This week #SafaricomJazz takes jazz lovers through a journey of musical heritage, culture, inspired melodies and harmonies. With a whole week’s activities lined up, jazz enthusiasts and musical lovers all around can get to enjoy an extended musical experience with the informal jam sessions, VIP show and the main concert on Sunday.
I was able to catch up with one of the artists playing at this year’s Safaricom Jazz Week, Arun Ghosh to get his take on his musical journey so far, his collaboration with the Nairobi Horns Project and what he expects from his week’s stay in Kenya.
- Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Arun Ghosh and I’m a jazz musician. I play the clarinet among other instruments like the piano and the guitar but my most favorite is the clarinet. I grew up in England but my parents are originally from India. Music has always been a huge part of my life. I started playing the recorder when I was a bit young and I then moved to the clarinet when I was 13 years old; when I first started playing the clarinet, it just felt right and I knew it was all I wanted to play all my life.
- Do you have a formal schooling in music?
I started out with basic clarinet lessons but I then wanted more so I took a course at the Royal Norton College of Music in Manchester. While I was there, I was taken through more classical music but I always knew I wanted to play jazz so I started listening to records as I dug deeper into composing, improvising and playing jazz and its history as well as researching about music from around the world. All this gave me the drive to compose my own songs and form my own band.
- How many years have you been in music so far?
I’ve been playing the clarinet for almost 27 years now and I’ve been a professional musician since I was 21 years old. When I formed my band almost 8 years ago, we released our first record in 2008.
- You’ve had quite the exposure to different cultures as you were growing up. Has it had an influence on your music and if so how would you say this has affected your music?
With all the places I’ve been to, there’s always a real mix of people who have so much to teach you, be it from their religion, their culture or their lifestyles. For example in Britain, we have the English, Irish, immigrants and communities from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, the Caribbean, Nigeria, Kenya and so on and all these influences come together to shape the music that we listen to. I wanted these influences to also have a part in shaping the music that I play or record.
I also love taking the Indian heritage and music because I really love the rhythm of the music, instruments they use and their style of melody – they’ve all started to form together with the music I make. Jazz is a story and the different people I meet only help me tell that tale even better.
- What does the ‘Take 5’ initiative entail?
‘Take 5’ was a project that was run in the United Kingdom that allows artists to collaborate with other instrumentalists from across Europe. I was selected as one of 2 UK musicians, alongside jazz guitarist Chris Sharkey, for the 2nd edition of the Take Five Europe touring as the ensemble in 2013.
It gave me quite the opportunity to move around Europe to start trying out my music outside of Britain which I enjoyed very much.
- How would you describe your music?
I believe my music is a sum of eclectic influences – geographical, social and ethnic identities included. It’s more about conjuring ideas and feelings as it is about representing different musical styles
- ‘A South Asian Suite’ is your most recent project. What was going through your mind when you were creating the album and what would first-time listeners expect from the album?
A ‘South Asian Suite’ is my most recent album and it is an intricate fusion of cultures and influences. The different pieces of music on it are inspired by different forms of heritage which are India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. I wanted to write a piece of music that told how I feel about each of these countries, for example the music from Nepal gives a feel of the mountaineering experience I had when I was there.
I believe that it is best enjoyed by watching it played live because the songs just have a way of making you part of them; you get that you’re slowly hypnotized by the tunes and rhythms.
- Have you visited the Ghetto Classics project?
Yes I have and it was quite an eye-opener for me. Personally, I loved how the kids from the program welcomed us with open arms. From the moment we got there, they wanted us to play with them and they gave me a recorder and we just had a good time making music with them. They have such amazing hearts and I applaud the efforts of Safaricom and the Ghetto Classic project in introducing the kind of music that these kids are playing there as well as the immense opportunities they have to learn every day.
I believe the project should continue in order to reach out to more and more kids because I’ve seen firsthand the kind of joy that the program has brought to the kids and I will see how I’ll be able to support the project in my own way.
- You’ll be playing with the Nairobi Horns Project as well. What kind of music should we be expecting?
We’ve had one rehearsal so far since I arrived and we’ll continue rehearsing throughout the week developing some amazing music. Their rhythm section is very strong and their Kenyan approach to the melodies of my music works really well and it’s quite impressive to see what they’ve been doing with some of my pieces of music. They brought their own kind of feeling to it and they’re also quite serious about the structure of the sound and I can’t wait to perform the new pieces of music which we’ll be premiering at the festival on Sunday.
- What are some of the expectations you have in regards to this year’s Safaricom Jazz week?
I’m really excited to play in Kenya this week. It’s my first time here and so far the vibes are just so amazing. I’m looking forward to everything; from the rehearsals with the Nairobi Horns project to the informal jazz sessions to the main event on Sunday.
Find Arun Ghosh on twitter at @arunghosh.