I was not one to attend live events early. Because Kenyans event organizers have shown me quite a fair amount of things. But I have had a change of heart. I early to most concerts, but specifically Safaricom Jazz Festival.
Initially, I only attended events early if I was working. And working here being taking photos, not performing. My performing days are over. Actually, I have never had any performing days.
If I am working, I almost always go the extra mile. I would want to be there during rehearsals and sound checks. Sound checks are such a gem for photographers. You are able to see most artists and anticipate their movements on stage. You also get to see them at an easy arm’s length space as they go through their sets. It’s like a free mini-concert for the crew, because most of the time, you will be looking through the camera to get a picture, and not necessarily to enjoy the gig. It was actually at a sound check that I first heard Major Lazer’s initial arrangement of the hit track Particular, by Dj Maphorisa, in 2006. A whole year and a couple of month before the song hit the airways.
For the International Jazz Day celebrations at Safaricom Jazz, on May 1, 2019, I was half working. I had little expectations for the event. It was coming just a few months global sensation, Marcus Miller had played at Kasarani Training Grounds, and in my books, I did not think there was ever going to top that.
I got to Carnivore grounds a few minutes before the Ghetto Classics hit the stage. Access was quite easy. I liked Carnivore, as compared to Kasarani, because unlike Langata Road, Thika road really has no respect for anyone. With or without a motorcade. It just slams all of you together into a loving traffic jam that just wants to spend so much time with you. The Nairobi, also, demanded that we are much closer to the road, and access to mats for those who were not driving.
Carnivore was ready for us in every way. There was spacious parking, with a little confusion but things got better quickly. There were clear directions and many marshals to help with security, parking and ticketing. I got my ticket at the entrance. Another reason I went early just in case the person holding it for me heard their favourite song and had to leave. The body scans were fast, not more than a minute. From the main gate to event space, I had been cleared in less than 5 minutes.
The event MC Kavutha Mwanzia-Asiyo, who is also the Festival Director, and David Muriithi, aka DJ D-Lite, were on stage with interactive and entertaining activities while the GC Kids got ready for their performance.
The performance was special because, for the first time, they featured kids from Mukuru Kwa Njenga. All previous performances have only featured Korogocho Slums, which is the home of Ghetto Classics.
Make Music Make A Difference.
The real party then began with Kato Change and The Change Experience. Kato has featured on this Jazz Festival stage several times over, but still maintains a deep respect for it, and his fans.
Mandla Mlangeni and The Tune Recreation Committee followed in quickly after. I had never heard of Mandla before, and only got to see him perform for the first time in Nairobi I liked his groove, I ended up looking him up after the concert. I like his music. He also had high levels of interaction with the crowd.
Sylwester Ostrowski & the Jazz Brigade was a free feature. Like an infinity stone in a Jazz listener’s gauntlet. There’s something beautiful about Polish music, and their take on jazz. Sylvester is one of the most important people in Jazz currently. He specializes mostly in blending cultural tunes with Jazz. He toured with Dorota Miskiewicz from Poland and Freddie Hendrix from the US, who are also notable performers.
His band, too, is an ensemble of a musically cultural melting pot with players from almost all the continents represented. He is the equivalent of a Nobel Laureate, musically speaking.
By the time Shamsi was going up on stage, the Carnivore grounds was almost at capacity. The little open spaces at the front and in between the seats were already taken, as well as seats on the raised bar at the far end of the performance dome.
Shamsi was making a return to this big stage, and it was evident they had grown in their musicality. They appealed to the love for everything African; great costume, deep colors, amazing storytelling, with great videos and visual effects, to accompany well arranged and played music. Even their supporting crew off the stage dressed like them.
Shamsi, are probably the heirs apparent in the local jazz scene. And they can rule for a long time.
The Asiyos played for us. They have been in the jazz scene separately, and together for over 20 years. And that experiences was seen in how flawlessly and effortlessly they took to their music and their set. Kavutha and Jacob were all smiley, jovial and all out having fun with the band. For an eccentric music lover, they served covers of popular songs that may be heard playing in their cars. From Tim Godfrey & Travis Greene’s Nara Kele, to Tupac Shakur’s I Aint Mad A’Cha!, everything in between, before and after.
The Nairobi Horns Project got the real party going. They played off their Black In Gold album and featured the eclectic Kasiva Mutua, a darling of many. From exciting groovy percussions sections of their songs to the clear distinct sounds of the trumpet, trombone and the saxophone, brewed together like Kenya’s finest blend tea. There’s never knowing what to expect from this brilliant brass unit; they played a tribute reggae mash-up covers in honour of Jambe Koikai, who is ailing in the US. Jambi has been an instrumental figure in the entertainment industry and has had a hand in helping and many local music outfits. The reggae set sent everyone into a frenzy, including the front stage security crew and the waiting staff in the partners’ tent. Everyone was up. You’d have thought it was a reggae festival.
Jazz Sister Cities founder, Ms Cheptoo Kositany, handed over to CS Ambassador Amina Mohammed an induction award into the Jazz Sisterhood, in the presence of Safaricom’s Sylvia Mulinge. CS Amina also joined Ms Mulinge in handing over KES 16M to the Ghetto Classics for the extension of their program. This amount was all from proceeds of the event and gate tickets.
The highlight of the event for me was the closing performances by drum master Paco Sery and master musician Cheick Tidiane Seck. Both authentically African in their musical influence, they lived up to their fame. Sery, an innovative track master, composer & music director from the Ivory Coast has made great deliveries for himself, as well as musical icons in the likes Nina Simone, Manu Dibango, Salif Keita and the late Papa Wemba.
Cheick, on the other hand, has written and performed with great African artists like Salif Keita, The SUCH A BIG DEAL Fela Kuti, Mory Kante and Youssou N’Dour. They blended a rich African heritage into music, that speaks volumes of a United Africa. If only in music.
In the end, I enjoyed a greatly unexpected fun afternoon. I listened to straight up classical pieces, amazing African blended Jazz, sounds from lands I have never been to, but appreciated the nuances of reggae, and the great rhumba.
If I tell you I do not think the next Safaricom Jazz Festival will be amazing, I will be lying. Because this last one taught me to hold my reservation off, and just show up to enjoy the music.