Lovers hire violin and saxophone players for Sh10,000 per hour on Valentine's Day

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(From left) Ian Ayugu playing the violin and Ivan Gideon Wanyama playing the saxophone. PHOTOS | POOL

For years, red roses, and dinners, have been ways for lovers to celebrate Valentine's Day. Now Kenyan men are hiring violinists, saxophone players, and orchestra bands to serenade their partners.

The lovebirds say this completes the romantic mood this season.

Ivan Gideon Wanyama, a solo saxophonist and a member of Uzani Band in Nairobi, says nowadays their Valentine’s days are fully booked and sometimes overbooked.

His first job was in Naivasha a few years ago when a man hired him to play the saxophone for his fiancée at a surprise proposal party. He played George Benson’s Nothing Is Going to Change My Love for You for his fiancée. He has since been hired by a 60-year-old lawyer who wanted “something special” for his wife.

Mr Wanyama who has played the saxophone for 15 years and witnessed the seasons of love for a decade says: “Men always go all out for their lovers, a majority of my clients are in their late 30s and 40. Few women hire me to surprise their lovers.”

“This Valentine’s Day, I have three bookings, a solo surprise for a fiancée in the morning, a one-hour saxophone gig from 6 pm to 7 pm and the ultimate dinner jazz with the band for a country club booking for their dinner entertainment from 8pm to 10pm,” he says.

Playing jazz using a saxophone is undoubtedly one of the most romantic genres of music. It often creates a sense of spontaneity and passion, and from a slow, intimate piece to a lively, upbeat number, the music has everything to offer for any kind of romantic occasion.

On the song choice, he says, he picks classic, jazzy love songs, that will make the couples, especially the ladies emotional and evoke feelings of love.

“I play songs like Buy Me a Rose by Kenny Rogers, Careless Whispers by George Michael. A fiancée or rather the one who is planning the surprise can also choose the song they prefer, if they don’t I give them a list to choose from,” he says.

Ivan Gideon Wanyama, an instrumentalist, plays the saxophone at a private event in Nairobi. PHOTO | POOL

The instrumentalist, who charges from Sh10,000 per hour, exclusive of transport if the location is outside Nairobi, says the demand for instrumentalists is so high that they had to cancel a request of someone asking for a band to play on Valentine’s Day.

“We were overbooked even in the evening,” he says.

Ian Ayugu, another violinist, says he had to decline two bookings for Valentine’s Day due to a packed day. 

“I have regular gigs booked for Wednesday and Friday night. It just so happened that this Valentine’s Day fell on one of them,” he says.

“Nowadays, Valentine’s Day gigs are making us money. One of the gigs I rejected was a three-hour hotel session that could earn me Sh30,000. These gigs can go up to anything between and over Sh60,000 if the location is in another prime county like Mombasa,” says Mr Ayugu.

The 25-year-old, who did veterinary medicine at university, says his love for music overshadowed what he studied in school. 

“I’m not practising my career, the only thing I’m doing at the moment is a research project, but that’s only part-time. I decided to stick to playing the violin because it pays well,” he says.

He recalls that his first payment after a performance was Sh10,000 in 2017 when he started to make violin his main source of income. 

How does he come up with the Valentine’s Day playlist? 

“Since I have been playing it for about six years, it almost comes naturally as an artist, there are common love songs that you should know. I have a repertoire of songs that I am sure I can play very well. But if it’s on the client’s request, they do it beforehand and they expand my repertoire even more,” he says.

Ian Ayugu playing the violin at a wedding reception in Nairobi. PHOTO | POOL

Why do people prefer live performances on such a day of love? “It’s unique, you don’t meet a violinist or a saxophonist every day. There's an aspect of it being thoughtful, it's the effort that counts. Besides, they often sound interesting and authentic in every situation,” he adds.

Some people vote no on the violinist. They say it is a conversation killer as you both sit there smiling, not knowing where to look, waiting for it to be over. They say roses and chocolates anytime. But others disagree.

Edna Mwende, a Gen Z in this regard, says it would mean everything if her lover surprised her with a “live band.”

“I mean, it's really thoughtful, especially if it comes with a romantic dinner, just the two of us. There is this glitter and shuffling percussion that brings an undeniable nostalgia,” she says.

Ms Mwende adds that it would be perfect if her favourite Ukrainian-origin violinist, Karolina Protsenko, were to perform any love song.

“What is Valentine’s Day without love and roses?” she laughs.

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