Safaricom Jazz Lounge November will be happening this weekend and it promises to be a great musical experience. Shamsi Music will be the curtain raisers for this event. We caught up with Shamsi Music for Mics And Beats to find out more about this all band. Shamsi Music is a recording and performing instrumental jazz fusion band formed in October 2014 and comprises of friends who come together to make music that refreshes, inspires and gives hope, for God’s glory. Shamsi is Arabic/Urdu for “Sun/Solar”. They desire to be a light to the world and music industry.
Shamsi Music always provides a sophisticated and memorable show. Their repertoire covers a mix of jazz, afro jazz, blues, and classics with a dash of contemporary pop tunes. Available primarily as a six-piece unit whose member composition can increase or reduce depending on need, they are a band that lovers of unique and refreshing musical experiences deserve to experience.
Shamsi is Arabic/Urdu for “Sun/Solar”. We desire to be a light to the world and music industry.
The band comprises of:
- Paul Mbithi – Band leader, Music Director, Pianist, Keyboardist, Composer
- Samwel “Laka‟ Nyaga – Assistant band leader, Saxophonist, Composer
- George Nyoro – Pianist, Keyboardist, Composer
- Kenn “Biggie‟ Njoroge – Drummer, Band Manager
- Michael Munene – Bassist, Composer
- Immaunel Mohol – Guitars
How long have you all known each other? How did you meet?
We’ve all known each other for many years –even before we had any ambitions of pursuing careers in Music. Different members of the band forged friendships through interactions in church, school, and even in other bands! Then in 2014 we all came together to play for a benefit concert, and Paul had an epiphany: to start a jazz fusion band that would showcase our original compositions, and create a bridge for us from the church into the mainstream music scene.
When did you form your band? What inspired you to make music together?
The band was formed in October 2014, a few months after the annual KNEF (Kinyua Ngeera Education Foundation) benefit concert. There was obvious chemistry between us as we played together, and we loved to play our own songs. The primary unit had played this particular benefit gig for 2 years, 2013 and 2014. By this time, we had discovered that we were all church musicians who loved jazz fusion music, and were yearning for a platform to play this music. We began to collaborate on a few initial projects, but it became obvious we were meant for each other!
Which instruments do you play?
Saxophone (Laka), Piano/Keyboards (Paul, George), Guitar (Immanuel), Bass Guitar (Michael), and Drums (Kenn)
How would you describe your music to somebody who has never heard you play before?
We go with Jazz Fusion, specifically, Afro-Jazz Fusion
Who are your favourite musicians?
We enjoy listening to Afro Jazz artists like Jimmy Dludlu, Kunle Ayo, Richard Bona, Lokua Kanza, and Hugh Masekhela. Jazz Fusion artists and ensembles like Spyro Gyra (notable musicians in the region have pointed out that we sound a lot like them), The Yellow Jackets, Snarky Puppy, John Raymond and Jonathan Butler.
What is your music all about?
Our music has strong and memorable melodies and rhythms that linger long after the performance is done. Our music also has strong roots in the sound of the land, meaning it is recognizable as authentically Kenyan. We pride ourselves in creating memorable musical experience!
Who are your major influences?
Our jazz influences include Kirk Whalum, Herbie Hancock, Chic Corea, George Duke, Dexter Gordon, Grover Washington Jr, Duke Ellington, Wynton Marsalis, Oscar Peterson, Brian Culbertson, Nathan East, Richard Bona and Jamie Cullum.
What can people expect to see at your live performance?
High energy performances, refreshing music, and lots of chemistry!
Who writes your songs? What are the main themes or topics for most of your songs? Do you think these topics will change over time?
Our main composers and arrangers are Paul, George, and Laka (and Michael just joined the band wagon – pun intended).
The themes centre around the human condition, lessons we learn in our Spiritual walk, and appreciating Africa, and our motherland, Kenya (in its beauty, wildlife, culture, and people).
What has been your biggest challenge as a band?
Starting out and becoming full time musicians! Some members have/had office jobs, one member is still in school, and our lives outside of the band that often make full-time engagement challenging.
We are slowly learning to work around this, seeing as we have chosen music, and music chose some of us. Kenn Biggie, the drummer, actually gave up a career in Engineering to pursue music full time. We have learnt to create schedules and band combinations that work for us, despite the challenges.
What advice do you have for people who want to form a band?
Figure out at the beginning what it is you want to do, and why you want to play together, then commit to it!
How do you handle mistakes during a performance?
