In the last few years, corporate entities have played an influential role not just in sponsoring music events but also in the actual organisation and management of these events as their own.
This is especially so in international concerts in Nairobi that have been taken from the hands of individual promoters to that of corporate bodies. The biggest music concerts of 2014 that invariably featured big-name African acts were the brainchild of corporate organisations.
Mobile network operator Safaricom is the biggest such player in the music business, a reflection of the stake it holds during a time when mobile platforms and the Internet are increasingly dictating the consumption of music.
The plans for Kenya’s first ever international jazz festival were first mentioned by Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore in 2013 and the inaugural concert took place in February 2014 headlined by world-renowned Cameroonian singer, songwriter and bassist Richard Bona. This was the first time for Bona, who has played and toured with stars like Harry Belafonte, Quincy Jones, George Benson and Stevie Wonder, to perform in East Africa.
Nigerian jazz guitarist and vocalist Kunle Ayo performed at a show that was branded the Safaricom International Jazz Lounge in September. Ayo who is based in South Africa and is signed to Universal Records has played alongside jazz greats like Jonathan Butler, Dave Koz and Al Jarreau and Kirk Whalum. His performance at the Carnivore was a build up to the second jazz festival in November of the same year.
The acclaimed guitarist Jimmy Dludlu was the star of that second festival held in December. Born in Mozambique, Dludlu is a believer in helping young African artists find a musical identity just like he did at the beginning of his career.
Besides his performance at the Kasarani Auditorium, he held a master class with young musicians from the Ghetto Classics. This music education programme has bought instruments for 300 children in the slums of Korogocho in Nairobi.
Collymore, himself a jazz lover, set the ball rolling by donating his saxophone to 15-year-old Wycliffe Andambi, a music student at the Ghetto Classic in February while launching the first jazz festival. The Safaricom Michael Joseph Centre has also become a significant venue for the more intimate music concerts
Clearly these events are not just about showcasing established stars like Dludlu and Bona but also about using their success to inspire Kenyan musicians. Having African musicians who have made a name for themselves on the international stage is a lesson in creating music that has a unique identity rather just sounding like a poor imitation of everyone else.
In fact, in August last year, the Swahili Jazz band was picked in auditions to play alongside Dludlu during the second jazz festival. The band led by saxophonist Juma Tutu has developed a fascinating style that combines jazz with traditional coastal music styles like Nzele and Chakacha.
Other events like the crowd puller, Blankets and Wine, now in its sixth year, has evolved into a multi-disciplinary platform incorporating literature, film, fashion and art to what is essentially still a musical event. Blankets and Wine has also in the last one year turned towards socio-political causes, the so-called “Art-ivism” like supporting the Amnesty International campaign to End Evictions during the November edition of the festival.
The event has also firmly established its footprint across the region holding its eighth show in Kampala last December headlined by the South African pop band Freshly Ground. The success of this outdoor concert/picnic model has been adopted by other events, especially the Koroga Festival.
If the quality of performers at the Koroga Festival in 2014 is anything to go by then the bi-monthly event is certain to grow in popularity during its second year. Started by the Nairobi radio station, Capital FM, the festival has featured star African acts like South Africa’s Freshly Ground, Senegalese superstar Baba Maal, Congolese soukous legend Papa Wemba and South African Afro-Soul, jazz singer Simphiwe Dana.
The event - held at the Arboretum grounds in Nairobi - has also been a stage for Kenyan acts like Dan “Chizi” Aceda who curtain-raised for Papa Wemba in September and Atemi Oyungu who played alongside Simphiwe in November.
Those who love the 90s R&B and who had attended the classy Tusker Lite Experience performances of stars like Anthony Hamilton, Johnny Gill, Joe and Erykah Badu, will be hoping that these shows are revived in 2015. There has been enough time to recover from the jolt of the cancellation of the heavily promoted Keith Sweat show in the aftermath of the Westgate terror attack in 2013.
As the Christmas and New Year revelry die down, music fans deserve some consistency in the quality and timing of concerts that take place in 2015.