If you’ve been walking through downtown Nairobi lately, you may have seen Moses Odhiambo. The 29-year-old self-taught saxophonist has been drawing crowds and inspiring a love of music in young people who, like himself, are growing up on the streets.
Moses Odhiambo plays his saxophone amid the usual buzz of evening rush hour in Nairobi’s central business district.
He performs here every Tuesday and Thursday. A small crowd gathers. Today marks one year since he started performing like this. But he is no stranger to the streets.
At 10 years old, he left home with his three brothers. Their mother couldn’t afford to feed them. Odhiambo spent several homeless years in the slums of Nairobi’s Kayole Soweto area. Through sponsorship programs, he was able to complete high school, where he played trumpet. He showed a knack for music.
“So the director called me and told me, before we get a professional teacher come and try teaching these students," said Odhiambo. "So when I went there. I saw the saxophone and fell in love with it and I picked it up, taught myself from scratch up to where I am today”.
When he is not performing in the streets, Odhiamdo is teaching music in two public primary schools or giving private lessons. But the streets remain his source of inspiration.
“I could choose to be in the house and do my practice in the house but I saw that being not so productive for me so I wanted to go out and make a difference," said Odhiambo. "Because of my background having been a street child, I thought of coming out into the streets and make a difference.”
After his performances, Odhiambo sets aside time to talk with street kids he meets.
“They can make a difference in life if indeed they pursue their passion,” he said.
Rafael Mwangi sings a song he composed. The 14-year-old has lived on the streets for over six years now.
He says “when I saw Moses play, it gave me so much hope. I felt it was time to also start singing… I started writing music and when I showed Mose my writings, he told me he could see my future.”
On Thursdays, Odhiambo is joined by another young musician, Steven Muthama, on the guitar. Muthama says performing on the street creates a powerful connection.
“People just take time to come and listen," said Muthama. "Tired people from work taking time to just stop in the street, not knowing you, just seeing you there, listening and appreciating, maybe dropping a shilling or two but just the time and the effort to stand there and listen is really amazing.”
Music has been Odhiambo’s ticket to a better life. He hopes to pass that opportunity on to the next generation.