By: BONFACE NYAGA
Kenyan Jazz has been growing in leaps and bounds much to the delight of fans and musicians alike. For years now, skillful players have been forced to give up Jazz to put food on the table.
Most session musicians are world class instrumentalists with many years of experience on their respective instruments.
However to pay their bills they are relegated to playing back-up tracks for pop artistes in studios and concert halls. The audiences on their side are bombarded with an endless array of copycat pop music with mass apeal and limited shelf life. In the Kenyan market, the discerning listeners have always felt left out, some opting to buy music from international artists or book a flight to South Africa every time a Jazz Festival is going down.
The perception that Kenyans are not a Jazz loving country has been greatly disproved. Jazz heavy weights like Jonathan Butler, Hugh Masekela, Jimmy Dludlu and Richard Bona have always pulled in mammoth crowds despite their hefty gate price. Though the majority come for the fanfair and Instagram photo opportunity, there is an ever growing hardcore group that comes for the music.
Richard Bona for instance was taken a back during the 2014 Safaricom Jazz fest, when fans sang his songs word for word and even requested an encore of his old songs, some of which he had even forgotten the lyrics.
This growing appreciation of Jazz has emboldened bands and festival promoters to invest more time, money and effort into the subsector. The ripple effects have been almost instantaneous with Jazz radio shows, clubs, and Festivals popping up all over Nairobi.
BOOKED BACK TO BACK
In the local scene, front runners like Eddie Gray, Aron Rimbui and Christine Kamau are booked back to back with almost no free date. This pool of talent is growing so fast that you are likely to discover an exceptional Jazz band on a random Friday evening.
The contributions of Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore to Kenyan Jazz is a double edged sword. On one hand his visionary leadership established Kenya’s first International Jazz fest, on the other it challenged music industry players to think outside the box.
It signaled a new era where sponsors conceptualise and actualise entertainment platforms, that compete adequately with those of industry veterans.
Corporate’s are no longer sitting back waiting to fund the next big thing, they are creating it. In this bold new space artistes and entertainment professionals have to really up their game if they hope to secure mega-sponsorships.
There are some up and coming bands that are refreshing. Shamsi music is one of them and they are a refreshing Afro-Jazz ensemble. Their music is very mature with excellent little breaks and an arrangement that leaves you yearning for more. Their music takes you on a journey that explores the periphery of human imagination with melodies that linger long after you have left the concert hall.
“Shamsi means light in Arabic and we believe we are called to be light in the world,” band drummer Biggie explains. “We have gone through several names over the last three years but this one seems to stick. It’s really hard to classify our music but we try to express and create emotions. We don’t want you to just hear our music we want you to feel it.”
With the hottest female bassist in their ensemble Fused Trio has been causing a stir all over town. As their name suggests, they owe no elegance to creed or genre going where the music takes them. Their bassist could be playing a funk bassline, while the drum is playing a funk groove, guitarist is playing some Congolese tunes and the keyboardist doing jazz runs. There’s just no telling where they will take you next, all the while rewarding their audience for taking the time to listen.
Tunu Jumwa has been causing quite a buzz on social media, not for her topless selfies or Instagram updates but for her bass playing. Female instrumentalists are a rarity in the music business, most of them preferring to either be the lead vocalist or background. She is a recent addition to the fused trio, but her impact is already being felt.
“I guess now we need to change the name of the band, Band leader Muema Nzomo explains.
Muema says they all started out as a trio but always felt the need for a bassist.
“I first saw Tunu’s clip on YouTube and I was just blown away. When I told the guys that we were going to have a female bassist, they were all giving me that disapproving look. However when we finally plugged her in, they changed their story very fast,” he recalls. “Tunu is not just the best female bassist, she is just the best bassist, period.”
On her part Tunu downplays the fuss everyone is making about her.
“I don’t know how to be a male bassist, I am just a girl who happens to play bass. My first love was the rhythm guitar, but I saw a few great bass players on YouTube and I slowly started following what they were doing,” says Tunu.
“My love affair with the bass guitar was finally actualised when my dad bought my brother a six-string bass. I have always been a big fan of the Fused Trio and I just love playing with these awesome people.”
Their drummer, Emmanuel Yakobo is equally exceptional, a drum jam finalist Ema ranks as one of Kenya’s top drummer. With tricks and licks Ema keeps things interesting constantly unleashing some unexpected grooves.
Tugi Mlamba, their guitarist is an animal on the fret board, dishing out goodies at every turn.
With all this amazing talent the future of Kenyan Jazz is looking brighter than ever. For now though you may have to go out of your way to discover a new jazz band but when you know I promise they will be worth the effort.
MEET THE SHAMSI BAND:
I am a keyboard player who is aspiring to be a pianist, most people don’t know but there is a difference, I am also a bassist. First started on piano in 2002 while my mum was taking the classes. Eventually I took them over and they became my classes from then on. I ended up loving it and would play music through primary school especially in the morning just before leaving the house.
Why Jazz Music
I do Jazz music simply because I love it, it’s very enjoyable and it allows me to express a different kind of creativity. It’s even sweeter when people are able to connect to the music.
Character: The folks here have up standing characters and that is one thing that is hard to find in the industry. They also wouldn’t backstab you later in life and they pursue Godly excellence.
Immanuel “Manu” Mohol
I am a student at JKUAT, studying computer technology. I started playing guitar when I got a tennis racquet, I did many concerts in our living room. Anyway, I picked up the guitar seriously when I was about 12 and have been playing since.
Why Jazz music?
I do music because it’s God’s wonderful gift to me, and it refreshes me always.
This band challenges me to be a better person, and a disciplined musician. A “Standing on the shoulders of giant kind of thing” and where else would I get newspaper interviews from?
A full time musician who plays the bass guitar. I picked up the bass in 2009 but started playing it seriously from 2012.
Why Jazz music?
I do music because it is my greatest passion in life. It’s what inspires me and it’s what I do best.
Shamsi Music is made up of friends that I have known since 2009. We have grown together through various levels of music and I look forward to many years of making music with them.
Kenn Njoroge, better known as Kenn Biggie is a drummer, events organiser and business man.
Why Jazz music?
A friend once said, “You don’t choose a career in music, it chooses you”. I am an engineer by training, but the urge to follow my heart and passion (music) overtook what I was trained to do (Telecommunications Engineering).
My first interaction with music was with some of the members of the band, and we have played together ever since. I believe we have a connection beyond the music, both on and off stage and I believe there’s a great purpose for me in Shamsi Music.
Saxophonist and assistant band leader.
Why Jazz music?
I play music because it’s my passion. I find fulfilment and satisfaction in it, and especially in sharing it with others.
I play with Shamsi because of the high level of musicianship, the creative freedom, and the brotherhood of individuals with a common vision and faith.
Band leader, music director, pianist and keyboardist.
Why Jazz music?
I play music because it’s a gracious gift God gave to me, and I owe it to Him to use it for His glory.
I play for Shamsi because it’s a team of great friends and fellow musicians. I believe in team work and the power of collaborative creativity and effort. Shamsi Music provides a wonderful platform for just that.
SOURCE: DAILY NATION