Music

Return of live music bands

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Hope Band members. NMG PHOTO

Summary

  • Celebrated Kenyan-based Burundian singer Hope Irakoze who leads Hope band is thankful for the upturn.
  • At the height of Covid-19 restrictions, the shutdown of cash-minting events like the Koroga Festival, and hotel and pub gigs, it seemed like the fat lady had finally sung.
  • The prohibition of rehearsal and recording meetings was yet another low note in their lives.

After a long quiet year, the sound of live music can be heard across Nairobi. Saturdays and Sundays eat-outs are no longer the dull affairs most Nairobians had become accustomed to when strict Covid-19 movement and gathering restrictions were in force.

Today, top hotels charting their recovery path after taking a hard beating from Covid-19 lockdowns are calling bands back to perform to an emotionally battered clientele.

Live music is a balm for their {customers} souls and the musicians, a shot in the arm.

Celebrated Kenyan-based Burundian singer Hope Irakoze who leads Hope band is thankful for the upturn.

At the height of Covid-19 restrictions, the shutdown of cash-minting events like the Koroga Festival, and hotel and pub gigs, it seemed like the fat lady had finally sung.

The prohibition of rehearsal and recording meetings was yet another low note in their lives.

“When President Uhuru Kenyatta partially reopened the country and said hotels can now serve indoor dining guests, I received a call from Sankara Hotel informing me that I could come back with my band. It was a silver lining for me,” he says.

He likens the call-up to the proverbial light at the end of a dark tunnel that saw him host some of his band members who were faring worse than him.

“It was tough, some members of my band had nothing {income} and I had to accommodate them, and some had children. You can imagine how things were then,” says the songwriter and multiple instruments player who was also the winner of Tusker Project Fame (TPF) Season 6 (2013).

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Michael Okinyo on the keyboard (left), lead singer Lilian Njuguna (centre) and Ricky Nanjero on the bass guitar perform the Movenpick Hotel during Sunday brunch on August 1. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG

Hope band is once again playing at Sankara’s Sarabi Rooftop every Saturday.

“Things are getting better though we still need more gigs,” adds Hope.

Another band, Riki Na Marafiki performs every Sunday afternoon at Mövenpick Hotel & Residences Nairobi.

Despite being in the industry for more than a decade and with five albums, the trio of Riki Na Marafiki had to adjust when the going got tough.

Lilian Njuguna who is a vocalist is also a designer, Michael Okinyo who plays keyboards is a pharmacist based in Narok and Ricky Nanjero who plays bass is an electrician.

Relief package

“The good thing about us is that despite the pandemic taking a toll on musicians we had our careers to fall back on. I tried to do things that could bring me money, but it wasn’t easy, it has never been easy, up to now some of us are still in debt,” says Ricky.

The government last year come up with a relief package to ease the pain of artistes. But the musicians say the support was hardly enough to cater to their basic needs and was conditioned on playing to the tune of politicians.

“It is funny that we elect leaders who are not of good moral standing and when they promise you something, it is a promise so that a day can pass because they wanted to get something out of you. As musicians, we need to play our cards right, we can’t soil their name because we also benefit from them,” he adds.

In the end, they each got Sh10, 000 from the government relief package, which was pegged on performance, even though the same government had banned gatherings, thus tying their hands.

Lilian says for more than a year no opportunities were her way. The same was the case for Michael, who says before the pandemic that the cash from music put him through medical school. He is, however counting his blessings.

Can finally breathe

“Today, what we are earning is not what we used to earn. The pay was slashed. The rates are not the same, but we understand that the hotels are also not in the same financial position as before. Even the spending power of people has gone down,” he explains adding that he is just happy that the group is doing what they love most again.

“When we play, we are meant to create memories and moments for people they are going to remember for the rest of their lives. The kind of music we do is to bring healing to our society,” says Ricky.

James Ayugi and Moses Nyogesa who make up Jay Sax Duet play their smooth jazz tunes every Sunday at the Hemingways Nairobi. The last year was their toughest yet.

During the lockdown, Moses, who plays the keyboard, says he could only wait hopefully. “We would get one-off gigs, for people proposing or birthdays and at that time getting that phone call, meant the world to us.”

“Now it is better because we can finally breathe,” adds James who plays the saxophone.

The duo added that they are stoked to be back.

“Sit-down gigs are something one should experience, as there is no dancing allowed. Tables fill up the whole hotel from the door to the garden. It feels like a full house even though the audience is spaced out. We love it,” notes Moses.

They add that, they love playing at Hemingways because of the great sense of community there.

All the bands agree that live music is vital, not only for the concert-going experience for audiences but also for the income it generates for musicians.

They only wish that the government would support the music industry in the same way that it has supported other sectors of the economy.

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