Jazz Through The Times Of COVID-19 – The Safaricom Youth Orchestra

Jessica performing at the Safaricom International Jazz Festival at Kasarani, last year in February

Music has always been an instrument to bring us together. If you’ve been fortunate enough to attend any jazz concert in Kenya, be it at Safaricom International Jazz Festival or at other establishments like the Intercontinental Hotel where they featured the great Jacob Asiyo, then you might have an understanding of what jazz music means to us.

Being part of the great team that makes everything happen, the Safaricom Youth Orchestra have seen tremendous growth in their musical journeys.

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The Safaricom Youth Orchestra is an exciting musical project and the brainchild of the then CEO, and the late Bob Collymore launched in April 2014. The ensemble brings together 70 Children aged between 10 and 18 years from different backgrounds, brought together by music. Mr. Bob Collymore was inspired by hearing a leading youth orchestra in Sweden, Europe, and thought of starting one back at home.

Jazz Through The Times Of COVID-19 - The Safaricom Youth Orchestra
Duncan Wambugu one of the music tutors instruct SYO music players during the Safaricom Art of Music celebrating 10 years at Imani gardens Karura forest last year

The orchestra draws together 45% of its students from public schools, 30% from the Ghetto Classics program, and 25% from private schools, many of whom cannot afford the expensive instruments they play. All players are gifted, passionate, and committed to their musical journey.

One thing that drives the orchestra is it’s mission to ‘establishing a youth ensemble that presents the best in personal and collective discipline and development through orchestral music performance.’

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, members used to meet for rehearsals every Saturday under the helm of Dr. Duncan Wambugu and Levi Wathaka, who works with renowned instrumental teachers in Kenya. For all the members, it is an opportunity of a lifetime to develop into the best musicians they can be. Beyond the music, the orchestra is about fun, friendship, and the universal power of music to unite humankind. Which as they play together, the children are one and forget all their differences.

One of the members of the orchestra, 12 year old bass player Jessica Kheseli has been an active member for the last one and a half years. She joined the orchestra to tap on more knowledge and improve her skills concerning music.

Jessica performing at the Safaricom International Jazz Festival at Kasarani, last year in February

“I heard it from a friend at school. I looked it up and found out they had auditions for the double bass instrument. I was interested in the violin, but there were no auditions for it since there were already more violinists in the orchestra”, said Jessica.

Since joining the ensemble, Jessica has been able to meet people from different settings and backgrounds for which has been an amazing yet very eye-opening experience. She also reveals that working as a team has made her play instruments better than before.

“It is amazing how people who are not as privileged as I am can play even much better than I do, and playing music together and producing beautiful sounds is one of the greatest lessons I have learned. Also, teamwork is one of the greatest qualities one should have”.  she adds.

Poland Artist and Composer Jimek with Cyndicate Kabei one of the SYO students at the Safaricom Art of Music concert celebrating 10 years at Imani gardens Karura forest last year

Recently, due to the onset and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the over 70 students who make up the orchestra have been receiving music instructions from home. Their first online class commenced on May 16, 2020, following a handover of 4G enabled mobile handsets from Safaricom.

Jessica admits that taking music lessons and rehearsing online has improved her concentration level as there are minimal distractions. She is also learning and covering more ground than the actual rehearsals done at the Safaricom headquarters.

She reveals to us that paying attention to instructors and the team is what it takes to be in the orchestra.

“You have to be willing to listen to your fellow players, instructors, and attention to detail.”

Since its inception, the orchestra has seen 120 of its members graduate, with some of its stellar performances showcased at the Safaricom International Jazz Festival. The members have also had a chance to perform alongside world-renowned international artists like the late Manu Dibango and Marcus Miller.



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