When Christine Kamau was invited for a music audition in South Africa four years ago, little did she know that this would be the beginning of a love affair with that country’s jazz tradition.
Listening to players like Jonas Gwangwa, Moses Khumalo and Moses Molelekwa provided the inspiration for her to return home and begin writing and arranging her own music.
That process has taken the Nakuru-born musician, widely known as the Jazzist, two years and the result is an eight-song album, suitably titled “This is for you” released two weeks ago with a concert at the Michael Joseph Centre in Nairobi.
“My progression to jazz was natural,” says the trumpeter and composer who, at one point, was a member of Eric Wainaina’s Mapinduzi band. “I had started by studying classical music and playing the piano at the age of eleven.”
When I ask her about The Jazzist tag, she says it came about after she played at a concert, supporting the Nairobi-based Afro-soul group Afrology in February last year.
“In the poster advertising that show, I was referred to as The Jazzist and from then on, the name stuck,” she says.
There are very strong traces of Hugh Masekela throughout the album but Christine is quick to defend herself from accusations that her music is a wholesale copy of South African jazz, saying identity comes with experience.
“I cannot climb a tree from the top and I am confident that with time, my own music will develop into a distinct style,” she says.
This album is actually a very good listen and there’s every indication that even the conservative jazz-loving crowd will love the vibe on the eight songs contained here.
All the songs were recorded in a live setting in the studio due to what Christine says are for both artistic as well as cost implications.
“We got my band to rehearse the songs for two weeks and once we went into the studio, it was a straight recording session.”
The entire album was recorded at the Rafiki Studios in Nairobi under the guidance of Cameroonian producer Romeo Kouemeni.
Christine has played with a five-piece group of musicians called The African Band for the last two years.
Members of the band include Emmanuel Kute on alto-saxophone, bass guitarist Isaac Khakula, Kennedy Simiyu on keyboards, Daniel Macharia on drums while Matthew Makumi is on guitar.
In March, Christine played at the monthly Blankets and Wine concert in Nairobi, and looks back at this appearance as one of the most rewarding for her as a performer so far.
Christine and her band have been trying to give jazz lovers an opportunity to see them in performance with a series of shows, called the Afro Jazz, launched in January this year.
The first show filled up the auditorium at the Kenya National Theatre and the sequel takes place on May 31 at the same venue.
The struggle of an emerging artiste extends to the sales and promotions for new CDs.
Christine says, thanks to social media websites, she has been able to spread the word about her album in a way that she would not have dreamed of.
Just last week, she appeared on the BBC World Service “Africa Beats” a series showcasing the hottest tipped artistes from the continent.
She will not be drawn to single out her favourite song on the album, but as she looks through the titles, her eyes light up when she mentions “Nakuru Sunshine”.
It could be that this melodic tribute to her hometown provides the spark upon which the rest of the songs shine.