping containers was chosen from among 300 entries from 50 countries.

Mugambi who is studying for a Master’s Degree in Sustainable Design at University of Brighton shared the top prize with a project from Northern Ireland, which was also awarded 50,000 euros.

Studying in Brighton, a city with a melting pot of global cultures, has been an eye-opener on how people have different ways of using creativity to make their life better. Nairobi, he says, has a huge potential to make it a cultural hub on a global stage.

“The impact of music on urban development and construction cannot be overstated. It is imperative to explore these innovative avenues through which the young generation can unite and establish a lasting presence on the global stage,” says Mugambi.

His vision of Studio Can-V is a creative community where artists can learn, practice, curate small events and establish a network. “It should not be mistaken with a nightclub because we have venues that already exist for that, Alchemist is going well for the youth. Studio Can-V does not aim to be that,” he clarifies.

Mugambi’s objective is to collaborate with artists, architects and designers to develop innovative spaces where people can learn how to create music and explore an alternative pathway to the music business

“I hope the government can tap into schools where students want to learn music skills or assist those who want to change their career paths. Not everyone aspired to be a doctor; there are those who want to be something else. Artists who are in whatever class, background, or location, will have the opportunity to create in these spaces and we can then scale up from just Nairobi to other counties.”

Born in Nairobi in July 1998, Mugambi attended Braeside School from 2006 to 2014, and Hillcrest School in 2014 to 2016 for his A Levels. He enrolled for his undergraduate degree in architecture at Brighton University in January 2017 and graduated in 2020.

He then worked as an intern at architectural firms in both Nairobi and Brighton before enrolling for his Masters in Sustainable Design. The Studio Can-V project will be integrated into his final Master’s thesis due to be submitted in August. His team will complete the planning process for the project in May, and open the first studio in September 2024.

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