Kenya's jazz and classical music culture in the spotlight

Sunday January 17 2016

Afrosync, a Nairobi-based five member band which specialises in Afrojazz, during a past rehearsal. The band will be the main subject of CNN’s Inside Africa against the backdrop of their performances at the Safaricom International Jazz Festival. PHOTO | COURTESY

Afrosync, a Nairobi-based five member band which specialises in Afrojazz, during a past rehearsal. The band will be the main subject of CNN’s Inside Africa against the backdrop of their performances at the Safaricom International Jazz Festival. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Kenya’s Afrosync’s musical journey will be beamed to global audiences in a special feature that explores how musical genres are evolving in Kenya and influencing a new generation of musicians.

The Nairobi-based five member band which specialises in Afrojazz, will be the main subject of CNN’s Inside Africa against the backdrop of their performances at the Safaricom International Jazz Festival.

The Afrojazz team narrates their humble experiences to sharing the stage with Grammy-winner and American saxophonist Kirk Whalum and Gerald Albright – an American musician who has sold more than a million albums in the U.S. alone at the Safaricom Jazz Festival.

Afrosync leader, Tim Riungu, recounted their experience on what is arguably the biggest jazz festival in East and Central Africa. “The Safaricom International Jazz Festival is a big deal when it comes to jazz circles and the jazz scene in Kenya because it's the first of its kind and for sure the largest jazz festival Kenya has ever seen.”

VALID DREAMS

Riungu said playing at the jazz festival was an opportunity to serve as an ambassador of jazz for his fellow Kenyans. It also opened doors for the band to collaborations with international stars who are their role models.

Gerald Albright who has involved Afrosync in his band said they helped bring in a real festive and a real different cultural aspect to the music to the point to where it was taken to another level.

For Riungu, this opportunity is a dream come true. “These guys have been our role models from afar. We have studied them through the University of YouTube, if you can call it that. And sharing a billing with them is dreams come true. It's beyond our wildest expectations,” he said.

The program also features the musicians of Ghetto Classics, an organisation set up in 2009 which teaches classical music to more than 300 children every week in Nairobi’s Korogocho slums. While there’s no professional orchestra in Kenya, it’s through learning classical music that young people gain discipline and a love for an art that transcends boundaries.

Elizabeth Njoroge, Executive Director of The Art of Music Foundation (which runs Ghetto Classics), said the mission was to transform the lives of slum children.

“We believe the experience of learning music will change them, change who they are, and give them important life skills.”

A clarinet player from the Korogocho based group told CNN: “My dream is to become a better clarinetist that I can be. Apart from education it has really helped me realise myself, what kind of goals I want to achieve and the right path I should follow.”

The Korogocho based group also performed on Kenyan Independence Day (12 December 2015), where they performed for a garden party at the State House after being invited by President Kenyatta.