Music

Musician finds success in fixing broken instruments

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Kevin Obara, a 25-year-old musician, has set up an instruments repair workshop in Nairobi’s Garden Estate. PHOTO | POOL

Summary

  • Obara, 25, has now set up his own workshop at the headquarters of Art of Music Foundation in Nairobi’s Garden Estate.
  • During the first month in Germany, he learnt the repair of brass and woodwind instruments at Brassiere Hamburg, a company owned by Michael Danner who also became a father figure for the period he was away.
  • During the second month, he explored violin and other string instruments with Anneke Degen, a violinmaker.

When BDLife first interviewed Kevin Obara, a young musician from Korogocho in March 2019, he was just preparing to travel to Germany for a training apprenticeship on the repair of instruments.

Two years later, he is applying the skills learnt in Europe since his return home.

Obara, 25, has now set up his own workshop at the headquarters of Art of Music Foundation in Nairobi’s Garden Estate and is busy throughout the week attending to a growing clientele of professional musicians and training institutions.

He continues to train young members of the Ghetto Classics music education programme on drums and tuba.

During the first month in Germany, he learnt the repair of brass and woodwind instruments at Brassiere Hamburg, a company owned by Michael Danner who also became a father figure for the period he was away. During the second month, he explored violin and other string instruments with Anneke Degen, a violinmaker.

It was during this time that he acquired the specialised technical skill of re-hairing violin bows, which involves replacing a worn strand of horsehair that has become ineffective for playing a bowed string instrument.

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16 instruments

During the third month, he learnt the technics of woodwind instrument repairs with Frank Bogle, and was introduced to the Rotary Club of Bergen and Rhine who helped him acquire the tools to set up his own workshop upon his return to Nairobi.

Aside from his apprenticeship, Obara also spent time performing in a band along with some of his trainers travelling for gigs in Spain, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands.

“I taught them songs like “Todii” by Oliver Mtukudzi and Miriam Makeba's Hapo Zamani” and they would hand over all the proceeds from our performances to me,” he says.

He saved up enough money from the shows to complete his mother’s rural home in Gem, Siaya.

When he returned to Kenya after the training, Obara was worried that the professional musicians in Kenya who used to ferry their instruments for repair in Europe, would not have the confidence in his abilities to do the same job competently.

To his surprise one of the country’s leading violinists David Ralak called him up to rehair the bow of his instrument.

“I repaired the violin and sent it back and then switched off my phone because I was too tense to hear the feedback,” says Obara.

He switched on the phone after about five hours to find several missed calls from Ralak.

“I eventually gathered the guts to call him and he was very excited about the quality of the work I had done and even sent me another six other bows to rehair.”

Re-hairing just one bow, a process that takes him about an hour, costs Sh5,000.

The standards of his work have spread within professional music circles, repairing instruments for among others, cellist Masala Sefu and institutions like Lenana School, Nairobi School and Kenyatta University. He is also engaged by Rosslyn Academy where he repairs instruments each week. Just last week, he repaired 16 instruments at the school.

This week he has been conducting repairs and holding workshops at the M-Pesa Foundation Academy, Thika and has also received a call from the Permanent Presidential Music Commission (PPMC) who wants to engage him to repair some of their instruments.

He often has to undertake corrections on instruments that have been poorly repaired or damaged.

“Someone may bring an instrument and when you ask where it was previously repaired, they mention that it was done at a repair shop on Moi Avenue or River Road,” says Obara.

“Don’t entrust your instrument in the hands of quacks,” he warns.

He says they have a WhatsApp group of instrument repairers around Africa and they often caution each other that shoddy repairs will drive instrument owners to ship their instruments overseas for repairs if they lose faith in the workmanship of locals.

“We do not take our clients for granted because most of them can bypass us and ship their instruments for repair in Europe and elsewhere,” he says.

Due to the pandemic, plans for Obara to return to Germany this March for further training on instrument repairs have been shelved till next year.