Celebrating The Magic of Women Coming Together For #SafaricomJazz

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For a very long time, women have been left out and have also been heavily under-represented in many sectors. From music, to STEM related careers to leadership roles, these areas have seemingly been dominated by male figures however; the steps to ensure women representation are being hastily taken.

In music, and jazz in Kenya in particular, we’re seeing a significant number of women taking up musical journeys to a whole new level. This amazingly done article by Jazz Symphonic goes deeper into Kenyan women in the classical music scene.

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However, we need to do more. So how can we improve the visibility of women in Jazz gigs? Here are some of my thoughts:

Bringing out more women to perform

There’s something so beautiful and fierce that happens when women in Music come together. This year at the February edition of Safaricom Jazz, there was a glorious representation of women and I speak for all women when I say we want more women seen and heard and celebrated at such fetes

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Gloria Achilah from Femme Fusion performing at the last Jazz festival

Femme Fusion, collaborative project put together by the British Council East African Arts programme, brought together incredible singers, instrumentalists and one heck of a producer who were all female if I proudly do say so myself and brought down the stage thrice in one week with their perfomances at the Alchemist, and twice at the Safaricom Jazz Festival stage for the kids show on Saturday and Sunday.

Comprised of; Kenyan percussion queen, Kasiva Mutua, the goddess of groove, Holly Madge (UK), multi-award winning composer/instrumentalist, Emma-Jean Thackray (UK), and deep sensuous voiced, Gloria Achillah (UG) and the multi-talented Atemi Oyungu (KE) they ignited a spark that I believe shouldn’t be put out as long as music lives!

Her voice is her instrument (stay with me on this one)

I personally have a strong affinity for what Kasiva Mutua and Kavutha are doing in the industry and no, It’s not the Kamba blood in me that’s rushing to advocate for these talents.

For years now, Kavutha has been at the forefront of the music industry in Kenya since before the days of her at the Tusker Project Fame show. She also has a beautiful love affair with Jazz, is a strong believer in the power of music and she’s also the music director of Safaricom Jazz.

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The amazing Kavutha. Image Courtesy of Gallery Khately

Kasiva on the other hand is a force to reckon with. Most of her life growing up, people didn’t take to kindly with her love for the drums. It has always been considered taboo for a woman to play the drums but she has been breaking the taboo by teaching the significance and importance of the drum to young boys, women and girls.

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Kasiva on the drums. Image Courtesy of Gallery Khately

I was honored enough to talk to Kasiva on her journey and how in her opinion, Safaricom Jazz has elevated women in this industry. This is what she had to say:

“Safaricom Jazz has given musicians in general an International status stage to express themselves locally. This is important for astists to connect with their fans in the country. It also gives artsists a chance to express themselves on a bigger stage and learn the dynamics of performing at festivals.

The space for women in the music industry is generally a tricky place to exist in. Safaricom Jazz has really supported female performers to feel accepted and freer to exist as creatives in a an equal and fair environment. Safaricom Jazz has even set precendent by having lead acts like Fatoumata Diawara. In conjuction with the British Council, I had the opportunity of collaborating with musicians from Uganda and the UK and formed “Femme Fusion.” When women come together and share and encourage each other, especially sharing stories from a different perspective of culture and experiences, it’s a very useful tool for growth. Safaricom Jazz and The British Council gave us that opportunity and I’m super grateful.

Femme Fusion was a really deep experience for me. I thrive from collaborations but this time, I was sourrounded by gifted, strong, musical women! I couldn’t ask for anything more! I had a really good time, and I was thorough inspired!”

In her own words at the Ted Talks, Kasiva explains that women shouldn’t be made to feel inferior no matter what they do. Be it singing or playing the drums or any other instrument, a woman should not fear stepping up to defend what frees her soul neither should she let the percetion of society direct her choices. So in whatever capacity she’s involved in, be it at the foreground or background, don’t make her feel any less because her voice [and her instrument] is indeed her instrument.

For the creatives:

According to some of Kasiva’s opinions: Whether male, female or transgender, strive to dedicate time to your art. Perfect it. Rehearse. And rehearse again and again. Fix each other’s crowns. Love your art. Love your music! And it will love you back. Double!

There shouldn’t be a conducive space for women/men in music to survive. We should all strive a comfortable space for musicians to exist.

Support more women

When’s the last time you bought local music, when your favorite female artist announced a gig or a collabo with another artist, did you pay attention? Did you take the time to listen to their new music?

I’m also guilty of this but I’m amending my ways to support these women because 1) it’s harder to be anything as a woman in the entertainment industry [this is an article for another day] 2) there’s something more magical that happens when women support each other because they can relate to some of the struggles they’ve been through to get to where they are today.

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So get out there, go to their concerts, buy their albums, acknowledge the issues they face as women in the music space and drum up more support for these women and see how numbers and perceptions in this industry change.

There’s always something amazing that happens when women in music come together and it’s my hope that even as Safaricom International Jazz Festival continues being amazing, that we can see more women gracing that stage and even more women being inspired by this!

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