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!

In marking International Jazz Day courtesy of the Safaricom Jazz Festival, Kenyans are in for a treat with this year’s headlining acts; jazz fusion drummer Paco Séry and arranger-cum-composer Cheick Tidiane Seck.

With an outstanding theme of celebrating African Jazz, the event line-up also features supporting international performances by South Africa’s Mandla Mlangeni and the Tune Creation Committee. Homegrown talent will include celebrated acts such as the Nairobi Horns Project, Kato & the Change band, Jacob & Kavutha Asiyo, Shamsi Music as well as the Safaricom Jazz Festival beneficiary’ Ghetto Classics.

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Paco Séry

Born in Ivory Coast into a family of 18 children, Paco is a drummer with a ‘tremendous stroke’; having made his first drum at the age of 9, and subsequently his first bass drum, it’s easy to see why the description fits to a T! His style of music – a mix of groove, funk and afrobeat – carries both his ancestral and modern influences taking delight in that the tom tom drums were calling on him. Later, Paco moved to Abidjan under the name Paco Solo, the youngest talisman to “Canne à Sucre. It was here that Eddy Louiss crossed paths with him in 1978.

Paco has numerous accolades to his name and has had exemplary performances with Jaco Pastorius, Dianne Reeves, Salif Keita, Papa Wemba, Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, Bobby McFerrin, Angélique Kidjo, Manu Dibango, Dee Dee Bridgewater among others.

Cheick T. Seck

Cheick is one of Mali’s most prolific composer and performers. A multi-instrumentalist born in 1953 in Segou, Mali, Cheick’s love for music was inspired by his mother – who at 50 had a beautiful singing voice that he likens to Aretha Franklin’s. His career kicked off when he joined the famous Bamako Rail Band as a pianist in the 1970s playing alongside Salif Keita and Mory Kante. In 1978, he moved to Abidjan, Ivory Coast where he learnt guitar and singing. An accomplished musician by 1985, Cheick accompanied Salif Keita and the Ambassadors to Paris, blending in to the world fusion scene.

Since then, Cheick has gone on to work with world renowned musicians including Fela Kuti, Oumou Sangare, Fela Kuti, Toumani Diabate, Wayne Shorter, Jimmy Cliff, Carlos Santana, Joe Zawinul, Manu Dibango, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Hank Jones and Habib Koite among others.

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This year, the festival is honoured to partner with the Jazz Sister Cities – an organisation focused on building global cultural bridges through a connection of jazz connections and partnerships. Through the Jazz Sisters Cities, Polish saxophonist/music producer Sylwester Ostrowski & The Jazz Brigade ft Dorota Miskiewicz & Freddie Hendrix who feature in their new album ‘In Our Own Way’.

Proceeds from ticket sales go towards supporting the Ghetto Classics, a music program which has, since the inception of the Safaricom International Jazz Festival in 2014, received approximately KES 60 million. Supporting the training, schooling and basic needs for teens and pre-teens from low income neighbourhoods in Nairobi and Mombasa, Ghetto Classics is set to expand to Kisumu sometime this year.

Contrary to my year’s plans, chiefly due to a busy work schedule, I am having a half-arsed attempt at catching up with events. Nonetheless, I have tried to attend those that have so far been of key interest to me; in one of those, an opportunity presented itself to make a friend who’d later drop-box me some 75 GB of jazz. The result was that my next few weeks were spent scouring through the folders and making some amazing finds about women in jazz!

My new-found friend thinks it is a crime to keep music from anyone under the pretext that they might find it boring and uninteresting. I agree as much! Following his recommendations, I have already researched, listened to and read through a number of proposed artists with a splendid enthusiasm.

It’s International Women’s Day so why not celebrate the women in Jazz?

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.

From the moment I came across the poster, it was a certainty that I had to attend Breathe and so, on Sunday quarter to 3 thereabouts, I diligently walked to Alliance Française for the penult show. How do I tell you how much pleasure the cast gave me that afternoon? Or how much more interested I am now in the details concerning all that Biko has been through? It is my assumption that you all read, or have read, Jackson Biko’s blog, https://www.bikozulu.co.ke. The fact is that the written works of Jackson Biko entertain as much as they inspire.

A few minutes past 3 and we were asked to rise, as is customary in Kenyan theatre, to sing the national anthem at the start of the play which opened with a monologue from one of the shared voices – Gilbert Lukalia. Thereafter, the setting changed to a room with all shared voices present and it is here that the action really began.

The multi-talented cast of 9 all of whom impersonated Biko impressed me. Each of their individual performances added up to more than the sum of what I expected. I imagine that, like me, some of you are easily prompted by feelings and are thus eternally grateful for stage managers throwing the switch. My poor, by the time we were halfway through, I was a teary mess! The best ‘lol’ of the day came at the end of the performance when they goofed on the photo sessions in Kikuyu burials and the inflation of Luo burials; yes, sometimes death does give us a certain parodic dimension which advances to us our peculiar attitudes and habits towards it.

Rolling in one after another, the cast animated a number of selected stories: Mary Mwikali and Wakio Mzenge powerful relayed to us the sinister coldness of cancer in Pray for Jane and Mommy Will Be Just Fine. Wanjiku Mburu adapted Nobody Wins highlighting the incredible ‘complexity’ of a man and his drink and one of whose character, Mad Larry, forms the basis of Biko’s Drunk. Martin Githinji took us through A Long Post About Life with great hilarity while Nick Ndeda and Mwaura Bilal, in a highly engaging sense of melodrama, brought the intensely dramatic Just Friends to life.

Truly, Gilbert Lukalia was a revelation! This was my first time experiencing him on stage and while it is not necessary that I underline the intensity of what he did to me, his was a vivid portrait strongly projected particularly in his especial dramatization of Bradley. Here, I can add that what Gilbert did constituted the principle of a true thespian – confident, expressive, intelligent and, I believe, introspective.

Lastly, if it is your job, as I have made it mine, to have opinions about music and are worried about airs that cause you more distress than pleasure, say for instance your enthusiasm wears thin at the incoherent blabber of trap, then I have excellent news! The background music was on point with all pieces in the repertoire doing a mighty fine job of steering the act through. Three cheers for the staging’s music supervisor.

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In what esteem do I hold Back 2 Basics who did an excellent job of managing my expectations? Breathe felt as playful as it was melancholic and where this was a theme of loss and, perhaps reflecting on death, it was also about the importance of confrontation; a condition that has to be met by those who want to win in life.

*Disclaimer: Not everything lends itself to description; what I’ve written is but a superficial account of what transpired. Where I failed to make a great impression, I regret you’ll have to imagine it for yourselves. As for me, I came, I saw, I will come some more.