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A melting pot of world's cultures

Sunday July 30 2006


The flags were flying all over the city, flyers on almost every car,word about it was on everybody's lips. Names of the who's who in the entertainment industry were written all over the "star walk of fame".

Branford Marsalis, Kanye West, Tracy Chapman, Erykah Badu, Cheick Lo, Bettye Lavette, Sergio Mendes, Stacey Kent and others were expected to grace this event; Kenyans, too, were there – Eric Wainaina, Harry Kimani, Abbi and the Kikwetu band. 

From the look of things, millions of euros had been spent on this event that was on offer for three consecutive days. A fan parade of over 70,000 was expected and so security had been beefed up to the nines.


The venue is Ahoy' in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, – an indoor sporting with an arena capable of sitting 10,000 people. The stadium is used for large-scale concerts such as U2. Tina Turner , Janet Jackson, Kylie Minogue, Destiny's Child, Bruce Springsteen and Fleetwood Mac. This month, it was the venue for one of the music world's foremost annual events – the North Sea Jazz Festival.

The festival, started 31 years ago, was the brainchild of a Dutch jazz promoter Paul Acket who wanted to bring together in concert, the jazz greats of the time. Among those who featured in the first festival held in 1976 at the Netherlands Congress Centre in The Hague were jazz legends like Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, and Stan Getz. The festival has since grown to include many musical genres ranging from traditional New Orleans jazz, swing, bop, free jazz, fusion, avant garde jazz and electronic jazz to blues, gospel, funk, soul, hip-hop, rhythm and blues, world beat and latino.

This year's festival was no different. On offer to an estimated 25,000 people daily at the three-day festival were 23 hours of music by close to 200 artistes performing on 20 different stages.

Over the years the festival has developed into a major happening on the world music calendar. Leading entertainment magazine, JazzTimesdescribes it as the best in Europe. It appears on Time Magazine's list of the top ten events in the world. For the three days, visitors have in the past been entertained by music greats like Nat Adderly, Erykah Badu, The Brecker Brothers, Miles Davis, Ibrahim Ferrer, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton, Al Jarreau, B.B. King, Wynton Marsalis, Bugge Wesseltoft, John Zorn and Joe Zawinul. The festval has also served as the launching pad for new talent.

But it is not all about performances. There are free seminars and workshops conducted by renown musicians like Branford Marsalis and photographic or art exhibitions. 

In collaboration with the International Association for Jazz Education, visitors had an opportunity to take in a technical drum clinic by Jeff 'Tain" Watts, a member of Marsali Quartet band. They also took part in a retrospective about the life and work of jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie by Slide Hamptom and James Moody who had worked with the trumpeter regarded as a major figure in the development of bebop and modern jazz. 

Bebop is a form of jazz characterised by fast tempos and improvisation based on harmonic structure rather than melody. The classic bebop combo consisted of saxophone, trumpet, bass, drums, and piano. Apart from Dizzy Gillespie, other notable musicians identified with this type of jazz are alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, trumpeter Mile Davis, Bassist Charles Mingus and pianist Thelonious Monk.

Taking part in these events was a delegation of Kenyans led by Sarakasi Trust director Sheba Hirst, the CEO of Sports Stadia Sam Mwai and officials of the Kasarani stadium management. Reason? They were there to learn how they will organise the first ever North Sea Jazz Festival in Nairobi. 

The organisers are hoping that the city host the festival next year following the successful debut of the festival in Cape Town, South Africa five years ago. The Cape Town event has since grown to become the Cape Town International Jazz Festival featuring African greats such as Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Youssou N’Dour, Femi Kuti, performing alongside such artistes as Angie Stone and Herbie Hancock.

Encouraged by the success they had in setting up the festival in Cape Town, the North Sea Jazz Festival organisers are optimistic that Nairobi's will be the next big event. Already, the Sarakasi Trust have started working on a possible list of local artistes who would be asked to perform. Among some of the artistes being considered for the show are the formidable Divas of the Nile made up of Suzanne Owiyo, Achieng Abura, Princess July and Mercy Myra among others.

Last week's visit was a follow-up of another made in February this year by North Sea Jazz organisers who wanted to warm Kenyans to the possibility of Nairobi hosting an African equivalent of the Dutch festival.

During that visit, a band from the Netherlands, New Cool Collection shared the stage with Abbi and Kikwetu, Eric Wainaina, Harry Kimani, Yunasi, Susanna Owiyo, Mapacha Band and Four Winds Jazz Band under the direction of Benjamin Herman.

They were fantastic then displaying immense talent and ability to hold a strong live concert. Last weekend's was no different, Abbi was first on stage and he impressed with soulful Afro-fusion music and the crowd loved him.

Harry Kimani left the crowd yelling for more after serenading them with his beautiful ballads like Haiya, African Woman and a artistic rendition of Kenya's National Anthem. Eric Wainaina was the most anticipated of them all and people danced along to his music and showed their support by buying his CD's after his performances.

"We cannot say that we will have an equivalent of the North Sea Jazz held last week because we have to look at the economic aspect of these two countries and also the attendances level. But we want to start with a bang and keep upgrading it every year," said Sheba.