Performing Arts

Legendary African musicians line up Nairobi shows


Legendary Ethiopian composer, singer and pianist Girma Beryene will be playing as a guest at a concert by French band Akale Wube on June 22, 2022. PHOTO | POOL

A band that specialises in reviving the popular Ethiopian repertoire of the 60s and 70s and transforming the songs into contemporary grooves and a musician who has adopted an ancient Arabic instrument to create a unique form of electronic dance fusion. This rich diversity of global sounds will be performed in Nairobi at two separate concerts within the next one week.

The Tunisian-born musician Smadj (Jean Pierre Smadja) who switches between Eastern and Western music influences, electronic and acoustic, modern and classical music will perform music from his latest album at the Alliance Francaise Saturday night.

Next Wednesday, the French group Akale Wube who have introduced Ethio-Jazz-influenced rhythms to a whole new generation will be in Nairobi for a concert accompanied by legendary Ethiopian singer, composer and pianist Girma Beyene.

ALSO READ: A concert of African music at its finest

Akale Wube is a group of five musicians from Paris who got together in 2008 on a ‘wild’ project to delve into the repertoire of the golden age of Ethiopian music whose influence on jazz, soul and hip-hop is widely acknowledged.

The objective of Akale Wube was to transcribe the music from that celebrated epoch of Ethiopian vinyl records (1969-78) and rearrange them to suit the sound of modern times.

They expanded the boundaries of the music by creating a bridge with West African Afrobeat and Highlife, and Jamaican ska and reggae. Their six albums have been critically acclaimed and they have played at packed venues around the world.

When the military regime took over power in Addis in 1974, many musicians were forced to flee into exile but some of their records fell into the hands of a French music enthusiast, who gave the genre a new lease of life through the release of the “Ethiopiques” series of albums.

Among the musicians who fled into exile was Girma Beyene who lived among the Ethiopian diaspora in the US for almost three decades and only returned to music through collaboration with Akale Wube in 2017.

Akale Wube will perform together with Beyene, who was a huge star in the 1960s ‘Swinging Addis’ scene in Ethiopia, and for the last few years, toured with the band and collaborated with them on the 2017 album “Mistakes on Purpose”.

ALSO READ: Female instrumentalists at an online concert

The Akale Wube quintet is acclaimed as one of the leading exponents of Ethiopian music, and their performance alongside a veteran of that golden era at next week’s concert will rekindle very special memories.

Meanwhile, tomorrow evening French- Tunisia instrumentalist Smadj will showcase his mastery of the classical lute, known as oud (literally “wood” in Arabic), along with modern electronic production. The centuries-old instrument is the forebearer of modern stringed instruments like the guitar. It has been explored for centuries in Turkish, North African and Middle Eastern rhythms

During his last visit to Kenya, he collaborated with artists from the Kenyan coast as his oud created perfect harmony with taarab and mwanzele musicians.

Raised by Tunisian parents in the suburbs of Paris, Smadj grew up on a diet of Oriental sounds, Brazilian, funk, soul and folk music.

He enrolled in music school in Paris at age 15 and five years later graduated with a degree in sound engineering. For the next decade, he played guitar and oud around the city’s jazz circuit, while also creating rhythms as a session musician for many classical and folk musicians.

Smadj released his debut album “Equilibriste” in 1999 which attracted international attention for the successful fusion of acoustic and electronic sounds

The arrangements which were adventurous, complex and intricate earned the musician admirers in Europe and the U.S while his second album “New Deal” cemented his status at the vanguard of a new generation of electronic Arab music producers.

ALSO READ: Jabali Afrika on attending Grammys as first Kenyan music group

During the course of his career, Smadja has worked with renowned artists like Malian singer Rokia Traore, Indian vocalist/guitarist Amit Chaterjee and British table player Talvin Singh who fuses classical Indian music with electronic rhythms.

This concert comes on the heels of the release of his ninth album “Dual” a collaborative album with two musicians with whom Smadj will be on tour in Nairobi.

He is accompanied by Sylvain Barou, an accomplished flutist and saxophonist Denis Guivarc’h from the Magic Malik Orchestra

Barou is a captivating flute player with roots in Irish music but has broadened his repertoire by adopting Eastern influences, from Indian classical music to Turkish, Kurdistan and Iranian music. His influences allow him to build a unique style, whether it is traditional, jazz or electronica and experimental.

Denis Gulvarc’h is a French saxophonist who has had a 20-year association with the Magic Malik Orchestra, recording 7 albums and numerous international appearances at renowned festivals like the North Sea Jazz Festival and Montreal Jazz Festival.