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Mics And Beats: Juma Tutu Of The Swahili Jazz Band

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Today on Mics And Beats we feature Juma Tutu. Juma Tutu is a performer, music director, composer, arranger, film & music scriptwriter.  Juma heads the Popular Swahili Jazz and the Tutu bands which are top notch bands in East Africa that have over the years been providing excellent live music entertainment services to Corporate, Government, private events, restaurants, lounges, golf courses and many other venues.

Before starting his Tutu band in 2003 Juma had previously played with the famous Mushrooms band, Bango sounds, Generation Band and Wazalendo band. Juma led the Safaricom Kenya Live band and Niko na Safaricom bands in 2010 and 2011 consecutively. He has made appearances at major national events at Nairobi State house and other high profile events. He is currently the Music Director at KCCL International School in Nairobi.

Nakupenda kama sukari’ is a Kenyan classic that has been played in concerts, radios and clubs alike. What most people don’t know is who is behind the golden age track. Juma describes himself as a simple Kenyan born musician who lives and breathes music. He started his musical journey at an early age after being exposed to music by his late Dad who was also a great musician.

This Sunday, Juma, who is the director of the Swahili Jazz band, will be on stage alongside other Kenyan greats celebrating The International Jazz Day Concert as Safaricom also marks 5 years of Safaricom Jazz Festivals.

Kindly tell us who you are and what you do.

My name is Juma Abdalla Atibu but most people know me as Juma Tutu. I am a music composer, creative director and band leader of the Swahili Jazz Band.

When/why did you start singing? Which instruments do you play?

I grew up in a musical family in the coastal town of Mombasa and took interest in learning musical instruments in 1998 as a form four student at Tudor Day high school.

I took interest in the saxophone but I am also well conversant with drums. On completion of my O levels, my father requested his friends for an opportunity for me to join their band and improve my musical skills. I then joined the Generations band which was one of the most prominent bands in Mombasa.

When did you form Swahili Jazz Band? What inspired you to make music together?

Swahili jazz band was formed in 2013. Before that, however, I had played with Generations Band which was one of the most prominent bands in Mombasa at the time, Bango Sounds and The Mushrooms Band of the Jambo Bwana fame before forming my own band which was formerly called the Tutu Band in 2003.

We don’t have permanent members in the group, however, we’ve known each other for very many years and played together on many occasions.

I keep enrolling new artists but I’ve retained Nafsi Huru. I’ve also mentored drummer and bass guitarist Ted Mwangi, Trumpeter Emmanuel Olabode, David Mwando on the drums and Emmy, a very talented trumpet player from Japan

What inspires us to make music is the fact that Jazz chose us and it follows us in every moment of our lives. We love Jazz and it loves us back.

Why Swahili Jazz?

Swahili Jazz Band just comes from the name of the music we compose. Swahili Jazz is a blend of native Mijikenda traditional music with Asian, Arabic and some western influences. The name Swahili Jazz may make it albeit complicated for some people to comprehend, but it’s basically music that you can easily relate to through its soothing and unique melodies.

 

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently in the studio working on my second album. I produced and released my first album called KiMombasa in 2006 but I removed it from the market after I realised that its quality wasn’t up to the standard I had hoped.

I also released a live album in 2013 called ‘Ukweli Ulivyo’ with the song ‘Lazaro’ as the first single from the album which people can get when they contact me.

How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard you play before?

Our music is very soothing and is highly enriched with a unique sound and poetic Swahili lyrics. It’s definitely the kind of music you’ll fall in love with the minute you get to hear us play.

What can people expect to see at one of your live performances?

Our audience can expect an uplifting experience filled with rich harmonies and soothing melodies that will change their lives.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a band?

 One of the biggest challenges that we have faced is working with the system. The government is still adamant to fully support the arts so you find young artists really struggling to make a name and a living for themselves in the country. It gets frustrating when an artist spends their time, money and energy in making their craft better and then going home with nothing to eat.

In order to art to really grow in the country, the government has to take our work seriously the way we do.

How do you handle mistakes in a performance?

I don’t really believe we make mistakes while we perform; I believe we have room to make magic. I believe that such moments are for innovation and the creation of something new.

Did you receive any formal education in music?

I enrolled at the Tangaza University two years ago to pursue a Certificate in Music.

How often and how long do you practice?

As a group, we try and practice twice a week. I practice every moment I possibly can.

What have been some of the biggest moments you’ve had as a band?

Every moment we get to play our music is a great moment for us. However, some very memorable ones include sharing the stage with acts like the famous Kool and the Gang, traveling to South Africa to back the late Mighty King Kong, performing at the Blankets and Wine 2013 edition & playing at the Safaricom Jazz festivals.

Our band was also contracted by Safaricom Limited as the main band in the Safaricom Kenya Live project and for the Niko na Safaricom project in 2012 where I was a band leader.

Where do you see yourself as a band in the next five years?

We desire that our music will continue to go international in the next two to three years. We want to share our unique sound with the world and we would also like to bring up the younger generation to share that stage with us; to believe and work on their craft to the point where they can command the attention of millions just by the sound of their music.

If you were to perform with anybody/group in the world, who would it be?

Hugh Masekela, Joshua Redman, George Benson and Washington Kamasi.

What are your up to date performance plans? Any new releases? Tours?

We’re very excited to be playing on the Safaricom Jazz festival stage once more alongside other Kenyan great acts this Sunday at the Carnivore Grounds.

We play at weddings, corporate events and other events we’re contracted to play at but none of which are public at the moment.

If you would like to interact with Juma Tutu you can do it through the Swahili Jazz Band Facebook page and Juma’s personal YouTube page.

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