Steaming hot Jazz at the coast – Safaricom Jazz in Mombasa

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The air was warm, the traffic along Malindi road heading to Butterfly Pavilion was hectic, but that didn’t deter the excitement jazz enthusiasts in Mombasa had for Safaricom’s Jazz Festival! The nostalgia from the last jazz concert Safaricom held a few years back, when Lady Smith Black Mambazo and SautiSol gave a thrilling performance and left us yearning for more events, was still lingering on and I couldn’t wait to see what Safaricom Jazz had in store for us this time around! The lineup was quite amazing; from Gerald Albright, Kirk Whalum, Shelea Fraizer and Norman Brown, it was definitely going to be a soulful night!

kirk whalum Safaricom Jazz
Kirk Whalum. Photo Credit Marion Vionna

The Great Lakes- Forest Trail at Butterfly Pavilion is one of those scenic hidden gems in Mombasa, unknown to many, including local residents; with a lovely ambience, pine-fresh air, serenity and tucked safely away in the middle of the forest trail, Safaricom wouldn’t have thought of a better place to host the jazz concert while getting fully immersed in what nature has to offer! The dome was beautifully setup, with plenty of seating space as well as a few traders showcasing pieces of African art along the entrance, a small “studio” area to have your photos taken, and not to mention the delicacies and drinks provided by Tamarind Restaurant.

With a panoramic view all across the dome, it didn’t matter where you sat, you were sure to watch the whole show without any hindrances and catch a glimpse of the few surprises the musicians had in store while belting down beautiful sounds from their saxophones as they walked on stage! Finally the show started with the amazing curtain raisers Edward Parseen & the Different Band; their beautiful sound and energy on stage, left everyone in the crowd in awe, and it was quite evident that Kenya has amazing and talented jazz musicians who should definitely be up there in the international stage!

It was time for the main show to begin, the crowd was still recovering from Edward Parseen & The Different Band when Maqbul- the emcee for the night introduced Kirk Whalum; the thing about jazz music is that you feel it in your soul, it stirs every emotion inside you and that’s what Kirk Whalum did. The passion in his music, his soulful persona, stirred every piece he played; his energy on stage, his soulful sound had the power to captivate everyone in the audience and you could tell why he clearly won a Grammy for Best Gospel Song- It’s What I do featuring Lalah Hathaway. Together with his band, their set was quite outstanding!

Shelea and Kevin Whalum Safaricom Jazz
Shelea and Kevin Whalum Safaricom Jazz. Photo Credit Marion Vionna

Kirk Whalum then introduced the beautiful Shelea Fraizer; I don’t know why she’s still an upcoming artist, because her sultry voice to me is a mixture of Ledisi and Jill Scott combined into one, with a touch of Alicia Keys on the piano. When she sang her opening song from the movie Jumping the Broom, you could feel the emotions in her voice, the soulful passion in the way she plays the piano and the way the blues in her voice makes you feel like you’re back in the 50s listening to some Motown Jazz.

All night, I was looking forward to Norman Brown’s set. After the Storm and Better Days Ahead have always been among my favorite jazz tunes and I couldn’t wait to hear him perform them live! His fingers on the guitar are music to anyone’s ears. I was in awe during his performance, the way he strummed that guitar, the energy he had on stage, his presence, how he engaged the crowd in some of his pieces; everything about his performance was worth enduring the humid heat in Mombasa that night!

Norman Brown - Safaricom Jazz
Norman Brown. Photo credit Marion Vionna

Gerald Albright doesn’t need any introduction, he is one of those jazz maestros. I remember my dad listening to while we were growing up and I couldn’t miss an opportunity to see him live on stage! He is an amazing saxophonist and it resonated in every song he played, his performance was so powerful and every set he played got a standing ovation from the crowd! At the end of the show, they all came back together on stage to perform once again, and the crowd kept asking for more despite the show coming to an end. I couldn’t pass an opportunity to get my hands on an autographed album from all of them; while they patiently endured all the selfies and hugs we put them through during the autograph signing.

Gerald Albright Safaricom Jazz
Gerald Albright. Photo Credit Marion Vionna
Kirk Whalum Safaricom Jazz 2
Photo Credit Marion Vionna

It was an amazing, well organized concert. From the security detail around Butterfly Pavilion, the tour buses that dropped and picked people from the main entrance, to the beautiful ambience, captivating show, sound and setup. Mombasa definitely has a growing number of jazz enthusiasts and we sure look forward to more jazz festivals gracing this coastal city of ours!

Article by Marion Vionna.

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