The concert highlight in Nairobi this weekend is a show that brings together a gathering of African musicians playing a rich collection of instruments, performing in their individual styles and singing in a variety of languages. The Nile Project consists of 15 musicians from the 11 countries sharing the longest river in the world. This is a project that integrates music, education, dialogue, leadership and innovation among the people of the Nile Basin.
It’s a unique collaboration between musicians from diverse backgrounds who leverage each other’s cultural heritage to produce new songs, drawn from the different genres, traditions and the instruments found in the 11 countries. The artists then undertake a tour through some of the countries along the Nile Basin to showcase their new music and performances.
Started in 2011 by Egyptian ethnomusicologist Mina Girgis and the Ethiopian-American singer Meklit Hadero, the Nile Project addresses the cultural and environmental challenges of the Nile Basin using the rich cultural diversity that is found along the river.
It creates a fusion of musical rhythms to expose audiences to the sounds and instruments of their neighbours along the river and foster cross-cultural understanding. It also has an educational component that organises workshops with university students to create environmental awareness among people living along the Nile.
The project has conducted its university programmes in Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania using the power of music to help students understand developmental issues related to the Nile through education and dialogue. The objective is to inspire the students to develop innovative solutions to some of the environmental challenges that exist along the Nile Basin.
This Sunday’s concert is part of the second annual Nile Project African Tour that has included performances in Aswan, Alexandria, Sharm El Sheikh all in Egypt and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The group has a new Musical Director, the Ethiopian-American musician Danny Mekonnen, along with 8 new artists from Kenya, Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan and Tanzania. The musicians have been taking part in a music residency called the Nile Gatherings to create and perform music for mutual understanding and collaboration.
The new musicians who have joined the group are percussionist Asia Madani from Sudan, Claude Ciza from Burundi who plays the Ikembe (thumb piano), Endalekachew Nigusie from Ethiopia and Egyptian guitarist Mohammed Kamal. (Other newcomers are Msafiri Zawose from Tanzania on the zeze (fiddle), the Kenyan nyatiti player Rapasa Nyatrapasa, who also plays the adung (harp of North Western Uganda) and two singers, Ethiopian Roza Kifle and Saleeb Lowza from Egypt.
There are musicians who have been involved in the project in the past and are making a comeback including the Egyptian percussionist Adel Mekha, Ahmed Omar from Eritrea who plays a stringed instrument called tanbour, Dawit Seyoum from Ethiopia playing the krar, a popular lyre from his country and Kenyan percussionist and drummer Jackline Kasiva Mutua.
The other musicians are Michael Bazibu, a percussionist from Uganda, Nader El Shaer from Egypt playing the Arabic flute called kawala and Sophie Nzayisenga from Rwanda with a flat stringed instrument called inanga.
The tour comes after the 4th Nile Gathering in Aswan, Egypt where 15 musicians from Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda have been sharing musical techniques using a variety of languages, instruments, rhythms and modal systems.
Their songs will culminate in the production of the group’s third album “Tana” in 2017, a follow up to their last album “Jinja” named after the town in Uganda where the second Nile Gathering took place in 2014. The first album was called “Aswan” as a tribute to the city where the first Nile Gathering took place in 2013.
This year, the Nile Project is also collaborating with a network of musicians, and DJs known as Santuri Safari to produce an electronic track alongside the traditional collaborations. Two electronic music producers Jan Shulte from Germany and Emile Hoogenhout from South Africa are working on a special Nile Remix based on the music produced during the project. Swiss singer Bastian Baker also joined the Nile Project musicians for a performance on February 10th in Aswan.
The Nile Project concert takes place at the Alliance Francaise Gardens in Nairobi on Sunday February 28, from 7 pm. and tickets cost Sh800. The group will hold a workshop at the Wangari Maathai Institute in Nairobi, the next day 29 February, 2016 to engage students on understanding the social, cultural and environmental dimensions of the River Nile.
The workshops also offer a yearlong training programme for 24 student leaders at universities in Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.