Every year since 2011, one of the guitar teachers at the Kenya Conservatoire of Music has prepared his students to perform renditions of popular songs in a professional concert setting.
This Saturday May 16 is another opportunity for the students to showcase their talent after months of preparations, rehearsing their personal song choices for a show called Fret Venture - Time Through Music at the Braeburn Theatre.
What started as an informal recital session, originally known as Acoustic Alchemy, in the ballet studios at the Conservatoire has gradually grown in scale.
From the initial audience of just 100 people - mostly students - and others closely associated with the Conservatoire, the 2013 concert was the first held outside the institution, when the performance took place before a full house at the Alliance Francaise auditorium.
It grew even bigger last year as a crowd of 300 people filled the Louis Leakey Auditorium to watch the exciting young musicians performing guitar renditions of popular songs.
This year’s edition of the concert series will be held at an even bigger venue, the Braeburn Theatre, Gatanga Road which seats 400 people. A full dress rehearsal takes place tonight before the actual show tomorrow.
This is a guitar concert that pays tribute to the musical greats by playing music across a wide variety of genres and eras with the guitar as the base instrument.
Through this interpretation of popular songs, the students are able to learn to notate their arrangements professionally and gain the confidence to deliver their shows with style and conviction.
Conservatoire teacher Manaseh Uzele has arranged all the pieces performed on the concert. Uzele is a very experienced guitarist who provides lessons in classical, bass, rhythm and electric guitars, both in classical and contemporary styles.
His expertise with the instrument is such that last December, he jointly hosted a guitar Master Class with the renowned Mozambican performer Jimmy Dludlu during the Safaricom International Jazz Festival.
From solo performances to band arrangements, this year’s concert programme will feature 28 hits that cut across the spectrum of music formats: jazz, rock, pop, R&B, funk, Afro pop and reggae.
The songs include Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are,” “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, “Someday” by Sugar Ray, The Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Return to Sender” by Elvis Presley and “Dreaming” by two guitar maestros George Benson and Earl Klugh.
One of the songs on the programme known as “Pombe” is an original composition written by Uzele’s late brother and which will be performed for the first time.
“There is a major step from the last performances with the excellent arrangement and the transitions between the songs, “ says Joe Otin, the head of the Fret Ventura organising committee and who will be playing the guitar on three songs during the concert.
A latecomer to guitar playing, Otin started lessons three years ago at the age of 37 under the guidance of Uzele and remembers the challenge of learning the skill relatively late in life.
“It was not easy but I was lucky to have a tutor who is the best in the business and the high standards you will see from all his students is testament to his abilities.”
Even though he has now performed three times on stage, it is this latest show that Otin is looking forward to most. “We have spent the last eight months just preparing for the concert together with a stronger organising committee to ensure that the concert meets the high expectations of the audience,” he says.
“We want to transform the musicians from the coaching environment to professional performance before audiences with high expectations,” he adds.
The Conservatoire also uses this showcase of some of the very best students to have attained a high standard of musicianship at the institution to popularise music training, not just among the young but also across generations.
Other notable performers during the show include Uzele himself on guitar, the vocalist June Gachui, who also played at last year’s concert, Utugu Mlamba and Cynthia Mungai who plays violin with the Conservatoire Orchestra.
Despite the presence of some experienced hands, the show really does belong to the young performers who will be eager to display their talents as they make their debut on the big stage.
Fret Venture, which begins at 7 pm tomorrow at the Braeburn Theatre, will be emceed by Fridah Muhindi and Nancy Day, who is also a composer and performer. Tickets will be sold at the door at Sh1000.