The Sawa Sawa Festival

Jazz and African, two music genres that should have been Saturday’s theme at the Aboretum but instead stood out like sore thumbs on a day that was full anything else but the promised festival.

A review of Kenyan Cultural Celebration at the Aboretum

I arrived at the cool breezed, leafy haven at 12.30pm, hoping to be just in time for the first performance in the much hyped Sawa Sawa Jazz festival. It had promised a free family show with lots of music from Kenyan Afro fusion and Jazz Artists as well as Kids activities. Among the main artists expected were Ayub Ogada, a Kenyan artist based in Britain and Hugh Masekela, the African Jazz Maestro.

Quite enthusiastic about listening to jazz and a lot of afro tunes, my ears were in utter shock when all I could hear was the DJ’s (DJ Space) choice of various Kapuka and Genge hits. The MCs (Churchill Ndambuki and Sanaipei Tande) must have been informed that the show would be like ‘Vijana Tugutuke’. Their idea of rousing a crowd for the performances were Dance competitions to raga muffin music, amidst shouts of “Wapi Nduru” and “Mikono juu”.

Me thinks that the festival being for a more mature crowd and music, MC’ing should have been given to the likes of Jack Ojiambo (host of Capital’s Jazz show) and Patricia Amira.
I together with those fans who had gone expecting to enjoy some jazz in the park as we sat on the grass with our picnic bags full were utterly disappointed from 12.30 to about 3.00pm.

Harry Kimani, the first artist on Stage, started with his Anthem (which also happens to be a rendition the Kenya National Anthem). After performing his most popular songs ‘Haiya’, ‘Waithera’ and ‘Man from the Ghetto’ he was off with a promise of a surprise later on in the day.

Next was the Cheche group. Theirs was an accapella that entailed various South African songs. Their voices had a unique blend and my take was, they might give the various Kayamba groups a run for their money as they are drawing from African tunes as opposed to Kenyan. Talk of upping the tempo in Kenyan live performance.

Eric Wainaina, Whose ‘Sawa Sawa’ album title was used for the festival was next on stage accompanied by his full band including two lady back up singers. Sounds of ‘Ritwa Riaku’, from his first Album and various other songs from his latest Album ‘Twende Twende’ reigned in the arboretum forest. Many revelers, who had earlier been relaxing in the tents enjoying a meal, now arose lured by the enchanting beats.

Ayub Ogada, a less known Afro-fusion artist to most, appeared on stage accompanied by Kenya’s rising artist, Winyo. Adorned in full African regalia and spotting his trademark hat, Ayub strummed on his nyatiti. Among his most popular tunes is “Kothbiro” a song chosen as the soundtrack for the movie ‘The constant Gardener’.

Due to a combination of, wrong MCs, (who seemed to want to work up the crowd more and whose knowledge of African Music, Artists and the crowd) wrong introduction and a crowd that was eager for fast, danceable music, very few appreciated Ayub’s music. There were even some shouting him off stage just before his final performance.

The Main act for the Evening, Hugh Masekela had arrived and was waiting backstage, however, the stage needed re-arranging. Some music interlude from the DJ drained the mood that had been laid earlier in preparation for the main act.

Harry Kimani, this time together with girls from a Music school for the homeless children, a project that he initiated at the Coast, were on stage. Hugh must have been quite impressed by the girls as he appeared with his trumpet, adding more charm to their song. This was met with shouts and screams from the audience who knew him. Some were however left asking “Is that him?”

Hugh Masekela is the greatest African Jazz artist that the world has ever seen and his stage greatness was attested to by all who saw his performance. Together with his Band made up of a percussionist from Sierra Leone and Guitarist from Botswana they rocked the crowd to frenzy with ‘Stimela’, ‘Lady’ (originally sang by Fela Kuti) and various other hits from his various albums.

His final performance, a dedication to Nelson Mandela, ‘bring back Nelson Mandela’ was song that he composed as his contribution to the fight against Apartheid in South Africa was preceded by an introduction and a challenge to all. “80 years of age and you can still rock on”. He was referring to Nelson Mandela’s 2nd honeymoon. As he sang the song, the crowd joined in demanding “Bring back, Nelson Mandela, bring him back home to Soweto, I want to see him walking down the streets of South Africa, tomorrow”

In the end, it was well worth it. Despite a slow discouraging day, Jazz and African music enthusiasts were not disappointed.

I only hope that lots of improvements will be done in readiness to next years’ festival.
Kudos to The Sarakasi Trust.

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