What’s Your Jazz? The Power & Importance of Jazz Music in Kenya In My Eyes #SafaricomJazz

Jacob Asiyo at a previous SIJF event. Image Courtesy of Gallery Khately

Kenya’s musical scene is richly endowed and remarkably diverse. In addition to its entertainment and social value, Jazz music has now fit the bill of being a proverbial bottomless well – from whose waters quench the thirst for wisdom to [almost] cope with life’s uncertainties from the music we’ve so far witnessed being made on the Safaricom International Jazz Festival.

Because when the music hits you, you feel no pain!
Image Courtesy of Gallery Khately

My first Safaricom Jazz experience was with Salif Keita, I hadn’t heard of him much until that week but at the end of the event, I felt like I grew up listening to his music.

After that, it was one surreal experience after the other and what made it that magical was even though I hadn’t heard of some of these talents until now, I could still connect deeply with their music and the fact that I didn’t always sing along to all their songs, it didn’t make me feel left out, it only made me want to experience them even more!

Mambo Tribe from Kenya playing at a previous SIJF event. Image Courtesy of Gallery Khately

The Jazz experience has always been a dream come true and it’s made live change especially with the creative boom sweeping across Nairobi. Aside from highlighting the growing reputation that has become of jazz masters in Kenya like the ones we’ll see on stage some 8 days from now; I want to shine a light on how crucial jazz is – especially in my own eyes.

Why Jazz?

When I think of the incredible performances I’ve seen from guys like Shamsi Music, Gogo Simo, Jacob Asiyo, The Limericks and so many other great artists; I feel life coming from every song they sing.

Their music tells a story of life’s struggles, its moments of triumph and the hope that might somehow be found through the times when we win.

When I remember how the Ghetto Classics played alongside the great producer that is Jimek, I see triumphant music. Music that hasn’t been brought down by whatever the cost. I see them and I see them creating order and meaning to a life full of chaos and in that moment when they get on stage, nothing else matters because this is their escape.

Sylvia Mulinge with the Ghetto Classics kids

Looking at the thousands of people who attend SIJF, I see a lingering number of enthusiasts listening to the music as if trying to affirm that which has been stirring within their souls. I also see curiosity lingering in their faces, just like mine did when I tried to figure out what made jazz so special to these grownups sitting next to me – at the time, jazz to me only belonged to grown ups – then I attended the kids festival that happens the Saturday before the big show and it hit me – Jazz is for anyone who has their heart and soul open to receive it.

When I see Kasiva Mutua proudly and fearlessly playing the drums; I don’t ask why she wants to play the drums, I see what can she do & why she is treading on waters. I see the cultural barriers being broken as she uses the hands to tell her story and that of many others.

Kasiva Mutua. Image Courtesy of Ted Talks

What’s Your Jazz?

Aside from the standard rhumba and benga that you still hear in bars around the city including the late Simmers, Nairobi now boasts live fusions of Afro-beat, electronica, R&B and hip-hop, and some remarkably palatable jazz.

What’s even better is the selection of remarkable artists, venues and vibrant music everywhere!

Image Courtesy of Gallery Khately

If you don’t know when or where to start, start with the Safaricom International Jazz Day Celebrations going down on the 1st of May. With the Manu Dibango and the Soul Makossa band as the headliners alongside 12 Kenyan bands, yes 12! Come and witness Jazz history as you get to discover – What’s Your Jazz?

Jacob Asiyo at a previous SIJF event. Image Courtesy of Gallery Khately


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