Saturday 28th July was a delicious treat! I attended the 7-9 pm #TEFBrazen show which was much more vivid and engaging than I expected. The production, directed by Wanjiku Mwawuganga, was arousing and brazenly unapologetic with a humor that served well too. Here is a brief recap of what I made of the performance:

Based on a script written by Anne Moraa, Aleya Kassam and Laura Ekumbo, the all-female cast shone, who not only delivered their individual roles beautifully but also greatly complemented each other as an entity. Settings of the past were meshed with great artistry to dramatise exceptional Kenyan women whose history has been solidly effaced – Mekatilili wa Menza, Field Marshall Muthoni, Wangu wa Makeri, Zarina Patel, Philomena Chelagat and the female legend from Nandi who saw to it the defeat of traditional warrior Luanda Magere.

The main cast whose anchor was Cucu played by Sitawa Namwalie, comprised of five other women: Beatrice (Suki Wanza Nyadawa), Ciru (Aleya Kassam), Nakagwa (Laura Ekumbo), Lilian (Elsie Akinyi Oluoch) and Bosi (Mercy Mbithe Mutisya). The setting was reminiscent of round-a-fire story-telling sessions as each of the women swapped to narrate. A most memorable component of the performance was that Cucu staged Muthoni wa Kirima, one of the four Mau Mau Field Marshals and the only woman to have achieved the rank.

Bosi, the crowd’s favourite as was mine, gave a wonderfully dramatic account of the Luanda Magere legend. Her style of delivery which was uniformly exciting and comic captured collective attention. Beatrice too was nothing less than revelatory as she went about – more a weapon than altruistically – quoting the bible, lol! Nakagwa made a viscerally moving performance. Was her being pregnant symbolic of something? Future generations to whom these stories we shall pass, perhaps? Come to think of it, I didn’t think anything of it until now.

I particularly liked Nyokabi Wainaina who I could easily say was the standout of the evening at-least to me. Playing Legends, she brilliantly morphed and adapted to the featured heroines, which couldn’t have been a mean feat! Her commitment was admirable and truly, I think she deserved a special praise for projecting well. Anne Moraa too.

Ciru was for me an underwhelming character. Although there were moments of triumph between her narration which told of Zarina Patel’s fight to have the Jeevanjee Gardens remain a public amenity, she did not do the narration much justice. It was just so different and I thought it a largely miscalculated move to have presented her as an intoxicated character in the first place.

I anticipated being immersed in a world of badass women for badass women (and men) by badass women. A remarkably badass show is what I got! I may never really know the turmoil these brazen women went through, but thanks to the #TEFBrazen cast, the physical, emotional and psychological sketches were strongly realized. I am, for instance also, yet to get reconciled to the fact that Mekatilili was 70 years old when she led the Giriama rebellion! SEVENTY…SEVEN ZERO….whew!

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To the credit of the director, the stage manager, the scriptwriters, dancers and everyone involved, this was a highly spirited show; there were a few unsteady moments but the overall outcome was a well-coordinated and laudable execution. The end, though I felt it a bit of an anticlimax, was deservedly met with an enthusiastic ovation.

featured photo credit: Homeboyz Radio

This past Saturday, with thanks to a good friend of mine, I went and lost myself in a sound so sublime that was wielded with great emotive power. This was my first time attending a reggae concert and I confess to have been truly and greatly impressed by the grandeur, grace and beguiling modesty of Jamar McNaughton.

Chronixx, greatly reviewed by Pitchfork and the New York Times, has been one of the most exciting discoveries to which I was directed in my exploration of new-school and revival reggae. The titles of each song he pulled off that night, from Roots & ChaliceMost IHere Comes TroubleLegendSmile JamaicaLikes, Marlon’s Ganja Planter among others, all have symbolic significance to this conscious artist who cares deeply for creed. By all accounts an exciting performance, Chronixx was inexhaustibly fabulous!

Besides H_Art the Band with whom Chronixx performed Uliza Kiatu, Lavosti is the only other act that I found quite well nuanced with his Negus Negast performance. I am inclined to say that I was proud of their output. However, Timeless Noel and P Unit were as disappointing as were the masters of ceremony whose endless talk, in the name of hyping up, was naught but a distraction.

The crowd was wholly gripped despite the otherwise drab weather that threatened to ruin. Channeling a youthful energy that overflowed with infectious carefree moments, what I loved most about it was that the attendees patently and unabashedly enjoyed themselves. Still, in spite of ganja aplenty as well as fears of thefts and related commotions, there wasn’t any ruckus reported.

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I have in many instances bemoaned the quality of concerts and live bands here, but Chronixx’s performance felt like a divine gift. So finely attuned to the moment was he that for some 2-3 non-stop hours, his energy never flagged. How honoured and refreshing it feels to have witnessed a performance so impassioned, well paced and commendably achieved!

I stan. I stan for Chronixx.

I am, right now, euphorically happy after having seen a tweet that reminded me of Mory Kante – the product of a family of Mandinka griots from Guinea. Mory’s is an interesting musical journey ever since he was first sent to Mali to learn folk lore and kora playing. He was only 15 when he later joined the Bamako Rail Band whose members and associated acts include Salif Keita, Djelimady Tounkara, Lanfia Diabate and Cheick Tidiane Seck.

I have grown up listening to Kante’s 1987 Akwaba Beach – a mesmeric record album of 8 tracks spinning a little shy of 40 minutes. Thanks to Ye Ke Ye Ke, Inch’Allah & Nanfoulen, it took me so short a while to warm up to Mory Kante and, at the time, my little self couldn’t help shouting ‘Yepe peee‘ to the rousing chorus whenever the former came about. Additionally, it is these three tracks that inspired my love for West African music.

