The 2017 Safaricom Jazz Festival – Telling Stories Through Iconic Jazz Music


One of the most anticipated events of the year, the Safaricom International Jazz Festival, went down this weekend and scores of jazz lovers turned up in the thousands for an afternoon filled with music, food and the enjoyment of a laidback audience. The Safaricom Jazz stage has been able to host several stars and influential performers but most of all, they have had the chance to gift Kenyans with a platform that has been graced with transformative music. With the world stage setup done by MoSound Events, the whole arena lit up with life, pomp and colour promising a very festive afternoon ahead even before the music started playing.

As always, the event preceded very many expectations. Some of them included:

  1. The array of plenty of food and drink

An advantage of Safaricom Jazz (in the food department) is that they let you carry your own food and drinks but also brought around a number of food & drink vendors like Steers, the Wine Bar, Carnivore, Rockbern Coffee among many others.

  1. DJ D-Lite’s performance on the decks

Aside from the headliners performances that we eagerly awaited for, I thoroughly enjoyed the music played by the one and only DJ D-Lite! The music he played, like ‘Watermelon Man by Herbie Hancock’ was definitely suited for the grown and sexy crowd that was gradually filling up the arena and he had us on our feet and our hearts at ease with the remarkable jazz music that set the pace for the main acts.


  1. Performances!

Taxi wars were first on stage and boy did they have the audience in a daze. Taxi Wars aren’t your average jazz band, their tracks have the structure and vocal style of a typical rock song but are clearly moved by a jazz engine. From the opening bars of one of their most popular tracks ‘Bridges’ was a favourite and it had a way of grabbed you by the hand and throwing you into the vast ambience of their music

The thing I loved about TaxiWars was the fact that they could sound warm and engaging one minute yet aggressive and menacing the next, but the crowd was definitely guaranteed high energy and sensitivity – and a punk nature that set the band apart from the moment they got onto the stage.


Bokani Dyer was next on stage and from the get-go, he and his band warmed up the crowd with his songs ‘African Piano’ and ‘Vuvuzela’. What really cranked up the crowd, however, was the collaboration he did with Laka Nyaga who plays the Saxophone for Shamsi Music.


A clear favourite that afternoon was Kenya’s very own Shamsi Music who delivered a whole bout of energy with a fusion of jazz music that was both entertaining and engaging. Their performances of ‘Ni Murata’ and some upbeat Katitu had everyone screaming for more.



The girl trio, The Hazelnuts decided to enchant the crowd with the melodic voices, crisp melodies and soulful renditions of songs like ‘They’ll be some changes’ – a song originally published in 1921 and the popular ‘Single Ladies’ by Beyonce. Together with Arun Ghosh, they also wowed the crowd with their performance of ‘Walking in Jerusalem just like John’ which was originally performed by Marty Stuart.


How amazing was Arun Ghosh on clarinet? I have never heard the clarinet played that way and you could hear the influence of his Indian roots. He did a collaboration with the Nairobi Horns and a drummer from Tanzania in a project sponsored by the British Council called East Africa Arts. Aurora came out in such a fantastic way. The most amazing thing is that they worked together for only one week and they made some new beautiful music together. It is true that music is a universal language.


Ray Lema and the Saka Saka band were a crowd favourite as well. Their blend of Jazz and Rhumba was fantastic, and they got the crowd dancing. Ray Lema and the Saka Saka orchestra brought together an amazing African flow. I mean, wow!



Nairobi Horns Project delivered a once in a lifetime performance! They especially captured the attention of the whole arena by playing swanky renditions of old school Kenyan music like ‘Boomba Train’ by the late E-Sir, Elani’s ‘KooKoo’ and other renowned tracks by Kenyan bands. They also blew us away when they decided to crank up their act with a collabo from Arun Ghosh and MacKinlay Mutsembi who wowed us with his mastery on the trumpet.


Last but not least was the most awaited performance of the evening, David Sanborn! For more than an hour, the legendary Sanborn blew away the crowd with his master of the saxophone and together with his band, they delivered a breathtaking experience of songs like “The Dream’, ‘Ordinary people’ from his album ‘Time in the river’, ‘Maputo’ and a special jazz rendition of the famous Happy birthday song which culminated into an iconic hour of music that commanded the respect of all those in attendance. People were jazzed by how his music lingered in the cold Nairobi evening air and how it had a gritty, powerful effect on the revellers at the festival. No one wanted him to leave – obviously – but one thing’s for sure; anyone who attended would attest to the fact that they have never been a transcendent performance like David Sanborn’s.


4. Children’s Fun Activities And Concert

The children were not left out. They had a play area where they could play to their hearts content. Several sponsors also had items which the kids loved like notebooks at the KLM tent, flash disks at the Belgium tents and free popcorn at the Israel tent. There was so much to occupy the kids and this gave parents a chance to get to enjoy the musical performances.  On Saturday young jazz lovers from different schools had a chance to experience their own concert in Kasarani. They got to experience the concert feel of the festival without having adults there to spoil their fun. This is great because they got to interact with the musicians, and generally have a great time.

The event was amazing, and the organisation was done really well, kudos to the Safaricom team. The one let down was the toilets, they got really messy and the attendants didn’t seem to know what to do about it. This is something that needs to be better managed by the vendors. There were shuttles from town bringing people to the venue and taking them back after the event. There were also some shuttles during some local running saving people the trip between the parking lot and the venue, which was great.

It was easy to see why Safaricom Jazz is a favourite for many and it seems to be getting more and more fans every year.

Photo Credits: All Images Courtesy Of Safaricom.

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