Is Salif Keita the best choice for the August Safaricom Jazz Festival Concert?

The writer posing with Salif Keita during his 2010 concert at the Carnivore in Kenya

Safaricom has finally announced the main act for this year’s series of Safaricom Jazz Festival concerts happening on 29th August 2015. Salif Keita will be the headline artist with Gogo Simo band also slated to perform at the event.

Anyone who has listened to Salif Keita’s music knows quite well that he is synonymous with African Music although his music genre can be classified as Afro-Pop. Salif is often referred to as the Golden Voice of Africa and some his songs such as ‘Africa’ have become global hits making him one of the most famous African artists.

Salif Keita is also no stranger to Kenya. He has been here several times before with his most recent being at the Coke Studios for the inaugural Coke Studio Africa show where he sang with Tanzania’s Lady Jay Dee. In 2010 Salif Keita held a concert at the Carnivore soon after the launch of his latest album La Difference which was part of a campaign sensitizing the world on Albinism. I attended the much anticipated concert and even managed to upload part of the performance.

Safaricom Jazz festival which has only been around for a year, has been positioning itself as the premier festival for Jazz Music in the region. Going to its 2nd year now, Safaricom Jazz has brought International Jazz musician acts such as Richard Bona, Jimmy Dludlu, Jonathan Butler to headline the jazz festival and jazz concerts that act as a prelude to the main festival.

There had been rumors that perhaps this year’s acts would not be the usual ones. There were even some murmurs of Kenny G being one of the acts. The announcement of Salif Keita has had me questioning why he would headline a jazz concert. As I mentioned in a tweet yesterday, I am not criticizing Salif Keita. My concern and the crux of this post is that its not fair or honest to Jazz lovers to bring in an African Musician for a Jazz Concert as the main act. We as Jazz music lovers have come to have certain expectations as is norm that, every Jazz festival out does the previous ones and not just that, that the festival becomes a platform through which we discover artists we didn’t know both local and international in that genre and for those who have listened to these Jazz musicians before, to get that rare opportunity to watch then up close and maybe touch the hem (take a selfie).

This is not to say that this is not a concept that is yet to be introduced to an existing Jazz Festival. The Cape Town Jazz Festival (which is in my bucketlist ) has been running for 15 years now and its popularity has grown because they were able to grow it to incorporate other genres of music that are heavily influenced by Jazz albeit on other hall stages. Thus the main stage always features Jazz Musicians. However, music lovers can enjoy live concerts from musicians in other music genres on other stages where the concerts happen simultaneously thus one has to choose one venue at a time.

For a festival that is yet to mark its 2nd year and still trying to establish itself as an International Jazz Festival, this seeming lack of focus or commitment to remain true to itself does not inspire much confidence for the Festival especially going forward as the ‘go to festival in Kenya’ for Jazz.

There are very many African Jazz Musicians who would have been ideal and for some, it would a dream come true to watch them perform for the first time in Kenya. A musician like Manu Dibango is a legend, for the late Michael Jackson to find inspiration in your work and even sample it, that puts you on a league of your own. Also seeing that Safaricom is yet to bring any female Jazz musicians, Judith Sephuma, the little known Ugandan born Somi or the legendary Sade would all have been better suited.

I know we will all go for the concert as we all should. It’s not everyday that you get to spend only 1,500 bob to watch one of Africa’s greatest musicians performing. However, the Safaricom Jazz Festival organizers need to seriously ask themselves what they see as the future for the festival. Whether the jazz festival brand is about pure jazz or a fusion, the music focus needs to be communicated to the fans so that they know what to expect.

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