How Muthoni Ndonga started Nairobi’s Blankets & Wine event

Held every first Sunday of the month, Blankets & Wine is one of the most popular events among Nairobi residents. It started in 2008 when musician Muthoni Ndonga, who goes by the stage name ‘Muthoni the Drummer Queen’, decided to host Sunday picnic-styled events to promote local artistic talent. Everyone attending is supposed to bring a bottle of wine, a picnic basket and a blanket.

Blankets & Wine has established itself as a popular event in Nairobi.

Blankets & Wine has established itself as a popular event in Nairobi.

The event has grown popular in Nairobi among expatriates, the middle class, and the who’s who in the entertainment industry regionally. It has attracted top performers in music, art, literature and fashion across Africa, and expanded to Kampala, Uganda. Ndonga tells Dinfin Mulupi about her journey in business, her drive to showcase talents, and the plans to take Blankets & Wine not only across Africa but to Europe as well.

What inspired you to start Blankets & Wine?

The intention was to promote music created by a band I was working with. We wanted our work on a visible platform. We started with night events in Westlands (an upmarket suburb in Nairobi) but we didn’t think it was reaching the right crowd. So we flipped the script, literally, and turned this event from night to daytime, where people could bring their own food and beverages and simply sit back and enjoy the music offered.

Having established itself throughout the years, Blankets & Wine evolved from promoting independent acts, to promoting internationally-known African acts, including South African bands Liquideep, Mafikizolo, Mi Casa and more. It exceeded all of our expectations evolving into one of the biggest music platforms in East Africa. It is now a creative platform exposing a variety of talents from the creative industry to open-minded, interesting and creative individuals. We have completed 57 events, and to round up the experience in one word, it would be, ‘tantalising’.

You have recently expanded to Uganda. How have you been received there?

They love the event. They’d been expecting it for a while and received it with open arms. The crowd is great, responsive and always seeking information on the next event. They love it, and so do we.

Blankets & Wine tends to attract celebrities, well-to-do people and expatriates. Was this intentional, or did the brand grow to appeal to these kind of people?

This was not the intention at all. It was created to attract creative minds into one space so they can discover, love and share together. The reason we may attract celebrities is because they are mostly involved in the fashion, music, literature and art world. So they just happen to be in the group of the creative minds we target.

You must face some challenges. Tell us about them.

We would like to find new talent, especially outside of Nairobi, to expose them to this vast market. However, due to limited time we can’t travel to look for them, and they don’t reach out to us. As a result we tend to keep showcasing Nairobi acts which are already well known. I think this takes some essence out of the journey to discover, love and share the creative industry in Kenya.

Future plans?

We hope to make Blankets & Wine an international platform for independent acts to showcase their work. We also plan a European tour. And we hope to establish it in other African countries and thereby promote independent African acts internationally.

You are also a recording artist. How do you balance a music career and running a business?

I don’t do it alone. I have got a great support team of friends, family and colleagues who inspire and keep me going every day. A very important part is having a fortified group whom you trust.

Describe some lessons learnt in your business journey.

Prepare for eventualities since things can change in a second. You need to have back-up plans just in case. If going into the entertainment industry, know it is a tough business. People in the industry don’t really care for your feelings or emotions, so if you get shut down, get right back up and deliver even bigger and better.