Performing Arts

Jabali Afrika on attending Grammys as first Kenyan music group


Jabali Afrika members Joseck Asikoye and Justo Asikoye. PHOTO | POOL

The Grammy Awards marks the pinnacle of achievement in the music industry and the biggest stage for those in the industry to be celebrated annually by their peers.

This year’s ceremony was the first in-person event in two years and it marked a milestone with the first-ever Kenyan group to earn a Grammy nomination.

“It was a good thing to be in the presence of our peers and to connect with a lot of creators, not just musicians, but also those behind-the-scenes who write, produce and engineer great records,” said Joseck Asikoye of Jabali Afrika.

“When we are at the Grammys, we are all creatives, you can be excited to see your peers, but no one is intimidating anyone.”

He attended the 64th Grammy Awards for the first time ever, along with his brother and bandmate Justo Asikoye, as a Grammy nominee in the Best Children’s Music Album Category and as a voter in the Grammy Academy.

“It was a moment of pride because we brought our country to places that Kenyan music has not been represented before,” says Joseck.

“This was recognition of the hard work we have put in over 29 years, the miles we have covered on the road touring across the world, driven purely by passion,” adds his brother Justo.

“The Grammy nomination validates all the work we have been doing over the years.”

The group has been creating music for children since they made an appearance on the Emmy Award-winning US TV show “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” in 1996 with their Swahili rendition of “Tree Tree Tree.”

In their view, their Grammy nomination should jolt everyone in the Kenyan music industry to pay greater attention to the diversity of creative work that Kenyans are involved in and not just the sideshows that make juicy chatter on social media.

“Regardless of the genre that someone is playing, we have to give it a fair chance and not put certain music in a pigeonhole,” says Joseck.

He cites the support the two nominees from Ghana, Rocky Dawuni and Stonebwoy received from the country’s tourism board and chamber of commerce and industry.

“The Ghanaians invited all African nominees to a special event to celebrate while the Jamaican artists were united in support of the nominees at Shaggy’s Grammy party.”

“How can we be demonstrating for more media airplay when the industry itself does not even clap for its own successes,” asks Joseck

Jabali Afrika was part of The One Tribe Collective that brought together 26 Black Music Artists for the album “All One Tribe”. The band recorded “Mtoto Mzuri” featuring Joseck’s 6-year-old son Ahadi for the album distributed by Tuff Gong Records, the label founded by Bob Marley.

There has been an outcry that the Grammy category of Children’s Music has not reflected diversity in the last 25 years so this year was significant to finally have an album featuring music of different cultures nominated.

Even though they did not win the award but Jabali Afrika are satisfied that a Grammy nomination brings prominence to a project that would not ordinarily enjoy mainstream limelight.

The artists on the album performed together for the first time during a Grammy Showcase and when they got on the stage the chemistry was instant.

Joseck says part of the magic of the Grammy ceremony was the production of the performances of a very high professional level.

“The musicianship was at another level and everything was live including the performances by Nas, Lady Gaga. The fashion was extraordinary.”

The brothers were resplendent at the Grammy ceremony in outfits designed by Lilian Aoko from Jericho Market in Nairobi as part of the group’s efforts to support upcoming creatives.

They approached her after the death of Alan Donovan of African Heritage, who took Jabali on their first international tour in 1995, and who was in the process of designing their outfits for the event.

Joseck says the Grammy was evidence that the success of American music, in particular, is based on connecting across generations of performers.

“The musicians at the ceremony represented the youngest teenager right up to the senior performers in their 70s and 80s. We also must learn to bring everyone together and not just what is trending among young people.”

The brothers will be back to Nairobi in the next few days with a renewed commitment to continue mentoring young musicians who will hopefully go a step further than they have managed, and eventually win a Grammy Award.