Blown away. That was my feeling after four hours of a phenomenal Safaricom Jazz gala dinner experience that was headlined by BWB, Joja Wendt and The Limericks.
The do began with speeches as is the norm for suits events. Normally I zone out or people watch but the speech by Ghetto Classics founder Elizabeth Njoroge caught my attention.
She spoke of a student who had to drop out from the Ghetto Classics classes in spite of his brilliance due to challenges at home. This got me thinking about how the Ghetto classic story can be improved.
For five years focus has been on music but there is more to life. What mentoring, financing and real-life opportunities can be availed to improve the ecosystem for the kids?
The money that caused the student to drop out is basically lunch/drink money for your average middle class Kenyan. What if I purposed to give up lunch five times a month and donated? What if I mentored a child away from the music? What if the kids would gig for pay for established musicians? What if their parents got a bit of money to start a business? The kids do not operate in a vacuum and while it is novel and great to have jazz, classical music in Korogocho it is even more necessary to try uplift entire community.
Unto the music and first on stage was Kenyan band, The Limericks. First time experiencing them and I loved the bass, the keys and the sax. The person playing with the background lighting and screens was clearly having a ball with the savanah-centric backdrops. There was a song in Luganda and also one in Malagasy which were lovely. Only drawback was the lady vocalist trying to compete with the instruments. Sounded so off. There was also a feeling of the band not have worked together on their sets. They are a work in progress I guess.
Next up was extraordinary pianist Joja Wendt who was backed by Stephie on the drums and Thomas on the bass. Wendt is also a hilarious comedian who knows how to engage and work a crowd. Loved the boogie woggie piano set derived from the spiritual to jazz which is basically three pianists in one with a dancy feel to it. His piano playing was fast and perfect with awesome skills on display to go with the dope personality. Little wonder he got a standing ovation.
The night’s main act was BWB a jazz band comprising guitarist Norman Brown, saxophonist Kirk Whalum and trumpeter Rick Braun.
Given how Joja had done his business they had to step up their game and they certainly did. Starting off with a Billie Jean rendition that was so energy-full. The three are individually gifted musicians whose machine-like precision in performing together was a marvel to behold. Guitar, sax and trumpet flowing in conversation blew my mind away. Their stage work and crowd mood management spoke of years of professionalism and experience.
Brown then did a guitar set that showcased his range before capping it with brilliant vocals which the crowd showed love for by giving a standing ovation.
Whalum who is a magician on the sax and who toured with Whitney Houston for close to a decade performed a heartfelt ‘I will always love you.’ He walked into the crowd and made folk so happy and moved with the personal touch. Cue a standing ovation.
Braun did a song that he wrote for his wife of 21 years and as a Hollywood resident he joked that was akin to four marriages. Song had a dancy bluesy feel to it and it got the crowd dancing.
The trio motivated by what they termed as the ‘most fun’ VIP crowd they had ever performed for then upped a gear with a Memphis Tennessee themed set and a Detroit one too. Aside from their ability on the instruments, the three also boast of amazing vocals. ‘Just call my name’ rendition took folk to church and brought curtains down on four hours of a magical experience.
Safaricom Jazz is themed as ‘music that moves you’ and I certainly was totally wholly moved.
Earlier in the week had attended British Council’s night at the Alchemist and loved the Femme Fusion celebrating women in jazz. Hat tip to the amazing Atemi, Kasiva, and new-discovery Kendi.
Before the main Safaricom Jazz event, there are usually theme nights for every nationality that is represented. So Italian, Israeli, British, Belgian etc. It is great that Safaricom imports a lot of jazz music but it would be great if Kenyan music was also exported. Imagine if Kenyan acts got to perform abroad and get exposed to international level performing as well as market Kenya. Food for thought.
GOD BLESS KENYA!