Ad Hoc may not be a familiar name but after performing this weekend at Safaricom Jazz, you will most likely see them everywhere. I caught up with Dan Abissi to find out more about who they are and what they are doing.
Ad Hoc is a young, growing sensational jazz band that is creating quality timeless music. Formed in February 2017, the band provides their audience with an enlightenment through music as they pass their ideas through the ‘Ad Hoc experience’ With Dan Abissi on Keys, Stephen Mutangili on the Trumpet, Samuel Mutuku on the Saxophone, John Musembi on Lead Guitar, Tunu Jumwa on Bass Guitar and Edwin Keya on Drums, all come together to bring out a rich and unique sound, making the experience memorable.
Who are Ad Hoc?
This is where I want to say we came from the hills. We were just regular guys who loved playing music so it’s made up of different personalities.
How and where did you meet?
We met over a long period of time and different points in our lives. For example, with one of the guys, we went to the same primary school, high school and university. The others we met in high school. So, over that period, we’ve formed a good friendship.
When and why did you start performing together?
We’ve played together before. We knew each other from high school so we played in the school band marching band and other ensembles. We got to campus, studied music and there was a lot of group work we had to do. That’s when we started playing together a lot. Then we started being called for small weddings so we formed a makeshift band for that. In 2017, after we played in a certain function, we decided to make it official, and that’s how we became Ad Hoc.
How long have you been performing together?
As Ad Hoc, it’s been one and a half years but as individuals, we’ve been performing for over 10 years.
How did you get to perform at Safaricom Jazz?
We auditioned the first time last year. Before that, there was another audition but we weren’t Ad Hoc, but we were still the same guys. So we had just come from a gig and there was a Safaricom Jazz audition so we decided to pop in and see. Before we got to the venue, my car stalled because it ran out of fuel. We got fuel and got to the venue but now we smelled like we worked at a petrol station. They told to check our names at the front desk. Then we were told we couldn’t audition because we didn’t book in advance. So, we auditioned this year and go the gig.
You auditioned last year as well. What did they say?
Yes, we auditioned last year as well but didn’t make it. We asked for constructive feedback on the non-musical elements we could include in our performance. So, over the last one year, we’ve been trying to incorporate those elements like playing more often and playing at all kinds of gigs. And here we are.
What was different about how you auditioned this year?
What we did this time is that we came as ourselves. We rehearsed the music we loved and played by ourselves. We didn’t look at it as an audition and it changed the whole perspective.
Who is Ad Hoc when you talk about “ourselves”?
We are made of 6 members. We have Stephen Mutangili who plays the trumpet, Samuel Mutuku who plays the saxophone, Edwin Kiya who plays the drums, John Musembi who plays the lead guitar and an amazing female bass player called Turu Jumwa and I play the keys.
Do you guys have a formal education in music? You said you studied music but did the others study music as well?
Everyone has interacted with music in a formal setting but there are four of us with a formal music education.
Thinking back to your childhood, what were your influences?
My music is heavily influenced by the music I listened to growing up and not the mainstream music. The songs we sang as children. Those were the ones.
The first encounter that I, Abissi, can remember, I was in class five and my grandpa, who is very musical, involved me in his choir project, teaching me how to do SolFa notation. He later in asked me to teach a section of the choir what he had taught me. At that time, we were doing Christmas carols. Yeah, that’s my earliest encounter that I can remember.
The band lounging outdoors. Image courtesy of AdHoc
Would you write music that kids would love?
I think I would. However, the music we loved as kids, the kids right now might not love.
Who are your favourite musicians? Groups?
That would be Nyashinski, Sauti Sol and Shamsi Music.
How do you handle mistakes during a performance?
Laugh it out and keep on playing like the mistake was part of the performance. Most of the time the audience doesn’t even notice.
What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?
Being nervous is normal. Even the best musicians get nervous but once you are before people you’ll realize it was never that serious. Do what you do, like it’s your last chance.
When did you realize you wanted to pursue music a career in music?
For me, it happened in Form 2. I decided that I wanted to be a concert pianist when I realized I’m skiving all Physics cases to go play the piano.
What can people expect to see at your live performance?
The Ad hoc experience!!! Great jazz, with great influences from our native ethnic culture. Very interactive music, music that you just can’t sit still to. Its a lot of familiar music presented in a different angle. We have a lineup of a lot if Kenyan songs, classic Kenyan folk songs and a few compositions. The sound is authentically Kenyan and folk-inspired.
