For so long, music concerts have typically revolved around a collection artistes playing a similar genre. That template is increasingly being disrupted as performers reach out across their confines to work with musicians who are identified with a variety of different other styles.
Audiences are also getting used to events that defy genres and bring together a diversity of acts regardless of musical style.
The Afrolect Festival that takes place at Kanjata No. 5 in Lavington, Nairobi this Saturday is blazing this trail by bringing together a line up of musicians that cut across contemporary styles: jazz, benga, Afropop and reggae.
“We are excited to present this second edition after a successful trial last year,” says Mackinlay Mutsembi, a trumpeter with the Nairobi Horns Project (NHP) and the founder of the festival.
“Afrolect is building a genre-free festival whose focus is solely on the quality of live performances, and we bring acts from places and genres that are not ordinarily showcased together,” he adds.
This weekend, the attractions include a guest appearance by Ghanaian keyboardist Victor Dey, Nairobi Horns Project in a collaborative set with new sensation Bensoul and Dan Aceda performing songs from his new album “Accelerata”.
The festival also features a performance by the highly rated Nairobi-based reggae band Gravitti.
“In my view, this is the future of concerts, with music performances that are genre-blind, it is like tasting different flavours of food,” says Aceda.
“When you combine the country’s biggest reggae band, the best horns section in the country, a soulful vocalist, together with a wonderful keyboardist from Ghana and myself the Crown Prince of Benga all on one stage then that makes for an incredible experience for the artists and the audience,” says Aceda.
Mackinlay says the motivation for such an event came from the frustration he felt at performing around the same circle of artists and fans.
“I imagine that other performers experience a similar feeling so I created a platform which can widen the scene by bringing together good musicians regardless of the style of music that they play.”
The event started last year with a smaller line up of performers NHP, Idd Aziz and Tetu Shani performing at Purdy Arms in Karen last. “We have obviously expanded with more artists, a bigger venue and we now have to host the event consistently while enhancing the experience for the fans.”
Pianist and keyboardist Victor Dey Jr. from Accra Ghana will present his music for the very first time in Nairobi. This son of a diplomat who grew up in Algeria, UK and back home in Ghana began his love affair with music when he was just five years when his father brought a piano home so that the young boy and his siblings ‘would do something else other than watch cartoons’. He was initially classically trained in music before discovering the joy in the improvisation that jazz offers.
Dey was awarded a scholarship in 2006 to study at the internationally renowned Berklee College of Music in the US, an experience that expanded his musical horizons.
Today, he is not only a bandleader but also a producer, sideman for other bands and a music trainer. In the course of his career has shared the stage with greats like Stevie Wonder, Hugh Masekela, Courtney Pine and Marcus Wyatt
His debut album “Makola” was released in 2017 and contains his signature mix of traditional Ghanaian rhythms with contemporary jazz, funk and Latin sounds.
“An eclectic keyboardist who lives to play’’ is how CNN described Dey during an edition of the African Voices series that featured him in August 2016
The Afrolect stage will also be an opportunity for Nairobi Horns Project to renew a connection with singer and bassist Bensoul that started when they supported him during the Madaraka Festival in Kisumu last month.
“As a instrumentalist himself, Bensoul has always been a big fan of our band and so the chemistry between us was natural,” says Mackinlay.
“We gave his hit songs “Lucy” and “My Favorite Song” a twist and he was happy so besides this collaboration we also have recordings planned between us.”
“This is an interesting line up because every musician has a very strong stage presence and we all bring different sounds to the performance so the fans are in for a treat,” says Mackinlay.