Every year Safaricom organizes the biggest Jazz festival in East Africa, the Safaricom International Jazz Festival in February. Throughout the rest of the year, they also have the smaller but just as exciting Safaricom Jazz Lounges. The November Jazz Lounge was headlined by Senegalese bassist Alune Wade. The jazz Lounge ended up being packed despite the weather being quite cold.
The event was well organized with people packing at the Carnivore, going through security checks before being allowed to cross over to the Uhuru Gardens to join the party. Even before the performances started there was plenty to keep jazz fans happy. There were tents serving mouthwatering food and drinks. Safaricom came with goodies, at the Safaricom tent one could buy data for a thousand shillings and enter into a draw to win some expensive phones (because you know Safaricom didn’t come to play) and an opportunity to spin the wheel and get amazing goodies. I managed to get a selfie stick so it was a good night for me, selfies check. There was even a henna tattoo artist around.
David Muriithi aka DJ D-lite was there, of course, to put us in the mood as we waited for the show to begin. You know he never disappoints as he is sort of the appetizer in between delicious dishes of music, and he has a way of creating a smooth transition between the bands playing for the night. You can always depend on his playlist to give you something new, something old and something you were not expecting and it all comes together to make a great musical experience.
First to the plate to serve a delicious serving of Afrosoul was The Limericks. I hadn’t (to my recollection heard them playing before) so this was to be a treat for me. They started off with the song Baraka za Mungu which is a rendition of a popular Kenyan gospel song. They then performed In A Sentimental Mood by Duke Ellington. They followed this up with Bird which is a traditional Madagascan folklore song that they rearranged and gave their own unique twist. Towards the end of their set, they performed Walking Down Jinja Road which is an original composition by Buula (the Saxophonist) from Uganda. Finally, they ended with their own rendition of the song People Make The World Go Round. It was a great set and I found myself wishing they had more time to play. I loved the twists that they gave the songs and I have to say Fafa has quite a vocal range, that lady can sing. I liked that I could hear the band playing together like they had rehearsed it a thousand time but at the same time hear the individual musicians even as they played together. What I can say is I can’t wait to listen to The Limericks again, they really had a jazzy thing going. Find out more about The Limericks here.
Next up was The Mambo Tribe. They were a surprise I have to say, not quite what I expected at a jazz festival, but their authentic African sound was groovy. A true representation of the music from the Kenyan coast, a place that has produced many musicians who have been on the festival before like Mackinlay of Nairobi Horns, Juma Tutu, and James Gogo of Gogosimo. At an age where most people are happy to sit and count their goats or be stuck in the familiar, Mambo Tribe have chosen to explore new musical possibilities through a unique fusion, which is no mean fit. The songs they played included Anyango, Kifudu and Ngoma Za Pepo (which were performed by the wazee), Maisha and a Spain/Mwanzele medley. I have to say I spent the whole set looking at one of the Mzees because of the joy he seemed to have as he sang and played the drums. Find out more about the Mambo Tribe here.
By the time Alune Wade got on stage the crowd was warmed up. He gave an impressive performance backed by a strong band. It was a thrilling performance and by midway his performance with the talented Kavita Shah many people were at the front dancing to the music. He played way past his set time as fans asked for more and more, and he was willing to give his fans what they wanted. By the time they were done it was after midnight and looking at the crowd they could have sung and danced until morning. As somebody who loves the guitar, I was impressed by Alune Wade’s skills both as a guitarist and vocalist. He knew how to draw in the crowd, and the crowd loved him. Kavita Shah was also fantastic on the vocals and her Indian number made the crowd go wild.
All in all, it was an interesting experience, very different from what I expected but awesome nonetheless. We had a wonderful time and by the time we were leaving after 1 am we were exhausted (in a good way). Look out for the Safaricom International Jazz which is coming up in February. It is a family show and you will have the time of your life, so mark your calendars and start saving up. Remember all the proceeds of The Safaricom Jazz Festival go to the Ghetto Classics so you will be having a great time as well as investing in the musical future of these great upcoming musicians.
Pictures courtesy of Safaricom. For some great images from the Safaricom Jazz Lounge check out this post Safaricom Jazz Concert that has awesome pictures from the event.