What’s your signature performance style?
It’s just Ad Hoc. A lot of singing and dancing.
Do you write your own music or perform others?
90% of the time we write our own music. Everyone gets to chip in, in terms of ideas. But our main music arrangers and composers are Dan Abissi, the Music Director and Pianist; and Samuel Mutuku, our Saxophonist.
What do you think your biggest break has been?
We think it has to be getting to be part of the Safaricom Jazz Festival 2018/2019. It really has blown up our profile as a band. And now we can’t wait to share our music with the whole world.
Why was it the biggest opportunity?
It’s the biggest Jazz platform in East Africa and that puts us on the same stage as award-winning musicians. We’re able to play with them and most importantly, we’re able to play music for a good cause. For instance, ticket sales go towards supporting the Ghetto Classics.
Have you done music with them before?
I have worked with Ghetto Classics for different projects.
What lessons have you learned as part of being a band?
Ask for feedback and take it seriously.
It is very important to keep open and clear communication among the members. That is key in developing one mind and being able to cohere as a unit. Consistency is also very crucial especially in rehearsing and management of the opportunities and resources available to the band.
Were you guys another band/s before you started performing together? How was it?
For some of us, yes we were. A small core of Ad Hoc was part of an earlier formed ensemble called Phrygian which existed for 2 years between 2014 and 2016. Phrygian gave us the foundation for technical excellence, musical understanding and character development that has proven very important in the development of Ad Hoc as an entity.
What’s your favourite type of music and is it different from what you play?
I listen to a lot of classical music and hip-hop. We don’t play classical music but we all have an inclination towards classical music.
How come many Kenyan musicians don’t make music that they listen to?
You know, there’s music for musicians and music for musician’s fans. That’s a very important line. It’s important to strike a balance between creativity and predictability. Like right now, I’m listening to a lot of Arabic music.
What are your other interests outside of music as a band?
We all enjoy different things, for instance, Musembi plays football for a club here in Nairobi, Sam is a spiritual leader. I am intrigued by human behaviour in different situations, I love learning about human Psychology. It kind of helps me understand myself and the people around me better. It helps me understand why certain decisions were to be made at certain circumstances
What keeps you going as a band?
We use music to impact people positively in society.
We were friends first before the Music. We cultivate that aspect more than anything else. We also recognize each other’s uniqueness and how we do not want to lose that because it’s rare, so that motivates us to stick together. Also, we understand that unity is strength and therefore for us to succeed in our careers we need each other.
Image courtesy of AdHoc
If you had a chance to change something in the music industry what would it be?
Trying to find a sound that is genuinely Kenyan; one that we can own and call ours. Also, paving the way to upcoming musicians. With our involvement in practically teaching music, we have a great responsibility in this.
Where do you guys see yourselves in the next 5 years?
If we continue with this trajectory, we’ll be playing a lot of international shows. We are looking to perform and tour more, not just in Kenya but the rest of the world as well. We would also like to have a couple of albums and merchandise to our name.
Moreover, we’re looking to have a bigger impact on the community by inspiring younger musicians and addressing social issues affecting our country through music. But most importantly, we will be mentoring young musicians.
What are your up to date gigs?
We will be performing at Hells Gate, Naivasha for the Safaricom Jazz lounge on 20th October 2018. Also, we will partake in the Safaricom International Jazz Festival in February 2019 (11th to 19th) and 1st May 2019 in Nairobi.
We are also excited to announce that we’re in the studio working tirelessly on new and fresh music for our audience.
Are some of the stuff on the EP out?
Some are on Facebook, recorded through a concert experience.
We’re taking it one step at a time. We’re getting to understand how it is being in the performance industry.
If you are to perform with anybody in the world dead or alive, who would that be?
Hugh Masekela. Well, we would love to share a stage with Kavutha Mwanzia, Sauti Sol, Nyashinski, Serro and Ghetto classics just to name a few from Kenya. We would also be extremely honoured to share a stage with international acts like Salif Keita, Fally Ipupa, Marcus Miller, Diane Reeves, Victor Wooten, Richard Bona, and Cory Henry. The list is endless because there are several great musicians in the world.
Any words for anyone interested in your music?
We like having a good time and we let our music speak to you the way it speaks to you.
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Check out more interviews with jazz maestros, One On One With Award Winning Jazz Guitarist Norman Brown