This week’s CNN ‘Inside Africa’ focuses on Kenyan music including #SafaricomJazz


“Africa is absolutely where everything is going to come back to: music, art, business, medicine, everything, all those answers are right here in Africa” – Saxophonist, Kirk Whalum

If you are a fan of Safaricom Jazz Festival and Kenyan music then you need to check out CNN’s Inside Africa as they cover the Safaricom International Jazz festival, country music and classical music in Kenya. CNN’s Inside Africa yesterday had the first broadcast on their special on Kenyan music and the Safaricom Jazz Festival at 2030 EAT yesterday. But if you missed it don’t worry you can catch it at any of these times

  • Saturday 16 January at 1430 and at 2130
  • Sunday 17 January at 0730
  • Tuesday 19 January at 1230
  • Thursday 21 January at 0730

CNN is reporting from Kenya, and they were on a mission to discover Kenya’s country music stars and to showcase how Nairobi’s youth perfect their classical music training. CNN’s Inside Africa takes a look at how music has evolved in Kenya, the different genres to be found here and how young musicians are being inspired to take Kenyan music to the next level.

One of the interviewees is American saxophonist Kirk Whalum who was performing in Kenya for the first time. “Jazz will always continue to evolve, representing black street culture. It opens the door and invites anybody in and invites them into this space called jazz. To do it in Africa, the birthplace, not only civilization, but culture and music, is very special.”

Although this was Kirk Whalum’s first visit to Kenya he has some memorable moments in Africa including playing for Whitney Houston in South Africa. He says, ‘the first time I played in Africa was in a very important year in 1994. In South Africa, I was working for Whitney Houston. What an experience to play for my diva, to play in South Africa the year that apartheid fell. It was transformative. I was able to play a song called Amazing Grace. She sang it and I played it. The idea that Mandela’s life personifies Amazing Grace, not just grace, to forgive the enemy and bring the enemy on your side… that grace is truly amazing. … Africa is absolutely where everything is going to come back to, music, art, business, medicine, everything, all those answers are right here in Africa.”

Safaricom's A Gospel According To Jazz. Image from
Safaricom’s A Gospel According To Jazz at the Carnivore in December. Image from

Afrosync Band, who are made up of five members and play AfroJazz are also interviewed.
Tim Riungu, who leads Afrosync, was full of praise for the Safaricom Jazz Festival. He said, “The Safaricom International Jazz Festival is a big deal when it comes to jazz circles and the jazz scene in Kenya because it’s the first of its kind and for sure the largest jazz festival Kenya has ever seen.” For him playing at the jazz festival was an opportunity to be an ambassador for fellow Kenyans and also getting the honour to play with Kirk Whalum and Gerald Albright, who is a celebrated artist in America and who has sold more than one million albums in the U.S alone.

Gerald Albright told ‘Inside Africa’: “The first time I played over here, I brought my band and we hired some additional Kenyan musicians to perform with us. Their element brought a real festive and a real different cultural aspect to the music to the point to where it was taken to another level.”

On the experience of playing with Whalum and Albright, Riungu says: “These guys have been our role models from afar. We have studied them through the University of YouTube, if you can call it that. And sharing a billing with them is a dream come true. It’s beyond our wildest expectations.”

The feature is not only on jazz but also on country music that is being played here. One of the artists ‘Inside Africa’ met and interviewed was Esther Konkara, a country musician from Kenya who has a love for Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. She talks about her love for country music and how she started listening to it at an early age. “I started listening when I was a small girl. My dad had a lot of country music. Back then, we didn’t know what they were saying, but we could hear it was beautiful music.”

Konkara bought her first guitar at 17 with her own money. Part of the appeal of country music in Kenya, Konkara says, is its striking similarity to Mugithi, a musical form originating with the Kikuyu people of Central Kenya. She tells ‘Inside Africa’: “Mugithi is played using the guitar. The melody in a country song and a Mugithi song is not that different.”

Sir Elvis Otieno, one of Kenya’s best known performers. From the Reminisce Bar in Nairobi, Otieno tells the programme was also interviewed: “I was named after Elvis Presley, the king of rock and roll, because I was born the year that Elvis Presley died, 1977… Country music in Kenya is growing really fast, like wildfire.”

‘Inside Africa also travels to Korogocho to meet the children at Ghetto Classics, an organization that taches music to more than 300 children. The proceeds from Safaricom Jazz go to support the programme, and buy instruments for the children.

Elizabeth Njoroge, Executive Director of The Art of Music Foundation (which runs Ghetto Classics), tells ‘Inside Africa’: “We believe the experience of learning music will change them, change who they are, and give them important life skills.” The kids talents have taken them far and they have even played at State House. “When we started, the community thought we were crazy, they laughed at us, now the community is very proud of Ghetto Classics.”

‘Inside Africa” also visits Brookhouse School which is known for its thriving music department

‘Inside Africa’ reports that classical music first came to Kenya during British colonialism. Moses Watatua, Music Director at Nairobi School, tells the programme: “It was for a small group of people who understood that music, mainly the colonial settlers who wanted to carry that music. But as time went on, some schools that had a tradition, like Nairobi School, kept a tradition of classical music. When the Kenyan students started learning these instruments and the taste for classical music developed, especially in the 70s and 80s, that’s when it all clicked. It stopped being just a western thing. Over time, especially as of late, when Kenyan students learn, the Ghetto Classics programme, all these programmes are developing a classical taste.”

Remember to check out the show at the times shown at the beginning of the article.

You can also check out our reviews of the two Safaricom Jazz Concerts that took place in December that featured Kirk Whalum. Steaming hot Jazz at the coast – Safaricom Jazz in Mombasa and Safaricom Jazz Nairobi: What an experience it was! A gospel according to Jazz.

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