We storm off stage… Just kidding… We make a face or laugh and move on. This has changed from earlier on when we would covertly scold each other on stage! Now, we try and have as much fun on stage as possible, even with the mistakes. We are not perfect, but we try to be excellent in our delivery. Mistakes are part of the process… it’s human! What you do to recover on and off stage is what matters most.
What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?
Learning an instrument is a marathon. Figure out the goal you have at the end of the marathon, e.g. play piano like Mbithi, or drums like Biggie,or bass like Munene etc etc then work out what your daily sprint is, and work out what your daily exercise is. The more work you do in the practice room (individually) the less you have to worry about on the stage.
Don’t practice until you get it right; practice until you can’t get it wrong! Although honestly, this is quite the difficult mantra to live by… But the greats do it, who are we not to?
How often and for how long do you practice?
Right now, we’re at 3-4 rehearsals a week, each at least three hours. One of our core values is individual practice. We’ve made a distinction between practice and rehearsal: Practice is what you do by yourself, on your own time, in your own space –learning the songs, going over scales, building individual style and tone; and rehearsal is what we do together –going through the songs and creating unique and dynamic arrangements.
What do you think your biggest break or greatest opportunity has been so far in your musical career?
Getting into the Safaricom International Jazz Festival is huge! We’ve auditioned three times! And we’ve grown by leaps and bounds since our first audition. This really is one of the major local platforms we had hoped for when we started out, so we’re ecstatic about being part of this year’s line-up and the opportunities that are there for the taking after SIJF!
Also, recording our album, The Audition, which comes out early 2017, really helped us think about our songs more deeply and brought out the essence of who we are as a unit.
What did you guys do when you realized you had been chosen to be one of the Kenyan bands performing for the 2016-2017 Safaricom Jazz Circuit?
We were just from a rehearsal when we got the audition email response from the organizers, we quickly scanned through to the end, where the actual news was, which is usually after about 2 paragraphs of formalities … Then the news we expected but didn’t expect… We had been accepted! We ran around screaming like little kids (it’s good to be honest and human), exchanged a couple of hugs, looked at each other in disbelief, prayed then danced without a care in the world. WE WERE IN!
What keeps you going as a band?
Money, girls, fame … Again, just kidding.
Honestly speaking, the desire to live out our God-given purpose as a band and individuals, conquering what we consider impossible, getting better each day at what we do and leaving an unmistakable legacy in Kenya, Africa and the world! Being the light!
Where would you like to see yourself within the next five years as a band? What are your long-term career goals?
We hope to record and collaborate a ton! We also hope to really propagate the idea of bands connecting with the sound of the land and explore unchartered waters in jazz fusion music, for example, music therapy, God-honoring love songs, instrumental Gospel and social justice songs as well as good old feel-good music.
What are your long term career goals?
We want to leave an unmistakable musical legacy in the land.
If you were to perform with anybody/group in the world, either dead, alive who would it be? (You can name a couple of people)
We warn you, this list will be eclectic, based on the very different individual musical influences in the band. Here goes;
- King David from the Bible J
- Shamsi Music – True story J
- Kendi Nkonge – Recently just achieved, but worth making the list
- Kirk Whalum
- George Duke
- Tori Kelly
- …and most of our musical influences listed in a previous question.
What are your up to date performance plans? New releases? Tours? News
We currently have an on-going engagement at The Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club. We perform there every alternate Sunday.
Earlier this year we recorded and toured with Mwanga band here in Nairobi, as well as in California, USA. We also have become a favourite for weddings and corporate engagements and we have a couple of these lined up for the year. Lastly, we have gained noticeable ground in the local music scene, being featured in events like Drum Jam, The Kendi Nkonge Experience, Mwanga Band live recording and tours, Art-a-noon events, Jazz in the Park, International Jazz Day 2016, Kinyua Ngeera Education Foundation Benefit Concerts, Jazz Nights at notable establishments such as Radisson Blu, The Royal Orchid Hotel and The Windsor, and last but definitely not the least, The Safaricom International Jazz Festival Series 2016/2017.
Next year is already looking busy. We will be releasing our debut album, The Audition, in the first half of 2017 with a couple of album promotion tour engagements planned around that.
We will also be part of several events by Chatterbox Film and Theatre, MODO Music and Media and a number of other industry stakeholders; fresh content that’s designed to shake the Kenyan Entertainment Industry – a bold, but committed statement.
Finally, we have a couple of interesting artiste collaborations planned, watch this space J.