Geco Cafe – Empowering East African Artists Through The Power of Live Music 


Article by: Amanda Nechesa

Publication date:

Meet Mateus Finato, the Brazilian creative genius and founder of Geco Cafe, the home of live music.

Nothing beats the allure of live music. And free of charge? That is exactly what Geco Cafe promises, and true to their word, they’ve held live music events for amazing, talented artists – the likes of Ssero, Coaster Ojwang’, Yaba, Akoth Jumadi, Emma Cheruto, Charisma – and the entry was always free.

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Geco Cafe

The first thing you notice when you enter Geco Cafe is how cool it is. From the numerous guitars decorating the wall to the vespas and scooters that have been turned into tables, it’s all a sight to behold. Not to mention that it’s a restaurant, so there is amazing food that you get to dig into while being entertained by a live music set in the background! 

As a music enthusiast, I was especially intrigued by their charge-free musical performances. Once I attended a few of these events, my intrigue turned into a full-blown curiosity. They say curiosity killed the cat, but in this case, curiosity revived a story within me. I had to find out who was behind Geco Cafe. How did it come about? How do they select the artists that perform in their set? How do they pay these artists? And for god’s sake, how did they get all those numerous guitars on the walls? 

Meet Mateus Finato, the Brazilian creative genius and founder of Geco Cafe. An adventurer, chef and music lover, Mateus migrated to Kenya in 2009 and has never looked back since. The first time he came to Kenya was for a holiday. He stayed for a couple of weeks, then his friend, who had a business in the country, offered him a job and invited him to stay. The fruits of that long stay are what we now get to enjoy in the form of Geco Cafe, a name he adopted from a nearby car wash when he first came to the place, and also because there are many geckos around the area. 

Located along Mbaazi Road in Lavington, Nairobi, Mateus founded Geco Cafe at the end of 2017. At the time, it was a small restaurant, barely accommodating fifteen people. This has changed since then, with its accommodation on a good day hosting about 300 people. The growth has been purely organic, but it was majorly influenced after the COVID-19 pandemic when the cafe largely became a space for artists to showcase their talents and for the guests to enjoy the live music. 

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Mateus Finato (provided)

But the idea for the live music was not just something out of the blue. Music has always been a passion for Mateus, and when he opened the restaurant, the plan of having a live music set was one of the core ingredients for Geco Cafe. The first live performance he put out was in February 2018 and featured musician Tim Riungu. As these things go, in the beginning, there was not much of a response, with the only live music set happening on Fridays. It took several months before a few people started to know what he was doing, but when they did, the word travelled around. 

Musicians would recommend other musicians to perform at the cafe, foodies would recommend the restaurant to other foodies to dine at and music lovers would recommend it to fellow music lovers to come witness the merging of the two. When 2019 rolled around, Geco Cafe was just at its peak, but unfortunately, when 2020 and 2021 came and with the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant had to close down. 

In late 2021, they were allowed to re-open again albeit with restrictions and limitations. Mateus understood that the pandemic had robbed the artists of a major source of their income – live events. His first agenda was to immediately bring back the live music sets. The plus side of all these is that, during the two years of lockdown that had everyone, artists alike, cooped up in their homes, the musicians had found time to create and write new and fresh material. 

The end of 2021 was therefore an explosion of new sound. Artists wanted a chance to share their new music with the world, and Geco Cafe became the home for them. From then on, Geco Cafe added more and more artists to their sets. What had started as only a live music event on Fridays now became live music sets from Tuesday to Saturday.

Every day has its designated act as follows: Tuesdays are for Urbane Tuesday, an evening curated by Mackinlay, a trumpeter and a leader of a few bands including the Nairobi Horns Project. On the day, Mackinlay invites and plays with artists and bands alike. On the first Wednesday of the month, Geco Cafe collaborates with Fanisi – a non-profit organisation that focuses on urban contemporary culture – to bring a hip-hop artist who performs with a live band. 

“Geco has provided a platform for many artists to perform there and showcase their talents and network. As a person who is also involved in the music strategy and curation for Geco and not just as an artist, we’ve seen a lot of growth in terms of not only the people who want to experience the live music scene but also the artists who want to play at Geco,” says Macknilay.

Thursdays are for the Tribe Brewed Sessions and it’s open for any artist. Fridays are dedicated to Jazztified – a jazz session featuring musicians Tim Riungu, Tony Percussive, Sedar Malaki, Ben Malik, Possum Nyoro and other musicians the band wants to play with. Like Thursday, Saturday is also pretty open for any artist. 

“Geco has really shaped a lot in my musical career. When we got the chance to help out at Geco Cafe, we started small – a guitarist called Sedar and myself, the saxophonist. That put me at the front because I was the one holding the melody and he was the one backing me up. It helped my confidence, and also helped me grow the skills that are needed like developing a vision and looking at the assets you have and seeing how you can nurture it to bring that vision to life. Now, we have become a full band – the Jazztified – with a percussionist, a trumpeter, a keyboardist, a modern drumset and a singer, and we still play at Geco every Friday. And by the way, the band is composed of world-class musicians, which is not a small thing at all. I believe I have developed the ability to lead A-List talent like that just from the time we have grown with Geco Cafe,” Tim Riungu, the saxophonist and Creative Director of The Jazztfied says.