Firstly, I confess to being emotionally invested in Ye Ke Ye Ke. Delivered with passion, the song has a beautiful timbre and Mory performs it with such unflagging energy. His voice too is a treat – bright and strong – which he employs with a relentless focus. The production that is Deni is a hoot!

Inch’Allah is a well polished track whose dynamics take the listener through a devout chant delivered in admirable attention and beautiful coloration. Similarly, the chords convey an equal intimacy of devotion. My enjoyment of Tama is elevated by the fact that Kante captures the vibrations of soul music with beautiful flourishes of the kora and percussion. Can you imagine that some two Indian music directors (Laxmikanth-Pyarelal and Bappi Lahiri) have infringed on Kante’s copyright to this song and have, matter of fact, been in battle as to which of them owns the original? Talk of a lack of shame!

Africa 2000 is a track with a firm sense of purpose – perceptive and expressive of the hope of a united African continent. The melody’s transits are marked by interesting vistas from the kora, keyboard, trumpet and saxophones. Dia is a master stroke! A fast paced rivulet of sound where the strings are wonderfully fortified by the various other instruments to bring life to one’s feet! The quality of the overall performance in respect to how it ends ranges from honourable to excellent.

The opening of Nanfoulen is such a treat for me with the distinctive ebb and flow of the kora that is later to be embellished by the winds! The movement is appreciable and the vocals, not essentially the focal point, are significant in expanding the melody. In the titular track Akwaba Beach, Kante’s bright-toned tenor is solid and as impressive as are the instruments, each distinctively individual. There is not much dynamic nuance but the guitars, both charming and agile, give it a nice gravitas.

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In addition to Touma (1990), Akwaba Beach remains, to date, one of my favourite of his works – the sweep of the music, its energy, rich harmonies and the unmitigated musicianship unfolding with elegant precision! Truly, the overall effect of the album is an uncompromisingly beautiful feel.

Rather than taking a chance on a likely dull evening at home, I judiciously chose to spend my Saturday night alongside a small gathering of music revelers. It turned out that my decision paid well. Now, you can’t imagine why I chose to attend this one, can you? Well, La Vida Local 2, organised by Don Ouko of Sax Therapy, sounded very much like a glass of cheers that posed an opportunity to have a nice chat with guests at The Blues restaurant.

What a joyous 3 hours we spent in the company of some talented and besuited young men who ripped through a set of covers, own compositions and on-the-stage improvisations! I cannot really pinpoint who carried the night but, in as much as there was a lot to be savored in each of the performing acts, I will shamelessly plug in the following four who made an impression on me:

Kevin

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Picture by Kevin Vladique

Having previously spied on one of his performances at Tapas in Westlands, I wanted to catch Kevin’s performance again in part out of perverse curiosity. The tenderness of his performance was quite something as he played to the tunes of flamenco. With his commendable guitar playing, Kevin performed three covers one of which was Toni Braxton’s Spanish Guitar. His, overall, was a splendid recap of how and why he fell in love with flamenco.

Daniel Mugoci

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Picture by Kevin Vladique

Until that night, I had only heard of this 21 year old saxophonist from various quarters and so for me, it was both pleasing and reassuring to hear him play in such fine form! His gift for playing the soprano sax with such an expressive range is incredible and true to what has been said of him, he is about the next big thing hitting the Nairobi jazz scene. His playing was discerningly euphoric to the extent that he at some point reminded me of Miles Davis.

David Pragmo

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Picture by Kevin Vladique

I got a stint of Pragmo at Richard Bona’s concert in Uganda last month and I remember thinking at the time that he plays with great promise. Little did I know he was one of the artists to grace La Vida Local 2 alongside Michael Kitanda! His sturdy performance on this evening was attractive throughout and it offered a consummately relaxing feel. Additionally, I think it is delightful that I snugged a signed copy of his album Out of the Ashes that I will be reviewing soon!

Michael Kitanda

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Picture by Kevin Vladique

The thrill of discovery is an indispensable thing and having missed an opportunity to chat with him at the Jazz Safari event, Michael coming to give a performance at The Blues was a miracle of the universe. As the night’s central character, play did he the sax with a strong and emotionally nuanced force. Some elements of his playing were both striking and effective; like when he brilliantly carried a long note and when he pulled off some tasteful vibratos.

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This was an evening of song and for all its worth and all its performances, I make no complaint. But the lack of starting on time is another matter.

My theory that it is impossible to leave a Too Early for Birds performance without either donning a smile on your face or having learnt something new still stands. I have just now purchased my ticket to this month’s TEFB dubbed The Brazen Edition – a show that will feature an all women crew broadcasting untold stories of brazen women past.

The Brazen Edition is about the unapologetic existence; space taking, opportunity seizing, ceiling shattering, mind blowing women. They are you. They are me. They are us.

History has at any time been what it is now – writing, publishing and archiving with a particular gloss over women. So, what is it about women that attracts such intensive diminution despite their being so powerful beings?

In this derisive world, it is all too easy to diminish and erase other people simply because they are audacious. This kind of erasure is exactly what happened to Kenyan women whose vast contributions in the fight towards many freedoms we enjoy today has, for many years during and after the colonial era, been largely erased.

I will suppose that the answer to my question above is based on the fear of what they could and can accomplish and I will also suppose that history isn’t the demon per se. For the patriarchal, this will be an adventure outside of their comfort zone.

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Date: 27th to 29th July 2018

Time: 7-9 pm (Friday); 2-4 pm and 7-9 pm (Saturday and Sunday)

Venue: Kenya National Theatre

Tickets: *KES 1,000/- (Advance) and KES 1,500/- (Gate)

*To be purchased via M-Pesa Till Number: 734196