Multiple Grammy award-winner Marcus Miller headlined the Safaricom International Jazz Festival last Sunday afternoon.
But the event was more than just a celebration of a music genre that is popularly viewed as “an acquired taste” by many locally. While many still see jazz music as the type that old men listen to, with whiskey glasses in hand while sitting in dimly lit rooms, the genre has been picked up by quite a number of young people lately.
Once it began being seen as a way of identifying with African culture, not only because of the music’s origin but also because a lot of iconic African artistes have used this genre while fighting for a better Africa, the youth have taken it up as a form of celebrating excellence.
This being the international festival’s sixth edition, the jazz event celebrated different cultures and countries that had artistes performing. Sunday’s main event was the climax of different cultural-themed events that had been carried out in the week before. Israeli, Belgian and German jazz nights, together with the VIP show on Saturday night, set the tempo for an epic show that would rival Sunday afternoon’s soaring temperatures.
Food, drinks and different kinds of artistic and literary material were also available at the German, Belgian, Israeli and Portuguese stands to complete the foreign experience locally.
A few acts stood out more than others at the festival, though. Vivian, a Portuguese melancholic musician, mixed the sometimes soothing and sometimes heart-wrenching Mediterranean music with the upbeat bebop rhythm that had a lot of people, including children, up on their feet and clapping along.
She taught the fans the chorus to one of her songs, which went “Pa pa pa pa pa pa ra pa ra” repeatedly, and they all joined in at the intervals, clapping their hands, and bouncing their heads to the beat.
Jazzrausch Bigband from Germany, however, were the first act to get the whole crowd gathered at the training grounds on their feet. From the name, you can tell that this band is a big one — with 15 members, nine in the horns section, a guitarist, keyboardist, drummer, vocalist and deejay.
Just like other sections who have tried to fuse their favourite sounds to jazz, this German band have gelled the techno (electronic music) sound with jazz. The result is an amazing explosion of energetic sounds with smooth vocals and instrumentation of jazz arrangements.
It is quite a potent mix and the experience is hard to describe except by saying that it is highly exhilarating to catch a performance by this band. The largely youthful crowd was highly charged about the presentation that was for many unlike any they had experienced before.
With their signature black outfits, the band was as energised as the crowd and would pump their instruments in the air, hold their chests in appreciation as well as scream back at the fans while they played. At the end of their set, they had to give an encore for newfound fans who wanted to squeeze every last second they could from their performance.
And when Marcus Miller took to the stage to perform some of his legendary, award-winning and critically acclaimed tracks, we had not only taken a trip around the world — including some Kenyan sounds represented by Kato Change and his band and Ghetto Classics, and the jazz scene from the UK, represented by Yazmin Lacey and her crew — we had also seen the evolutional journey of the genre, seeing how the sound has come to change with time.
Granted that all other genres of music are going through changes, jazz has maintained its (non) structural sense for quite some time and it is highly interesting to see how as different corners of the world embrace and make this music suited to their own mode of expression, including entrenching instruments and song presentation with local traditions, what other versions of this “American classical music” will come out.