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A live performance at Geco Cafe

The majority of the artists that perform or are featured in Geco Cafe are Kenyan, with a few acts from other parts of East Africa like Uganda or Tanzania. I was curious about this, seeing that Mateus is not Kenyan, and so I asked him if he is passionate about Kenyan music. 

“Absolutely,” he said, “Most are Kenyans because there is so much Kenyan music to be shown. I am a big fan of Kenyan music and there is so much talent and so many musicians and very few opportunities.” 

That is what his goal with Geco Cafe is – to provide an opportunity for the artist to show the world their talents. In the beginning, before Geco became famous, he would solicit artists who would like to perform, but since the cafe gained popularity as the mecca of live music in Nairobi, the artists and their managers are now the ones reaching out for a chance to perform on the stage.

“As a creative person and a person who plays there personally, it’s a fantastic space because there is a lot of artistic freedom for you to express yourself. It’s almost like the door is open to any good music, no matter the genre or who’s playing,” Mackinlay states.

“For me, I know Geco as the home of live music. That’s pretty much it. As for how Geco has empowered my musical journey, I launched my third album – The Problemist – at Geco Cafe. Insane, totally insane concert. And there were no inhibitions about selling my own merchandise. Mateus pushes you to grow – to go out there as an artist and grow. He supports artists. I feel like he has a fatherly spirit and we are blessed to have a man like this in our day and age,” says Fadhilee Musithian, a guitarist, singer-songwriter, cultural curator & creative entrepreneur.

For the musicians, Geco Cafe has a good sound and every instrument possible that a musician may need to perform – from the guitars and the drums to even the trumpets, saxophones and keyboards. Everything is offered on the house. 

“The production is really well done. Geco Cafe is a good venue, it's the only venue in Nairobi that is fully fitted for music. What I mean is that when an artist goes to perform there, the equipment and everything is in sight. In the ten years or so that I have been in the industry, I have found that it’s the only place in Nairobi that does that. We have not done anything on that level before,” says Mackinlay.

But how does the business model work in this case? If the audience is not paying anything to watch the artists, are the artists being paid? Mateus insists that the idea was never to charge for the music and that they will never charge for it. For a music lover, it’s not compulsory to buy anything from the cafe if your main intention is to come and watch your favourite artist perform. You can do just that – come in, watch the artist, enjoy the music, and once the set is over, go back home with the experience still running in your veins. Moreover, all the musicians and all the bands that perform at the restaurant are well compensated for their time and their talents and for their time.

“Mateus pays an artist in good time. One of the main challenges that artists face is that they perform and get paid later or not at all. But at Geco Cafe, they are different and a good example when it comes to appreciating the efforts an artist puts in. In music, it’s a place that is helping people come together,” affirms Kaa La Moto, an African hip-hop artist and activist. 

It helps that Mateus has a very great relationship with most of the musicians. He talked fondly of all the artists I asked him about, not just as artists but like they were all his friends. 

“I would like to think of Geco Cafe as the home for all the artists. On a normal day, independent of whoever is performing, you will always find musicians around,” he said. 

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A live performance at Geco Cafe

Having ticked off my list of questions, I only had one more question that had been bugging me ever since I came across Geco Cafe and it had to do with those guitars decorating every inch of the wall. I was curious if the guitars worked, and apart from confirming that yes, all of them indeed worked, he went on to tell me how he got most of the guitars from various artists including Fadhilee and Akoth Jumadi.

“I am passionate about guitars. And I do play a little,” he said, “A guitar is a really beautiful piece of art, and I really do enjoy it. I started by collecting one or two, and a lot of musicians when they are replacing or when they are getting new ones, they reach out to us and we end up buying, and so we end up having a collection.” 

“I know Mateus personally, and I know how he has come through for me personally. Two of my guitars are at Geco Cafe. My first guitar ever, a jazz guitar, is hanging at Geco Cafe. During COVID, some of us had no way out, and knowing Mateus as a lover of art and a collector, I literally walked up to him and said ‘Look, I’m in a fix. I’m happy to hand over my guitar and happy to have it hang over that wall. But if you can bail me out, bro.’  It’s stuff like these, situations that you feel like this man feels for the artists. So, yeah, that is home. That is home for us musicians in Nairobi,” says Fadhilee.

Mateus Finato – the Brazilian chef and music lover whose plan for Geco exceeds bounds. For the future of the cafe, he plans to introduce a live DJ set on Sundays and create an even bigger space for all kinds of artists, not just musicians, but painters alike. 

“When the history of 21st century live music in Kenya is written, with some names like Muthoni the Drummer Queen who founded Blankets and Wine, I believe you will find Geco Cafe there as well because it has really given a platform for another generation of musicians, young and even the older ones,” says Riungu assuredly.

With that, my time with him ended, and I went on my way, with only one thing in mind – everyone should, at least once in their lifetime, experience the magic that is Geco Cafe!