Tag Archives: Ghetto Classics

Blown away at Safaricom Jazz at 5 dinner

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.

JAZZ DINNER

 

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.

LIMERICKS

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.

JOJA

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.

BWB

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.

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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.

ALCHEMIST

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!

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Music that moves you

When a retired high school head teacher stood on the stage in the middle of a performance by five time Grammy Award winner Victor Wooten and declared “I am the reason why this is happening” my curiosity was piqued.

WOOTEN

The retired head teacher was a high school teacher in Western Kenya in 1978 when an American showed up at the school and asked for a teaching job. The American had made a trip to Africa to find himself and the teacher helped get him a chance to teach Math and Physics.

After a stint teaching in rural Kenya, the American went back home to do his Masters and 40 years later is now the third president of the world famous Berklee College of Music.

Francis Lutomia was the teacher 40 years ago while Roger Brown was the American looking to find himself.

Four decades later this unlikely relationship has birthed an even more unlikely relationship between Kenya and the Berklee College of Music through Francis Lutomia’s son, Sam.

GYG

According to Francis, Roger gave his son a job at Berklee and Sam in 2011 went on to found the Global Youth Groove (GYG) whose mission is to transform the lives of youth in Kenya through music primarily by a cultural exchange program involving Berklee students and alumni and Kenyans.

Boys-trumpet_n

For six years Global Youth Groove has been doing the exchange programs and after three years of planning Sam had finally managed to get the hugely in-demand Wooten and Berklee Bass Department chair, Steve Bailey to come to Kenya together with several of Berklee students and alumni.

At first glance, Wooten dressed in a bright African print shirt – that he was gifted by Kenyan jazz artiste Ricky of Ricky na Marafiki – and spotting dreadlocks covered by a black woolen cap can easily pass for a Jamaican roots reggae musician.

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That is until he strums his bass guitar and magic happens. His hand motion is at times fast, at times slow and at times barely noticeable but what is constant is the brilliance of a man at the peak of his skill.

wootennn

For 50 of his 52 years Wooten has been playing the bass guitar and seated at the front side row of the Michael Joseph Centre I was blown away by the melodies he coaxes out of his bass guitar. It was easy to see why Wooten who also teaches at Berklee has been named at number 10 in the Top 10 Bassists of All Time by the influential Rolling Stones magazine.

On his part, Bailey a blonde haired, wiry man who would not be out of place in a country music band run to the stage high fiving all the VIPs sat in the front row and cracked jokes with ease. He then went on to strum a six string guitar that is the hugest guitar I have ever seen.

BAILEY

Bailey who is 57 started playing the guitar when he was 12 and the unwieldy instrument was like jelly in his hands.  Watching him manipulate it to produce delightful sound was like watching a painter produce a masterpiece from scratch.

Wooten and Bailey mastery on the guitars resulted in a sensory experience that was amazing. Imagine two guitars having different animated standpoints on a conversation that covered a variety of issues and you begin to picture the amazing chemistry.

martenn

Backing up the two musical geniuses was Martin, a second year Berklee student on the drums who played with the confidence of a professional and the abandon of a teenager.

WOOTEN BAILEY

The intimate invite-only evening of jazz was hosted under the auspices of the Safaricom Jazz Festival with several Berklee associated musicians taking to the stage.

A gentleman named Ricky who was dressed like a Southern pastor engaged the crowd in singing a catchy song which had an American south churchy-feel to it. “People make the world go round” was the audience refrain as Ricky crooned and Wooten, Bailey and Marten jammed.

RICKY

Then come Leonna dressed to kill and looking so young and sweet until she began singing and her sensationally beautiful voice made a lady sat near me shudder in bliss and almost get into a trance.

And finally from the Berklee crowd was Sky Bridge band with Japanese vocalist and composer Utako Toyama backed by two other ladies of colour. Their song ‘We declare peace’ was about global unity and they also got the audience quite engaged.

SKY BRIDGE

Singled out for possible Sainthood by an enthralled Bailey was Elizabeth Njoroge, the brains and heart behind Ghetto Classics. The visiting Berklee musicians had visited Korogocho a day earlier and were wowed by the taking of classical and jazz music to the youth of a highly disadvantaged neighborhood.

Quest for sainthood aside, heartfelt pledges of support were made by Bailey on behalf of Berklee for the betterment of Ghetto Classics to which all the proceeds of the Safaricom Jazz Festival go to.

korogocho

A special mention goes to The Don Ouko, a brilliant Kenyan saxophonist who was backed by a vocalist, drummer and a guy on keys and who was the curtain-raiser to Victor Wooten, Steve Bailey and the other Berklee musicians.

The Don

I was also quite wowed by Jacob Asiyo who was a guest at the concert and who totally delivered when he was ambushed with a request to play the keys for Wooten and Bailey.

JACOB ASIYO

The Master of ceremony was the delightful Kavutha-Mwanzia Asiyo who incidentally is also an alumni of Berklee.

KAVUTHA

At the end of the two-hour jam session all the artistes who had graced the stage through the night went back on stage to jam in a lovely improvisation.

JAM SESSION AT THE END

Quite a lovely evening spent with music that moved me.

GOD BLESS KENYA!

PS: Images via @SafaricomLtd, Google.


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