Since it came to be 2014, Safaricom Jazz has become quite a story, touching on of course bringing international artists to the country, discovering and uplifting local bands and supporting the very noble course that is Ghetto Classics. I’ve been part of the journey by attending just about every concert and by now I’ve increased my knowledge of Jazz quite a bit. I’ve only missed 2 shows for one reason or other and here is my journey.
February 23rd 2014 with Richard Bona – This was the inaugural Safaricom Jazz show. Before his concert at Ngong Race Course I did not even know who the West African Richard Bona was. Even though I did not manage to attend the show, I caught a glimpse of his skills and his effect on the crowd at the concert0 on youtube.
September 4th 2014 with Kunle Ayo. This show was at the Carnivore and the curtain raisers were Kavutha and Jacob Asiyo. This was unfortunately one of the shows I missed too but I heard all the good stories about it from my friends who attended even though stories are never the same as when one attends. I got a teaser from youtube though. At the Carnivore, Kunle performed original compositions as well renditions of popular songs from his country of birth Nigeria.
5th December 2014 with Jimmy DluDlu – This was held at Kararani and before this I had never seen such mad guitar skills up close. This genius guitarist worked up the crowd a good one and at some point came down from the stage to dance with people in the audience. He also played the Kenyan National Anthem – a lovely gesture that brought out the feels. Most of all he strummed his guitar to a point where I got goose bumps.
The curtain raisers for this concert were Swahili Jazz Band and their coastal music with sprinklings of Western, Asian and Arabiv influences got people up and ready for the main act.
Feb 22nd 2015 with Jonathan Butler. This concert was at Race course and I was more jazzed up not by Jonathan himself as the main act, but by the rest of the line up. This was the best combination of jazz musician I’ve seen so far in the whole of the Safaricom Jazz shows. This concert had 8 different artists from around the world, my absolute favourite of them being Ugandan sax powerhouse Isaiah Katumwa followed closely by Soweto Kinch who brought on a daring mix of jazz and hip hop. The rest were Ack Van Rooyen and Juraj Stanik from Netherlands, Tomer Bar Trio from Israel, Nicolas Kummert Voices from Belgium, Swahili Jazz Band from Kenya, Jimmy DluDlu from South Africa and of course Jonathan Butler also from South Africa. Jonathan Butler performed some songs with his daughter and this felt so special.
Curtain raisers for this show were Swahili Jazz band and I remember instantly falling in love with their energy and particularly Tatu Abdalla who belted out tune after tune with such grace and poise. They infused rich poetic Swahili lyrics in their music, coupled with Western, Arabic and Asian flavours.
August 29th 2015 with Salif Keita – Salif Keita stole my heart and his is by far the most touching of all the jazz performances I’ve attended. I was completely unprepared for the strength of his voice and the depth of his performance. He did not dance about that did not matter one bit. He still got just about everyone dancing despite the squeezed arrangement of seats at the venue. Salif Keita touched me both in terms of his strong voice and in terms of his life story and what he has been through to get where he is. His concert was held at Bomas and when I got there I wasn’t sure what to expect. To date if someone asked which musician should come back for a repeat, I’d say Salif Keita without hesitation. The curtain raisers for this show which was held at Bomas of Kenya were the very energetic Gogo Simo band. I gushed about him here after that concert.
December 3rd 2015- A Gospel according to jazz with Kirk Whalum – The show was at Carnivore grounds. There was mad traffic in Nairobi that day and I got there a little late but still in time for the concert. I’ve never wished for an indoor venue like I wished for one that day. It had rained heavily earlier and right from when you packed you walked into puddles of water and soft mud. Then you got to the grounds and the grass was so soggy. I was in open shoes and as much as I enjoyed the show, part of me couldn’t wait to get home, dry up and get warm. It may also have been lack of fore planning on my end because I knew the concert was on open grounds and should have dressed accordingly. I remember joking that I’ll be packing a pair of gumboots in the car. Other than the main acts were Kirk Whalum, others were Norman Albright, Gerald Albright and Shelea Frazier and despite the gloomy weather, they still brought quite a show.
This was the time I first saw and immediately fell in love with Edward Parseen and Different faces band for his mastery at the sax. The other curtain raisers were Afrosync band. Not to say that the other acts were any shabby but I was completely taken by the powerful performances of Edward Parseen and the Different Faces Band.
February 21st 2016 with Branford Marsalis – My friends and I went to KICC very early and got the shuttle buses to Kasarani where the show was at. Our Maasai shukas and ourselves also got to the venue early enough to get the best spot for the show. The performers that day were all pretty good and my most memorable of them is Maya Beltsitzman. She took onto her instruments with such infectious energy and one couldn’t help but get goose bumps. Other performers were the fun personality Jef Neve, Giampaolo Nuti & Francesco D’Orazio, Matan Ephrat who performs with Maya, Sons of Kemmet & Siya Makuzeni. I also finally got to watch Kunle Ayo who was back for a second time. AfroSync & Edward Parseen and the Different Faces Band also performed.
The concert started on time but I think the organizers lost time in between change overs. By the time the main act Branford Marsalis started playing, it was late, people were restless and had started leaving. This was understandable as it was a Sunday evening and people had work the next day and children to school. In the end the other performers got more eyeballs and audience participation than the main act. I felt sad for Marsalis for having to perform all that great music to a distracted crowd.
August 12th 2016 – Music that moves with Hugh Masekela at Uhuru Gardens – This was up there among the top best Safaricom Jazz concerts I’ve ever attended. The big name who until his death a few months ago refused to be called a legend was so energetic for his 70+ years, and kept the crowd hooked the whole time, if not with his music, then with his talks in between about Pan Africanism and his firm belief in it. He swears like a sailor and I loved him all the more for that!
5th November 2016 – Fatoumata Diawara from Mali and Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca – Fatou’s energy can never be forgotten. She started off rather demure but within a short time she let her hair down and went completely crazy! Fatou is passionate about the African continent and is sad seeing people leaving it for greener pastures abroad – a message that resonated with Hugh Masekela’s in the previous Jazz concert.
She was paired with Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca who was very smooth on the piano with a few theatrics of his own. The show was curtain raised by Shamsi Music.
February 26th 2017 Kasarani with David Sanborn – This was a well organized event at Kasarani and it ended in good enough time for people to leave Kasarani and get home in time. Considering Safaricom Jazz is a family affair, this was particularly important for parents who brought their kids with them. David Sanborn was the headline star for this concert and this saxophone master did not disappoint. He left people wishing his performance had gone on for longer.
Other than David, there was also some incredible African beats by Ray Lema from the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as local acts Shamsi Music and Nairobi Horns. We also got entertained by Taxi Wars from Belgium, Bokani Dyer Trio from South Africa, and Arun Gosh with his Clarinet. And who can forget The HazelNuts from Israel with their very 30s vybe!