It is a great time to be a fan of jazz music in Kenya. Musicians are writing good songs and performing excellent shows. Event organisers are going out of their way to give us a line-up and environment that is unforgettable. When our very own Aaron Rimbui went to perform in South Africa a few weeks ago, we proved that our local jazz artists have reached an international level where we can package and export our music to the rest of the world.
The beauty of Kenyan jazz is that every artist has a different feel and when we bring them all together we get an exciting salad of what we are enjoying today. Even when it comes to geographical areas, not everyone grew up in Nairobi and so the different backgrounds spice up our jazz.
One of the sounds I have embraced is the music by artists who come from the coast of Kenya. Normally when you go to Mombasa and its environs, you would hear a lot of taarab and chakacha, songs that make you want to put your hands in the air and move your waist like you come from pwani(coast). When you hear this music away from the coast your mind takes you to a place where mahamri and pilau is cooking, the air is hot and humid and you’re wearing some comfortable clothing.
What is mind blowing is the artists who have been able to combine jazz with the coastal music to create something that can only be found here.
One such band is James Gogo and the Gogo Simo band. Theirs is blend of the coast, African and Western music. James grew up in Mombasa where his love for music blossomed and by the time he became a national sensation he was already a reknowned keyboardist. Watching this band feels like there are electrifying rockstars on stage.
Every instrument is played with lots so much dedication and vigour, I always find myself asking,
“woah! how did they do that?”
The chakacha feel comes along when the Swahili lyrics and songs check in. With songs like “Jua” and “Gogo Simo” you would never want them to leave the stage. James Gogo has performed at major concerts like the Koroga Festival and has gone on to record with international legends like the late Papa Wemba.
Another outfit from the coast that we truly adore is the Swahili Jazz Band. True to their name, the band led by saxophonist Juma Tutu bring an exotic swahili flavour to the jazz party. They have managed to bring together an ensemble of traditional Mijikenda music, Asian, Arabian and Western influences.
Juma grew up in a musical family where his parents were performers in their own respect. His sister Nyota Ndogo is a household name with hits that play on radio and other media. She mainly uses the Swahili language in her music. Juma’s other sister Lela is also a singing sensation at the coast.
The Swahili Jazz band members include Max Ngala(keyboard), Ted Mwangi(bass), Olabode Idowu(trumpet and percussions), Juma Tutu(saxophone), Tatu Abdalla(vocals), David Mwa(drums).This band’s music is so groovy that the keyboardist always does an entertaining jig when on stage. Talk about getting down to your own music. They play in various concerts and restaurants across the city and have performed alongside Jimmy Dludlu.
While these two bands make their motherland at the beach proud, we continue to enjoy a sound that is very unique to Kenya.