Weekend of live music from Sondeka Festival

From left, Fena Gitu; Jemimah Sanyu and Kidum.
From left, Fena Gitu; Jemimah Sanyu and Kidum. PHOTOS | FILE 

Music fans have an entire weekend of live music to look forward to this weekend as Kenyan artistes join their counterparts from different parts of the continent and the diaspora, at a festival in Nairobi that combines music with other forms of art and inventions.


The Airtel Sondeka Festival starts Friday evening at the Elephant in Lavington before the action shifts to the Arboretum for two days of music accompanied by dance, poetry, fashion and innovation.

The festival brings all forms of creativity into one space to collaborate and showcase skills and innovative ideas. It is also a platform for creative entrepreneurs to sell their works, attract investment, develop new markets and showcase emerging new talent.

Over 100 performing groups, and a similar number of innovators from East and Southern Africa have participated in the past two editions of the Sondeka Festivals. This year, the Festival is running on the theme “We Are The Ones” meaning artists and innovators are the people spearheading the creative revolution for wealth creation.


Friday’s opening event is a combination of music, dance and film with highlights including performances by Mim Suleiman from 9pm and Bengatronics at 10pm. Bengatronics is a group of DJs and musicians led by Gregg Tendwa who play a genre called nu-disco combining benga, disco, and soul with electronic music.

Suleiman is singer, songwriter, composer who is described as Mama Africa of the contemporary era, a kind of “Miriam Makeba meets Aretha Franklin”.

Born in Zanzibar, the versatile performer sings in both Swahili and English, her debut was the very successful album “Tungi” in 2010 while her latest “Umbeya” was released in 2012.

She has also recorded two solo albums with Maurice Fulton and sung backing vocals on the album “Tell no lies” by Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara. She also performed as one of 80 members of the Africa Express train tour across the UK.

Two stages

The action moves to the Arboretum on Saturday and Sunday, the 12th and 13th with music performances on two stages named Creatives Garage (CG) Stage and Santuri Stage.

Two top Kenyan acts will be the attractions on Saturday, Afro fusion artiste Makadem and hip-hop star Octopizzo who has just launched his second album “Long distance paper chaser.”

The headline performance on Day 2 will be an appearance by Mr Raoul K a DJ, producer, performer who is originally from the Ivory Coast but has lived in Germany since 1992.

His music is a fusion of traditional West African rhythms using instruments like the kora and the balafon with European electronic sounds.

Other performers on Saturday include the Tanzanian Msafiri Zawose, scion of a famous musical family who has kept the traditional Gogo style alive and plays a variety of instruments like the marimba, Zeze (two-stringed violin) and the ngoma (drums).

He has performed at top festivals like the Sauti za Busara (2013) in Zanzibar, and has been chosen for the 2016 Cultural exchange tour of the US organised by the State Department.


The climax of the festival on Sunday 13 September will feature performances by Mim Suleiman, Fena Gitu, Kidum and Jemimah Sanyu on the CG Stage.

Known as the “Stage Gladiator” because of her powerful presence on stage, Jemimah Sanyu is from Jinja, Uganda, and has played at shows like the Bayimba Festival in Uganda and Blankets and Wine in Kenya. Her biggest hit is “I am a Ugandan” released on her 2010 debut album “Amaaso go googera.”

Another exciting prospect is Fena Gitu, a Kenyan Urban Soul singer-songwriter and producer who started as a back-up singer for Muthoni the Drummer Queen before launching her own career in 2010.

Her debut album “Fenamenon” has produced hits like “Fenamenal woman” “Brikicho” and “African Massive” and she has performed on the same stage with musicians like Sauti Sol, Davido of Nigeria and Yvonne Chaka Chaka of South Africa.

Mental health

Jazz trumpeter Christine Kamau will be playing on the Santuri Stage on Sunday afternoon. Kamau, who grew up and started music in Nakuru before enrolling at the Kenya Conservatoire of Music, has one album to her name, “This is for you” a fusion of jazz with African elements like benga and rumba, released in 2012.

She performs regularly on the Nairobi live music circuit along with her band of bassist Ted Mwangi, Johnson Omonije on keyboards, drummer Anthony Kinyaga and Charles Obuya on percussions.

This year, the Sondeka Festival is supporting the charity My Mind, My Funk, an organisation that makes mental health information and support accessible to the public and is run by the mental health activist and blogger Sitawa Wafula.

It is part of an international Semi Colon movement that reminds people that just like the semi-colon in English, the story is not over. Amidst the fun and music, the festival will also provide a platform to hold discussions on the topic of suicide.