Safaricom Jazz Festival outgrows its Ngong Racecourse venue in its 2nd Year

Uganda’s Jazz Saxophonist Isaiah Katumwa jamming with Jazz Guitarist Jonathan Butler (image courtesy of Gallery Khately)

When the Safaricom team together with its various partners were organising this year’s Jazz Festival in Nairobi,the 2nd since the inception of the Safaricom Jazz Festival, they never imagined that it would be attended by 11,000 people.

At a press brief 2 days prior to the concert on Sunday, the Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore had mentioned that they were hoping for at least 10,000 people and had made appropriate logistical plans for this number. However, this was not to be. This turn of events shocked many who never imagined that a Jazz concert could draw so many people. We will not dwell on whether all those who attended the concert were all true Jazz fans or not as a lot of Kenyans online have been questioning.

I have learnt not to think or believe that ‘Jazz ina wenyewe‘ (Jazz has its crowd) because like music, Jazz is for everyone. The fact that most people who turned up Sunday braved the 2-3 hours of Nairobi traffic, to then sit on Maasai shukas, some in the blazing sun, that is enough dedication. They would have otherwise relaxed at home and put on some Jonathan Butler or any music of their choice on their sound system and called it a day.

Never in the history of this country have we ever had such a well attended Jazz concert. Some time back, I wrote an article on why Kenya has lacked a consistent Jazz Festival in which I gave a chronology of previous Jazz Festivals that have been organised. The crowd of jazz fans has always been there. What has been lacking is a host that has the deep pockets that Safaricom has and with the CEO pushing the agenda. This is the best combination that a Jazz Festival in Kenya needed.

Although the Ngong Racecourse was a good venue, the festival was bound to outgrow it especially due to the road network leading up to the venue. This year was the worst experience for most Jazz fan who underestimated how long it would take them to get to venue. It was so bad, it also affected all roads that feed to Ngong road.

As a Jazz lover who has attended some of the early Jazz Festivals organised as far back as 2006, this Sunday was a clear indication to me and many others that the quest to prove wrong the assumptions most people have that Jazz music is elitist or that its only a certain group of people can listen and enjoy it.

When Soweto Kinch got on that stage, it did not matter that his Jazz has a heavy Hip Hop influence or that Jonathan Butler got people praising Jesus or that the Swahili Jazz Band also sang praises to God with Chakacha fused Jazz sounds. Everyone had their share of all forms of Jazz that one can think of and it was amazing. The declaration that the festival has outgrown the venue and the fact that come 2016, Safaricom Jazz will go beyond Nairobi is cause for celebration in the fact that as Kenyans, we can finally confidently assert that we have an annual International Jazz Festival.

We can also look forward to watching some of the Jazz greats that have graced the Jazz festivals down in South Africa perform here in Kenya. Till then, check out some awesome pictures taken by Michael Khately and Mwarv

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