A Jazz Jamboree in the City

Marcus Miller
Marcus Miller. PHOTO | COURTESY 

The annual jazz jamboree comes to Nairobi this weekend with a line up of top international and home-grown acts performing at the 2019 edition of the Safaricom International Jazz Festival

Since inception in 2014, the jazz festival has drawn huge crowds of music fans to the performances of giants like Richard Bona, David Sanborn, Kirk Whalum, and Manu Dibango,

The event has also provided a major platform for Kenyan jazz and fusion acts to show case their music alongside some of the most acclaimed artists in the world. Musicians like Jacob Asiyo, Eddie Grey, Shamsi Music, James Gogo and Nairobi Horns Project have come into their own by performing in the festival circuit and releasing their own albums of original material.,The headline act at this year’s festival is the American bassist, multi-instrumentalist and producer Marcus Miller whose influence over the last three decades transcends jazz, R & B and pop. He has produced music with the biggest names in music, from Aretha Franklin (he first played for her when he was just 19) to Bill Withers (he played bass on the ballad “Just the two of us”).

Miller also enjoyed a long association with Luther Vandross, collaborating on a string of albums and hit singles like “Never Too Much”. The two musicians met when Miller played bass in Roberta Flack’s band while Luther sang background vocals for her.

The biggest influence on Miller’s career was no doubt from the jazz legend Miles Davis. Miller who is 60 in June this year, learnt his trade at the feet of Miles Davis whom he met when he was 21.


His most definitive work for Miles was the Grammy Award-winning album “Tutu” which he wrote and arranged in 1986 as a tribute to the South African anti apartheid crusader at the height of the liberation struggle against segregation.

Miller’s latest album “Laid Black” was nominated for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album at the Grammy Awards last weekend. In trademark Miller style, the album has elements of hip-hop, soul, and funk interwoven with jazz, thanks to his New York roots where loyalty to a genre is secondary to the eclectic musical influences that reflect the heritage of the city. The latest album has collaborations with Trombone Shorty, Take 6 who joined Miller on a tribute to his late dad, Jonathan Butler and Kirk Whalum.

One of the album’s highlights is a cover version of the all time classic pop song “Que Sera Sera” featuring the Belgian singer Sela Sue, inspired by the original tune recorded by Doris Day and the gospel stirrings of the Sly and Family Stone version.

Miller is the UNESCO Artist for Peace a role that involves acting as an ambassador for the organisation’s Slave Route Project.

He has used his music to document the history of the slavery route from Africa to the Americas, and connecting the history to the consciousness of the current generation. His last album “Afrodeezia” featured musicians from countries along the slave route, Mali, Ghana, Senegal, Morocco, Brazil, and the Caribbean and was recorded on various locations along that route. The song “Goree” taken from his 2012 album “Renaissance” is inspired by the slave transit prison off the coast of Senegal and never misses from any Marcus Miller show.

“Marcus Miller is one of my musical heroes and I have consistently listened to his music since I began my career,” says guitarist Kato Change who will be playing at both shows this weekend. “To share a stage with the great man is a milestone.”

“He has a distinct style of playing so when he slaps the bass then you know it can only be Marcus Miller. The lesson for me as a guitarist is to fashion my own brand of playing the instrument that gives me a unique identity from other guitarists,” says Change.

He will be playing at the festival with a 5-piece band consisting of bassist Radanz “Danz” Nirina. Moses Njoroge on keys, Idd Aziz on percussions, and drummer Christian Kibamba.

There is a diverse international cast of supporting acts for this year’s Safaricom International Jazz Festival including the Belgian act Toine Thys featuring Herve Samb, Jazzrausch Bigband from Germany, Omni Mor Trio of Israel and Yazmin Lacey from the UK.

Proceeds from the ticket sales of both shows at the Kasarani Stadium will be donated to the Ghetto Classics program that runs music education for children in Nairobi and Mombasa.