North Sea Jazz Comes to Nairobi

Suzzana Owiyo
Suzzana Owiyo
Author: Kimani wa Wanjiru

The countdown to what will probably be the most momentous gathering for jazz music creators and connoisseurs in East and Central Africa has been set in motion. The North Sea Jazz Festival, arguably one of the most well-known jazz festival in the world, is coming to Nairobi in March 2007.

The journey to bring this famed world class event was launched with pomp and colour last Saturday at the Moi International Sports Center (Gymnasium) Kasarani, where the organizers hosted a preliminary concert that was used to give the public a taste of what the 2007 event will have in store as we usher in this new era in the music scene in the region.

Kenya’s finest, who performed during this pre-event concert dubbed North Sea Jazz Salutes Nairobi, included Abbi and Kikwetu, Eric Wainaina, Yunasi, Suzzana Owiyo, Harry Kimani, Mapacha Band and Four Wind Jazz Band. The Dutch input during this event was taken care of by the Dutch Jazz Band calling itself “New Cool Collective.” The Sarakasi acrobats and dancers also graced the event and gave a very good account of themselves.

Most of the musicians in the Kenyan contingent have performed in other equally impressive festivals like Festhorn, the music festival at the Horn of Africa in Djibouti, Festival Mundial in the Netherlands, Africa Fete in Senegal, Busara music festival in Zanzibar, Festival Pan Africain de Musique (FESPAM) in Congo Brazzaville and others.

Yunasi who have made a name for themselves in the music scene outside the country launched the extravaganza. Since the event started a little bit late, Abbi and Kikwetu followed them in quick succession and he was electrifying. He was followed by Suzanne Owiyo, who enthrall the audience with numbers from her first and second album such as Kisumu 100 and Janyau. Eric Wainaina sung several numbers from his album Sawa Sawa but he blended this with delightful and momentous songs from his forthcoming album. Harry Kimani also enchanted the audience with numbers from his forthcoming album.

The performance of the New Cool Collective was realized in the context of cultural development and exchange between Sarakasi Trusts and the Netherlands. In addition to their performance on Saturday, the band performed with some Kenyan musicians and conducted workshops in Kawangware.

Most of the Kenyan musicians, who spoke to Kymsnet Features pointed out that the North Sea Jazz Festival in Nairobi is a good addition and they are looking forward to learning newer things as the North Sea Jazz festival takes root in the country. They hope that these new lessons will improve their repertoire.

Abbi, who performed in Djibouti at the 6th edition of Festhorn last December pointed out to Kymsnet Features that North Sea Jazz festival in Kenya means the beginning of recognition and appreciation of our local sound and talent by the world at large.

There is no doubt that his live act is growing in stature and he added: “It is a beautiful opportunity to play for Kenyans and the world, to celebrate the hard work and time we—alongside the Kikwetu band— have put in the development of our rich music.”

As a performer, this is going to be a different experience,” Suzzana Owiyo, who has performed at FESPAM, Busara, Festhorn and other festivals told Kymsnet Features. “Jazz music is deep and has its origin that are quite interesting. This applies to our music as well but this festival will certainly give me an opportunity to hear and learn more sounds from across the world.”

She is right. Although the history of jazz music origins is attributed to the turn of the 20th century New Orleans, this unique, artistic medium occurred almost simultaneously in other North American areas like Saint Louis, Kansas City and Chicago and it has continued to evolve. New Orleans continues to be identified as the birthplace of this wonderful musical genre that is without doubt now a worldwide movement that is also appreciated by many in Kenya.

The jazz aficionados, who spoke to Kymsnet Features are looking forward to the main event in 2007 when they would also be able to see acts by bigger African and international jazz stars, who will also be invited to perform in Nairobi in the same great traditions of the North Sea Jazz Festival franchise.

At a press conference to launch the journey to the 2007 event, the organizers pointed out that their wish list for stars to grace the event include Youssou N’Dour, the legendary Osibisa, Miriam Makeba and others. They have formed a committee that will suggest more names. They will start booking the artists in August and they will have a 50—50 percent input of international and local participation.

Besides this, the build up to put the Nairobi event in the international map will be complimented by several events that include a Press Conference in May during the launch of the 2006 North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, information at the Festival Mundial in Tilburg, the Netherlands in June 2006, a “Kenyan stage” during the this year’s North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, where the leading acts from Kenya that were presented at last Saturday’s pre-launch event at Kasarani will get a chance to perform and promote Nairobi.

The North Sea Jazz Festival has been in existence for the past 30 years in The Hague, the Netherlands. It has grown over that period to be one of the most highly rated events of its class with over 70,000 visitors yearly (maximum capacity) and an impeccable array of international acts performing jazz and related music in the broadest sense, performing on multiple stages. Its catalogue of stars that have performed in The Hague reads like the who-is-who in the world of jazz. This include Isaac Hayes, Hugh Masekela, and others.

The North Sea Jazz Festival as a franchise reached into Africa for the first time through the establishment of the North Sea Jazz Festival in Cape Town in 2000. The North Sea Jazz Salutes Nairobi is an initiative of North Sea Jazz/Mojo Concerts, Mundial Productions and Double2, all from The Netherlands in cooperation with Sarakasi Trust.

Mojo concerts, the holding company for North Sea Jazz Festival, successfully piloted the development of that festival into the largest and successful concert on the continent over a period of 5 years.

In 2005, the local partners in South Africa continued on independently under the name the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. The organizers have given themselves 5 years and it will be interesting to see if the local partners in the North Sea Jazz Salutes Nairobi will after some time follow the Cape Town example and run an independent festival that while maintaining the standards set by their Dutch partners, they will soar to new heights as an independent entity.

Pundits, who spoke to Kymsnet Features, added that while the North Sea Jazz franchise will open the door, it is the local organizers who will need to walk through and find out what lies beyond. The local organizers will need to find their wings and fly.

The 2006 Cape Town International Jazz Festival will be held on March 31 and April 1 and there is a remarkable line up of African and international jazz stars set to perform include the legendary Manu Dibango and his Soul Makossa Gang, South African superstars like Miriam Makeba, Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse, Caiphus Semenya and others. Others are Chucho Valdés Quartet featuring Mayra Caridad Valdes, Tina Schouw, Charlie Haden Quartet, Freddy Cole, Louie Vega, Blaze, Terence Blanchard, Joe McBride, Gerald Veasley, Kenny Blake, Relax, Omar Sosa Quartet featuring Pee Wee Ellis, Heads Up Superband, and many more along with Cape Town’s home grown talent.

The North Sea Jazz Festival Nairobi will also be promoted during this year’s Festival Mundial in Tilburg. Besides this, the 2006 North Sea Jazz Festival in The Netherlands that this year will take place Rotterdam, will have a “Kenyan Stage,” which will feature some of the leading acts presented at today’s event. The stage in Rotterdam will highlight the North Sea Jazz Nairobi event and will be recorded for broadcast in Kenya and internationally.

Kymsnet Features,, © 2006