Safaricom Jazz festival hits the right notes with Marcus Miller

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This past Sunday was the day for the long awaited Safaricom Jazz Festival that was held at the Kasarani Stadium. I say long awaited because it is usually the biggest of the Safaricom Jazz festival series and takes place once a year with others being smaller and referred to as jazz lounge. In the morning it looked cloudy and I was a bit worried that it might rain but the clouds soon cleared, and the sun came through ensuring that it would be a good day for jazz.

Started in 2014, the festival has grown over the years to become a must attend event in the African Jazz circles. I hadn’t realized that it had grown to that level till one follower from South Africa asked us how he could get accommodation in Nairobi so as to be able to attend the festival. The A list of the artists who usually headline the festival from the late Hugh MasekelaRichard BonaJonathan ButlerSalif KeitaAlune Wade and many others is any jazz fan’s dream come true.

So on this sunny day, we headed out to the festival with our picnic basket in hand. The considerate peeps at Safaricom ensured that there was transport from town to Kasarani for those without cars and also from the gate to the festival grounds because it was quite a distance.

At the gate, security was pretty tight as usual and considering the recent events, one could not help but feel a sense of comfort.

As usual, the ladies did not disappoint as they came out looking fly.

At the entrance to the festival, the organizers had lined up some frog like sculptures depicting musicians. They appeared to be preempting what to expect at the jazz festival. There were also some pictures depicting the Safaricom Jazz journey over the years.

As peeps waited for the festival to start, some couldn’t resist taking pictures because memories are made of this.

As a parent, when going out with your child, one has to consider whether the venue has a play area. This is important as it keeps your kids occupied because as we all know how cranky and restless they get when bored. Fortunately the organizers had considered this and had put in place a big children’s play area, this meant that your kids could have their fun as you enjoyed the music.

The festival had a big food court with different service providers like the Carnivore, 1824 among others selling food and drinks. This catered for those peeps who didn’t feel like going through the hustle of carrying a picnic basket from home.

I walked into the festival to the mellow sound of the Omri Mor Trio band from Israel, they helped set the mood for the afternoon as people continued to streamed in.

Tione Thys Trio from Belgium featuring Herve Samb from Senegal wowed the crowd with his Africa inspired rhythms. I especially loved Herve Samb’s guitar.

Kato Change is a Kenyan self-taught guitarist who had the crowd worked up even before he started performing. He started his performance with a tribute to Ayub Ogada in which he played Kothbiro. His skills on the guitar had the crowd mesmerized.

Viviane from Portugal was next upon stage, she wowed the crowd with her powerful vocals. Her infectious energy soon had the crowd singing along with her.

The Jazzrausch BigBand from Germany play a combination of jazz and techno which is very upbeat and danceable. They soon had the crowd up on their feet dancing along to songs, the crowd had so much fun that they asked nay demanded that they perform another song after their set was done. Fortunately, the crowd had their way and they finished off on a high note setting the stage for the main man Marcus Miller. Basically these guys play their music with so much energy that you have no option but to get up and dance.

During the last jazz festival, the Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore was out of the country and he had a video message played for the attendees. This time around he was in attendance and he shared that they had tried to bring Marcus Miller to play at the festival a number of times but he has always been engaged and that it was a great pleasure to have him on that stage. This goes to show how highly regarded Marcus Miller is in the jazz circles.

At around 6 pm, the main man Marcus Miller go on stage and went ahead to show the crowd why he is so highly regarded. He soon had the festival attendees up on their feet dancing to his various songs. During his set, Marcus Miller shared that his father used to play the accordion in church and then went ahead to play one of the songs that his dad used to play. The song was “How great though art” and soon he had the attendees singing along to it. Miller’s dad was a significant influence in his life as a musician and playing the song was a fitting tribute.  As they say, the best comes last and he surely didn’t disappoint.

I have to say that the festival felt better organized this time around and the strict adherence to time meant that a majority of the people were able to see the main act perform. In the past, the main acts have been performing very late and many people especially those kids had to leave before seeing the main act perform. Also, the Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore shared that there were about 6,000 – 7,000 people who attended the festival and one barely noticed until it was time to leave, this speaks a lot about the organization of the festival.

All in all, it was a day well spent with a fantastic crowd and good music not to mention that all the proceeds from the festival go towards helping underprivileged kids under Ghetto Classics.  So far, the jazz festival has been able to contribute over Ksh. 60 Million towards this project and has been able to touch the lives of over 1,400 children in Nairobi and Mombasa. Proceeds from this year’s festival will be used to expand the program to Kisumu.

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