There are few things musical that will draw me into going for an event on a weekend, fewer still on a Sunday afternoon. I imagine that like me, some of you haven’t had enough rest this past weekend on account of FOMO. Despite having come from Jah Cure’s concert less than 3 hours ago, I had to attend the 26th edition of the Koroga Festival.

There are different sounds to afrobeat but I am not here to be prescriptive. Having been pioneered by the legendary Fela Kuti, afrobeat is a Kuti genre; one that his sons are now very cogent at. In fact, at some point during his performance, he made it clear that it is Afrobeat and not ‘afrobeats’. Femi and his Positive Force band can play the role and play it did they without any audible tiring.

The Positive Force band opened with a set of rhythm and percussion that was complemented by its horns section. Then came a highly charismatic trio of dancers-cum-percussors-cum-BGVs. Admittedly, from my position adjacent to the stage, this set precedence to an appropriately exciting atmosphere before the moment of the ship’s arrival.

The horn’s section of the Positive Force band
The highly charismatic dancing trio

With activism just as important to him, Femi channeled a little of it particularly to those of us who feel compelled to exclude others on the basis of our living standard measures. Thus, unity and the coming together of African people was a recurrent theme being that he is touring his recently released album, One People One World.

Throughout the spirited performance, the flavour of Femi’s music exuded a blend of both vigilance and relaxation. By giving us a feel of the New Afrika Shrine, there was much to admire in the singing, dancing and the band’s dynamic cuts when he performed Evil People, Corruption na Stealing, Beng Beng Beng and the titular track One People One World.

Like any great musical offering, Femi is a master in his own right holding the world record for the longest note ever sustained on the saxophone – at 51 minutes and 35 seconds. In a show of great mastery, a taste of this was something we were later treated to.

The striking moment, however, was when he staged a duet with his son Made Kuti before putting him on the spotlight. Made offered a generous and finely contrasted sax performance but that possessed many of the Kuti musical virtues. Impressive in his style and temperament, I can safely say that I am excited for his debut album to be released next year.

Made Kuti

Femi ended the show with a hilarious aside. By intimating that some parents may have conceived to his 1998 song Beng Beng Beng, he was adept and quick to highlight the sexual impropriety and irresponsibility plaguing our societies today. A fitting conclusion to a mighty fine time on stage.

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Most definitely a rewarding evening, Femi unquestionably did what he came here to do. If the event remained in any way unsatisfactory, that is in no way to be attributed to Femi whose performance rose above expected. Additionally, Them Mushrooms, Jua Cali and Samidoh came with favourable stage and vocal impressions and there could be no doubting their enthusiasm.  

Arararararararara!

It is not a pleasure I have every day or week to witness excellent musicians, however, for the better part of this year, I have been lucky to revel in some performances that, although not necessarily thrown to evoke great emotion, were very much enjoyable. This week’s showcase was one such event and it couldn’t have been more beautiful.

Wassa Sainte Nébuleuse – how fresh, well pronounced and dynamic! Over the duration during which she performed, I found her to be a good musician. Her dominating status certainly owed not only to her full-bodied vocal capabilities but also to her delicate and playful nature which was a good reason to engage whenever she asked the audience to join in.

All the same, the concert’s time was short spanning a little less than 2 hours and, in spite of a repertoire that suited her like a glove, I found Wassa’s staying power a shortcoming. Nonetheless, it was free concert and with free things, perhaps we are not to expect much.

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.

Three cheers for Cordelia Williams and one resounding cheer for the Nairobi Orchestra’s concert at the Kenya National Theatre this past weekend. I have to admit that it was truly impossible not to come out with my spirits high after such an incredible performance.

Player-wise, the orchestra boasted of about 60 grand members that seemed to have brought a grand audience along: on the one hand, the show was totally sold out and on the other, the performers were applauded on their first appearance. Chances of this concert building to an ovating climax was inevitable. It did. Under the stewardship of conductors James Laight (a pianist-cum-accompanist-cum-violinist) and Levi Wataka (a conductor-cum-director of music-cum-teacher of sports), it was nice to see the players prove why they are indeed the best. Both Laight and Levi are excellent – where Laight is relaxed and seemingly easy-going, Levi is lively and beguiling.

Debussy’s Petite Suite for Orchestra is always a guilty-pleasure thanks to its four lively movements: the soothing first (In A Boat) which is always reminiscent of flowing down a river, the playful second (Procession) which brings to mind a marching band, the magical third (Minuet) and the fourth (Ballet) an energetic dance that threatened to take me to the floor. Were it not for a refrain barring movement during the performance, the minuet and ballet had already inspired me to.

Whatever you may conceive of Tchaikovsky, you cannot deny that this symphony is a deeply personal piece of work. Starting out with a funereal first movement, Symphony No. 5 in E-minor Op 64 was performed through a passionate and rather melodic second movement, over to a delightfully light vals in its third movement and lastly to a whirlwind finale typical of Russian folk music. If I can be arsed to compose anything remotely similar to a symphony, you can expect to hear something greatly influenced by Tchaikovsky.

Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini was the most appealing – not just because he is another of my most favourite pianists, but because Cordelia quite beautifully unraveled his explosion of notey compositions. Taken from Niccolo Paganini’s Caprice No. 24, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini consists of 24 variations that fall into groups giving rise to its concerto momentum. In addition to the tremolos and the expanded cadences, I had literal fun watching the soloist’s fingers dance across the keys to Rachmaninoff’s big stretches.

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If there was any weaknesses with the concert is that the guys charged with ticketing were a bunch of chaos. Otherwise, this was an entertaining concert and everybody should catch the next.

The essence of West African music came upon Nairobi last night and anyone aware of the kora’s magic knew what to expect at the Alliance Franchaise. Notwithstanding an occasional feeling of just wanting to have the kora and the percussion duetting, the concert was eclectic and far too enjoyable to leave.

Now, I am a little skeptical about hybrid musical genres especially when it comes to African traditional repertoire and electronic music. This, however, was a spirited performance by the Simbin Project – an ensemble that consisted of Senegalese kora prodigy, Noumoucounda Cissoko and Swiss maestri: Christophe Calpini, Pierre Audétat, Ganesh Geymeier and Zacharie Ksyk. Their fusion and blending of instruments was translated beautifully.

The featured Kenyan artists Judith Bwire on Nyatiti and Kasiva Mutua on percussions did a spectacular job. Where Judith plucked and recited on a truly ornate scale, Kasiva channeled an explosion of passion so dazzling it was contagious.

The stage was refulgent and everything, instruments and instrumentalists alike, was informed by the same sense of inventiveness, dedication and enjoyment – a useful reminder that music is to be enjoyed with every sense. The only issues I take out of it are: one, the event started almost an hour late and two, it ended so early!

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Simbin Project is packed with good things and you too can catch them tonight at J’s Fresh Kitchen, Westlands courtesy of Thursday Night Live. Event starts at 8:00pm.