Performing Arts

Music Concerts Are Back, But Online


Okinda of Gravitti Band performing on stage during the fete de la musique (World Music Day) concert held at Alliance Francaise Auditorium on June 21, 2020. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU

Music performance venues have been closed since the suspension of public gatherings due to the Covid-19 pandemic but after the initial shock artistes have woken up to the new reality where online channels like Facebook Live and YouTube have become the chosen platforms for streaming live shows.

Musicians and concert organisers have quickly adopted the new normal of taking the events online to keep the music playing during these challenging times. While nothing can replace the excitement and atmosphere of attending a gig in person, the opportunity to stream the concert on the phone, computer or connected TV, and to engage with other fans, especially after the absence of live concerts since March, is not a bad substitute.

“Our live streams are attracting views in the hundreds at a given time but the number rises into the thousands once the concert is posted online,” says Harsita Waters, Head of Cultural Affairs at the Alliance Francaise in Nairobi.

She says the challenge is for every player in the music business to figure out sustainable online revenue models. Facebook, for instance, has now added an option to charge for access to events with live streams.

Last Sunday night music fans were treated to the 39th edition of the World Music Day concert hosted by the Alliance Francaise. This is a popular global event started in France and held every year with the participation of amateur and professional musicians showcasing their talents through concerts at different venues.

Known officially by the French title Fete de la Musique Internationale, the event this year had to reinvent itself as an online concert. While in France, concerts took place with tight social distancing rules, here in Kenya as with most of the rest of the world, the event was streamed via Facebook Live and YouTube.

The concert repertoire reflected the diversity of Kenyan music with artists who would ordinarily be playing within the confines of an auditorium or concert hall getting the opportunity to reach a global audience.

The show was packed with a rich menu from Afro-fusion and contemporary urban music to traditional 'ohangla' and reggae, with four different acts performing half an hour, sets each.

The concert kicked off with guitarist and singer Lulu Abdalla, playing with a four-piece acoustic set featuring the mellow ‘Lekha’ the upbeat ‘Salle’ the bluesy 'Thembassa' the title track of his 2014 debut and ‘Zogo’ a new song that will be on his upcoming second album. The Mombasa-born musician started his career as a percussionist before establishing his career which has seen him perform at festivals across the world. His last major performance was at the world-famous Sauti za Busara in Zanzibar in February this year.

Taking the stage next was the Karun, best known from her days as the lead vocalist of one-time teenage sensation Camp Mulla. The contemporary urban music star started her set with a version of ‘Make Believe’ originally a collaboration with singer and rapper Blinky Bill, before performing the rock guitar flavoured 'Back Seat.' She also played one new song 'Hit Me Up' which is part of a new EP set for release soon.

Arguably the liveliest performance of the night was by the veteran ‘King of Ohangla’ Tony Nyadundo, who lit up the stage with a nonstop medley containing irresistible favourites like 'Obama' and 'Ndoa Ya Machozi'.

Wrapping up this year's Fete De la Musique was the reggae band Gravitti featuring vocalists, Miss Okinda, Ian Maistro, playing a set of songs from their 2016 album 'Force of Gravitti' including ‘Some Reggae,’ ‘Turn Up’ and ‘Africa’ along with classics like John Holt’s ‘Sweetie, Come Brush Me.’

That concert is now available to watch via the Alliance Francaise Nairobi Facebook page and its YouTube channel.

Another concert series that has been uploaded online this week is the Nairobi Jam series (Locked-In) with six episodes featuring different artistes filmed, edited, and streamed as part of the monthly series.

The intimate performances are filmed in different locations, from the living rooms to residential compounds, with select musician strumming their guitar or playing the keyboard.

In the format, the artistes are Chris Adwar, Charisma, Sage, Miss Kuria, Jemedari and Ayrosh have a conversation with the host George Ndiritu, about their careers and how they are coping with the disruption of the coronavirus, and then perform an acoustic set.

Singer and Ayrosh who has taken Covid-19 disruption have also offered him time to write music and plan his career while Adwar says this is a period of reflection on the little pleasures of life that we have taken for granted, including the ability of artistes to perform before a live audience.