You hear musicians complain that there is very little local appreciation for the music they make, with many of the mainstream radio stations preferring to play Nigerian music and sometimes some Bongo. This has adversely affected the growth of the local music community, especially within the road less travelled, Jazz. The fact that there lacks a reliable jazz radio show in Kenya that is constantly looking to give opportunities to existing and upcoming local acts, does nothing to help the situation. This is why Safaricom Jazz is such a breath of fresh air, helping local jazz musicians get exposed to a much larger audience.
Let us start with the fact that I am a jazz enthusiast, and I have been for quite a while now. To be completely honest, before this year’s edition of the Jazz festival in February, I had never heard of the Nairobi Horns Project or Shamsi music. Before this year’s edition of the international Jazz day, I didn’t know of Mwai and the truth, or that Kavutha could belt out so much sauce. This could have been due to my lack of exposure to the local Jazz scene, or my inane fascination with “well known international acts”, but I was thoroughly impressed. Earlier this year I attended Safaricom Jazz mainly to see David Sanborn, who is a legend when it comes to belting out tunes on a saxophone. When I left however, I had a very clear impression of the kind of magic our own local acts can do.
Since it came to be 5 years ago, Safaricom Jazz Festival has been a gem to the local Jazz community and their music. People have got to know about the lesser known performers in the Jazz scene, but that exposure translated to love and appreciation. This last edition of the international Jazz day celebrations was a testament to how much people actually appreciate well done Kenyan performances. This particular show had zero “international headliners” and at Ksh2000/-, the prices were also a bit on the higher side, but the place was sold out. People came in large numbers and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. I also believe that there was a noticeable improvement in the levels of performance quality between the February 26th and April 30th events.
After what I witnessed during the International Jazz Day performances, I am convinced that we have just begun taking a dip in the talent pool. There are a lot of talented people out here and Safaricom Jazz has been instrumental at bringing them to the forefront. I am now looking through their social media pages and their websites for their next performances. Before Safaricom Jazz, I would have bet my right hand that the Jazz scene in Kenya is not so big. It is a beautiful thing, and I am grateful for Safaricom Jazz for lighting the fire, and in some cases fanning the embers, of the local Jazz scene.