There was a time when every bar or club would have a jukebox, a coin-operated music player that customers used to select music of their choice. This weekend, music fans can roll back the years to that bygone era and get a chance to experience the thrill of selecting music from a jukebox all over again.
An Italian group- EasyPop - that has its own hand- made jukebox will be performing a night of songs from the last six decades at the Mediterraneo at Junction Mall on Ngong Road, Nairobi Friday night. The songs are a selection of hits from the 1950s to date; the great classics and those that are less well known, regardless of genre with a repertoire of more than 250 songs.
The jukebox is a replica of the iconic model Wurlitzer 1015 and was handcrafted by group member Patrizio Pirrone.
During the show, the Jukebox is placed close to the audience so that the fans can select their favourite songs by entering the title and the number.
There is a slot for coins that is just symbolic because the selections are free but the group collects any coin slotted in the box as souvenirs of the different nationalities they meet in their travels.
However, this jukebox has no records, the songs are actually performed by the live band as the fans wait to hear their requests, just as it used to be in days gone by.
So what happens if a fan asks for a song that the band has never played? “We often improvise some of the music and to make it interesting, whoever requested the song is welcome to join the group on stage,” says singer Viola Fiorentini.
The idea for the band came from Gianluca “Luka” Fiorentini, a piano player and singer who began his career playing with Italian folk and pop bands in the late 1970s and early 80s.
In 2011, he met Patrizio Pirrone, a drummer who had played in different bands and the two musicians started EasyPop in October 2011. They were later joined by Luka’s daughter, Viola Fiorentini, a graduate of the Art Academy in Rome and Errico Fucetola, who plays saxophone and flute. Fucetola had been a member of various bands playing different genres, blues, R&B, pop and ballroom music.
The line-up was completed with the arrival of Enrico “Erik” Innocenzi whose career goes back to the 1960s when he played bass guitar with a group in Scotland before returning to the underground music scene in Rome.
He was the bassist on a major international hit single called “Miss Manhattan” for the group Metropole in 1981. The final member of EasyPop is Ermanno Presaghi, a graduate of Louis Jazz School in Rome who is another experienced artist and has played guitar sessions for many Italian artists.
“Our goal is to let people experience music played like bands did in the 1960s as they told stories about their songs,” says Viola Fiorentini. In good old-fashioned style, the group narrates stories and anecdotes about the songs as part of the performance. ‘We share memories of the music before some of the songs, especially the ones we think are most special. The audience is also welcome to get on stage and tell their own stories of the music.”
The EasyPop repertoire includes music from the 1950s like Elvis Presley’s “Hound dog” or The Everly Brothers “All I have to do is dream” and the 1960s, from Ray Charles “Hit the road, Jack” to Motown hits like “My Girl” by the Temptations and “Stop in the name of love” by The Supremes.
Santana’s instrumental masterpiece “Samba pa ti,” The Bee Gees “How deep is your love” and even Bob Marley’s timeless reggae “No woman, no cry” and “Jammin’” all from the 1970s.
The 1980s collection includes George Benson “Give me the night,” Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and Phil Collins “Against all odds.” Highlights from the 1990s include Robbie Williams “Angels” and “Losing my religion” by REM.
This trip by EasyPop is organised by the Italian Cultural Institute of Nairobi and is the group’s first performance in an African country. What kind of show should the audience expect?
“This is a chance to dive into the past because many people never lived in the era of jukeboxes…they will experience the fun of dancing in front of a jukebox, the way it used to be before digital music, even before tape cassettes, when all you had to do to have a great time was insert a coin and select your favourite song,” says Fiorentini.
EasyPop plays at the Mediterraneo tonight from 7pm. Tickets for dinner and concert cost Sh2,500.