Jazz It Up A Little

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“Without music , life would be a mistake” – Friedrich Nietzsche


Princess Jully. There is an old Benga song by this mama. For the life of me, I cannot remember its title. But if you drank maziwa ya nyayo then you must know Princess Jully of the Dunia Mbaya fame. Well, the song I am talking about is one of those love tunes that my old man, William I, liked to listen to. You would know that he was visiting from Busia when it was pouring forth from the sitting room speakers. He would wait for a particular part where a man asked a lady “Unataka nini?”

“Tusker!” Princess Jully would reply.

“Patia yeye!” And that is where old Will would shout “Miye! (Give her!)” pointing at Karua, who by then would be on her feet, dancing.

You know the way Luo the old timers used to dance kitambo. Smoothly. Gingerly moving your legs, feeling the rhythm crawl up from your sole, up to your waist, making it sway. That is how my mother dances to date- and it was impossible not to join her on the dance floor when Benga played.

Those days our house was filled with music. But that is of little wonder, because in one of our family albums, there is photo of Will with a bass guitar strapped around his torso. He looks like he was performing at a concert when the snap was taken. Snaps is what people back then called photos – way before the vanity of Instagram and the debauchery of Tinder hit these online streets.

My father loved music.  It was in his marrow. He also loved football (Arsenal), but music was tonic to his soul. Remember the boy band, Simba Wa Nyika? The 1970s version of today’s Sauti Sol? They broke up into Les Wa Nyika and other small bands. Legend has it that my dad played bass for one of those small bands. I do not know how true this tale is, but you cannot argue with a snap taken before the advent of Facebook and Photoshop.

I still wonder why Karua thinks it is strange that my brother Nimrod turned out to be a musician – even though he is not in any band; he is one of those dancehall guys who come on stage, shaking their dreads frantically, promising for the life of them how they are gonna mash up di plyace wid a big chuuuun!

Anyway, I grew up in a household that loved Benga/Ohangla. And if you are a true JaKisumo, you cannot pretend never to have been forced to listen to Benga and Ohangla at the stend (bus station), where huge speakers boomed all day; in barbershops, hotels, music shops, matatus…you simply can’t. But that does not mean I enjoy this genre of music. Maybe a little when it is siasa season and Raila is running for Kenya Admin yet again, and they have decided that Kanungo is the shit.

In the same breath, I cannot say that I have a particular taste for a certain genre of music. I am a music whore. You take my phone and scroll through my music library, all you find is a hodgepodge of music ranging from Kizomba, HipHop, Reggae, Dancehall, Ohangla, to RnB and Kapuka.

You know the way people say “I am a hiphop fan” or “I am a Kapuka guy”? I don’t. For me, anything goes, so long as it sounds good. Why? Because music is what feelings sound like, and I accept good music in whatever form it comes in.

One genre eludes me though. Jazz.

I do not get it.  I do not understand what people who listen to Jazz love about it. Jazz has no place in my musical predilections. Especially the slow, dreamy kind that is composed for proper folk. Not quite my tempo.
I get it for other genres. Riddims for ass shaking (they call it wobbling). Reggae for the message. Kizomba for the naughty dances. Kapuka for the wordplay. Rap for the disses and threats of violence. Rock/House for the, uhm, noise. RnB for the lies and promises of grandeur. And Hiphop for the struggle – it is the language of raw emotion and passion.

The most bizarre thing is that Nairobians are, all of a sudden, listening to jazz. Out of nowhere, people I thought could not listen to anything other than Nyongwa or Bumaye, are now flocking to Safaricom MJ Centre to catch the Latest Jazz Act. They have become aficionados, tweeting about how excited they are to catch Owuor Arunga, Jonathan Butler or Joseph Hellon’s next show.

I asked for help the other day on Facebook, and what I concluded was that Jazz is music for the intelligentsia. Borderline elitist. Those who actually care about the arrangement of music on a set (whatever that means). So, it is not for everybody. It is as though people who actually enjoy jazz were handpicked by God himself. And you will know them from a crowd, Zo Si told me, because it will be written on their faces. They are born to a class of special destiny.

