We can’t talk about jazz in Kenya without mentioning Eddie Grey. Defined as a forerunner in the Jazz and fusion scene in East and Central Africa, Eddie is a songwriter, entrepreneur, producer and an amazing jazz guitarist.
This self-taught musician has over the years continued to champion for the Jazz space in Kenya. He released his first album ‘No Trains to Kibera‘ in January 2009 which was his lyrical response to Kenya’s post-election violence in 2007, followed by his next album ‘Stories by the Lake‘ in 2010 followed by his 3rd Album, ‘World to Come’, a Psychedelic mix of Jazz, afro beat, rnb, hip hop and electronica that passes on strong messages on Tolerance, future of the environment, politics, love and self worth.
His has been a revolutionary story of musical tales and the International Jazz Day Celebrations coming up next week would not be the same without listening to his journey:
When did your musical journey start?
My roots in music began long before I first touched an instrument. I grew up in a family that loved music, so I guess from early childhood. I touched a guitar for the first time at my late father’s memorial. The rest I guess is a gradual relationship with guitar driven music, incredible features and the very many talents I’ve been privileged enough to share a stage with.
We really can’t talk about jazz in Kenya without mentioning your contribution to it. How was it ‘introducing’ fusion especially in that era?
There were jazz musicians before my time and it was through them that I was motivated to pursue the genre.
I introduced my style of fusion (Acoustic/classical/folk/jazz) as a personal contribution to try and assimilate the indigenous music from East Africa with western Jazz and classical arrangement.
We also can’t talk about jazz in Kenya without mentioning what Safaricom Jazz Festival has been doing over the years. What are your thoughts about the festival?
I think it’s important to acknowledge the reach that Safaricom Jazz Festival has had on new audiences of all ages. They have played a great part in making Jazz music and musicians accessible as well as inspiring future jazz musicians.
They’ve shown artists that anything is possible especially with the talents they’ve brought on the SIJF stage. I mean, who would have thought I would one day play on the same stage as Richard Bona? That was a surreal experience for me
Why do you think Jazz belongs in the Kenyan community?
Because Kenyans love freedom and Jazz is full of it. Its roots are in everyday expressions of passion, struggle, aspiration, breaking barriers etc. More so its genesis is from our continent and we should be proud and own it.
Among your more notable contributions to jazz in Kenya is the Pioneering of Jazz Guitar recordings. Tell us more about that and what you intended to achieve with the project.
I’ve recorded 3 albums in my jazz career. Shades of Grey (2004) No trains to Kibera (2008) Stories by the lake (2011) One EP release Afromatic (2017).
I find that recording music is a great way of archiving your musical journey and sharing it with your audience and audiences to come.
You also introduced the Maad Orchestra to us. What exactly is the Maad Orchestra?
Maad Orchestra is the coolest Orchestra in East Africa and made up of highly skilled and talented string and brass Ensemble, percussion, Live Jazz ensemble and Electronic Deejays. It’s a great visual and sonic experience that seeks to push creative boundaries.
We held our first event in March of 2017 to an incredibly vibrant and spell bound audience. We are very pleased to have Levi Wataka, a music teacher and director for the Kenya National Youth Orchestra as our conductor on the project.
What inspired your highly acclaimed album ‘No Trains to Kibera’?
The album is in memoriam to the families that lost their loved ones during the 2007-2008 post election violence. There was this famous clip on the news of residents within Kibra literally uprooting the rail tracks in anguish and despair. I decided to try and reimagine their expressions through music.
The album featured collaborations with great musicians including the Father of Ethio Jazz Mulatu Astatke, a mentor and friend. It also featured Winyo, Olith Ratego, Cellist Kate Bingley, Solange from the D.R.C, June Gachui, Benga guitar legend Ochieng Nelly, Christine Wambui, members of the Nairobi Orchestra and my Jazz quartet.
Within just the last decade, there has been a flourish of classical ensembles targeted at young musicians which you have been a part of. What do you think needs to be done/done on a larger scale to get more kids involved in classical music?
I strongly believe that music should be re-introduced back into the public schools curriculum and not just as extra-curricular. Musical instruments should also be made available to children that chose to study music. Opportunities for further learning i.e scholarship funds can also be a great incentive since music education at higher learning is quite expensive.
You’re also a producer. What sets your music apart from what most people are used to hearing?
(Laughs) I’m not sure about what sets me apart. I know that audiences experience my music differently. What I try and achieve is creating eccentric and complex works of musical art and packaging it in a palatable form for most listeners to readily consume.
How can you describe your music to someone who’s never heard your music before?
It’s a compilation of stories and paintings that are refreshing to the senses and are a gateway to whichever world your mind choses to walk in.
Who are your musical influences? And who would you like to share a stage with someday?
I have lots of them and the list is now too long I’m afraid. Key Influences in Jazz will always be Omar Sosa, Lionel loueke, Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, Fela Kuti and I would be honored to share a stage with the great George Benson.
How has Jazz turned your life around?
Jazz has created plenty of opportunities to interact with people from different walks of life, sharing in and about their stories. That’s the part I cannot get tired of.
What sort of performance should we expect at the International Jazz Day Celebrations and can we also expect more music from you this year or in the coming years?
Come with an open mind and let the music speak to you. The team and I are working on several concerts this year starting in June and will release my 4th Album WORLD TO COME before the end of 2018.