A place in the sun for the emerging ‘Queens of Jazz’

Friday November 3 2017

Singer, songwriter and instrumentalist Wanja

Singer, songwriter and instrumentalist Wanja Wohoro performs during the Queens of Jazz show at Park Inn by Radisson, Westlands, on October 18, 2017. PHOTO| THOMAS RAJULA 

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On October 18, new musical event dubbed ‘Queens of Jazz’ was held  at Park Inn Hotel by Radisson, in Westlands, Nairobi.

The show, the brainchild of Ian Lai, under his Muziki Magazine and Infinty Ingenio brands, features only female jazz performers, with male performers only given supporting roles.

There was a range in the experience and tools of trade used by the performers; from newcomer vocalist Chero Rono (real name Purity Cherono), multi-instrumentalist and singer Wanja Wohoro, to gospel saxophonist Chacha Mutisya and jazz singer/songwriter Kaimuri Magu.

For a long time, male artistes have been the mainstay of local jazz acts, yet there are many female vocalists and instrumentalists in the field. Christine Kairu, a trumpeter and saxophonist, and vocalist June Gachui have been the exception.

Although female artistes always appear in the supporting roles, such as background vocalists and instrumentalists, not much has been done to recognise them as serious stand-alone performers in a genre which is an “unshackled” art form that encompasses all sorts of influences.

The musical performances by Wanja Wohoro and Kaimuri Magu were deep in lyrical content and rich in vocal delivery.

Both have original tracks they composed and arranged. However, even when doing covers — like Wanja’s rendition of Ella Jenkins’ Wade In The Water and Kaimuri’s different Sade references, they both embodied techniques that were their own while still holding certain elements that fans could relate to in the original versions.

Wanja, on her guitar, and once on the keyboard, did a solo performance that put focus on her mezzo soprano sound and strumming abilities on the guitar; it was very enthralling. Kaimuri, with an ensemble that included a Cajón (box drum), encompassed a slightly more traditional feel to her performance.

Chacha Mutisya is a good saxophonist. Although it felt like she was sometimes getting winded in some sections of some songs, she would manage to pull through several lengthy and tricky tunes to the surprise of anyone waiting for her to stumble.

To quite an extent, Chero Rono gave a shaky performance vocally. Maybe it’s because she has only been a performer for about a year now.

Knowing the Kenyan music scene, and especially the jazz scene, that means she maybe has not had much experience in front of crowds.

Ian’s explanation of what ‘Queens of Jazz’ is all about may be an answer to this issue.

“This is a 12-month-long program where we want to encourage ladies to perform and headline jazz events. We want the ladies to be the sentence in conversations about the genre and not just a comma. They are also going to joint shows in other cities (Mombasa and Kisumu) so the audience can see whom they like best, so that this creates a fan base for them when they will be doing solo shows. We want to have them in workshops with different artistes, particularly those in jazz, who can help them grow and teach them on how to do live performances,” says Ian.

He said they will also be working towards getting the artistes into other jazz events and that a joint album will be ready by the time the ladies get to their 12th month of the program. The four were selected from a call-out on social media, and the next set will be chosen when the call is put out again.