These are not the folks who will be pursing their lips at their phones for selfies when an artist is performing.

Jazz and classical music are two of the purest genres- jazz vocalists actually SING, says Meshack Yobby, their voices do not hide behind the ‘track’ nor are they as compressed as in other genres. Kind of reminds you of Cookie in Empire, donge? The way she keeps telling Jamal and Hakeem “Darling, you need to bring your voice ABOVE the mix.”

This Friday, Lele Ngoma will be throwing down at MJ Centre. If you must know, Lele is a jazz band made up of one girl and a host of six men. I must warn you though, there are things you should not expect to do in such a concert. These are not the kind of chaps who spend half the time asking you to rusha mikono kwenye hewa. It is not the kind of concert where girls dance with their heads down, and bums vibrating on a man’s crotch until her ass muscle catches a hamstring.

Here, you come to listen to music, let it seep through your pores and soak your nerve endings. The kind of music that reminds you of fond childhood memories.

Also, I must add that they have rehearsed for this show, so for Ksh. 500 only, you will be entertained by a much longer and more exciting performance than the Turtle Ninja from Nigeria who flew over to rip us off of 7 million with a sad 37 minute lip-sync farce. If we’d known better, we should have just encouraged him to stay behind and vote.

But then again, this is showbiz where money talks and bullshit talks. In this case money spoke rather clearly. That Kenyans are willing to cough up Ksh. 8000 for a performance that lasts shorter than a sneeze.

Lele Ngoma have set out to create an eclectic urban mix that combines that combines Jazz, Benga and Afro-soul. I will be there, if not for much, to watch these guys perform while rocking their half coats, fedora hats, bowties, suspenders and all that jazz.

Maybe, just maybe, they will take me back to my mother’s dance floor.

Over to you, Lele.


P.S: read about Cape Town Jazz Festival on bikozulu

P.P.S: I have two Lele Ngoma tickets to give away, who wants one? Just tell me which other artist(s) is going to perform on Friday.


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  1. rhumba is my ‘ting’,though slowly fallin for novel rhumba where the singing shoots straight from the heart.listen to mpiana,ferre,karmapa,madilu,wenge etc andkindly give me your comment.i hope you catch the fever

  2. Gasheri Gichunge on

    Am a music whore, hihihi sounds like i can now say that without fear of online disapproval coz i will say magunga said it first,(tongue in cheeck). for a minute i thought you and biko were going head to head in writing an article for jazz, good writing there.

  3. Rock is for the noise? What kind of rock have you been listening to?

    Give these songs a try (then look for the albums of the said artists):

    Layla-Eric Clapton
    November rain-Guns n Roses (slash’s riffs gives me the shivers every time)
    Comfortably numb-Pink Floyd (Just don’t listen to it while on your way to see a Doc)
    Wish you were here-Pink Floyd
    Sympathy for the devil-Rolling stones
    Sultans of Swing-Dire Straits
    Hotel California-The Eagles
    Stuck in a moment-U2
    All along the watch tower-the Jimi Hendrix version (the DMB cover is also cool)
    Living on a prayer-Bon Jovi
    Born to run-Bruce Springsteen

  4. I grew up in Kisumu and I recall my dad was also a huge fan of Okatch Biggy and Dr. Osito Kalle. To date, I still love the two artistes. Jazz is elitist, but why do you think so? Because it originated from blacks, it should not confound us. Rock should. I think it was a white thing. Except for our boy Jimmie Hendrix maybe. You see how we bond with Reggea and Hiphop. Because it constantly talks our universal struggles. And umejua the hustles in Latin America, the Carri bean, and Africa. And House is just noise. Aficionados of the genre also display that snob face. Great piece.

    • Amol, kindly research on the origins of rock & roll. That said, I think music is about the feels. That’s why as a human being I do not need to be luo to enjoy a dholuo song…to connect with its earnestness. That’s why I can listen to someone playing the saxophone or the bass guitar and get touched by its sorrow & yearning; no words are necessary. That’s how powerful and magical music is.

      Have a blessed Easter everyone

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