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Music

Franck Biyong: Pan-African collaboration for city show

Franck Biyong. PHOTO | COURTESY
Franck Biyong. PHOTO | COURTESY 

If you are looking for a live music event then this weekend offers an opportunity to watch one of Africa’s most accomplished contemporary musicians performing along with his band in Nairobi. 

Cameroonian composer and producer, Franck Biyong, will be accompanied by Orchestre Lipombe Jazz and the highly rated Kenyan singer Chemutai Sage.

Tonight’s concert at the Tree House on Museum Hill is a celebration of the official release of the band’s new album Ibolo Ini.

The album was produced and conceived by Biyong and recorded in the Cameroonian cities of Douala and Yaoundé, Paris, France and Nairobi, Kenya.

The six songs are a diverse mix of sounds, from the African villages to the soundtrack of today’s modern cities, traditional instrumentation fused with contemporary rhythms.

Lipombe Jazz was conceived as a revival of the great Congolese rumba bands of the 1960s and 70s. Their sound combines Biyong’s electric guitar with horns, rhythm section, drums and percussion.

A host of top Kenyan percussionists performed sessions on the album. Grandmaster Masese plays the stringed Obokano on the tracks Hilolombi and Osende Afana while Obuya Owino plays the West African Djembe and the Ngoma drums on five of the album’s songs. 

Other notable musicians include Laka Waithaka (saxophonist with the jazz band Shamsi Music) playing horns on Kingue Abel and Mburu Muhini on Sengenya drums and Nzumari from the Kenyan Coast on the songs “Nyobe Yebel and Kingue Abel.

The album is released by ADA Music, a Kenyan label that has worked with a crop of exciting artists like Tetu Shani, Fena Gitu, Eddy Grey, Makadem and Gilad.   

Biyong is best remembered as the Music Director during the first two seasons of the TV show Coke Studio where he worked with top international acts like Wyclef Jean, Salif Keita, King Sunny Ade and Seun Kuti.

As an artist in his own right, Biyong plays what he calls Afrolectric, a fusion of Afrobeat with eclectic influences of rock, jazz and electronic music. 

The roots of his music that is based on drums, percussion and rhythms can be traced to a childhood spent growing up in Gabon, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast.

His family left for Europe when he was just 14 where he started playing electric guitar, bass, percussion and keyboards. 

He formed his first band Massak, a 12-piece group of musicians in 1997 modeled on the large ensemble of his idol, Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti (his cover version of one of Fela’s all time classics I.T.T is available on his website as a free download).

After several singles and collaborative projects, Biyong released his first full-length album Realms of Atlantis in 2006 and has since then put out albums prolifically. 

Massak disbanded in 2010 after six albums and Biyong formed a new band Afroelectric Orchestra comprising Cameroonian musicians living in Paris.

He also wrote an opera Knowledge Identity Reconstruction based on the history of African diasporas living in France.

Tonight’s concert features the full band playing a mixture of Afro-funk, high-life and soul with guest vocalist Sage.

Chemutai Sage, started out as a backing vocalist and keyboardist for Muthoni the Drummer Queen before embarking on a solo career in 2011. Her first major hit was So Alive, recorded jointly with the rapper Octopizzo, followed up by another single Masikini.

This pianist and self-taught guitarist describes her sound as a “soulful fusion of all things musical” combining R&B, neo-soul and Afro-pop.

Her debut solo album Expose Yourself that contains 13 songs was released in 2015 featuring the hit single Dumbala and is available online via waabeh.com.

Sage’s new single “Trust you” has been getting lots of traction online since it was released in March this year. Her live performances have been very well received at popular events in Nairobi like Blankets and Wine, the Kinanda Festival and the Go Down Gig.

Besides the guest appearance by Sage, a host of local DJs and producers, Jinku, Lasta and Dylan S, will also play during tonight’s concert. 

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