Just nine months ago, the name Shamsi Music barely registered a bleep among music fans.
Today, the band of young instrumentalists is winning over a growing following with their exciting performances of a vibrant sound centred on contemporary jazz with a rich variety of influences.
Not even in their loftiest dreams would this six-member group have imagined that they would get an opportunity to share the same stage with top international acts, notably the Grammy Award winning saxophonist David Sanborn.
They were one of three Kenyan bands that performed during the 2016/17 season of the Safaricom International Jazz Festival.
Buoyed by the momentum from their success, Shamsi Music is launching their debut album “The Audition” with a series of concerts this week at the Kenya National Theatre. The idea for the shows called “Dawn to Dusk” comes, in part, from the band’s name that is taken from the Arabic word for ‘sun’. The two concerts were conceptualised around the journey of the sun across the day.
“We have also designed a show that resonates with the human condition and reflects the different moods and phases of life?” says saxophonist Waithaka ‘Laka’ Nyaga.
The band has left nothing to chance for these shows with intense rehearsals five days a week under the direction of keyboard player George Nyoro who has worked out the music repertoire.
All the songs on the album titled “The Audition” were recorded before October last year when the band was selected for the Safaricom International Jazz Festival.
“It was our third audition and when we finally got in we felt that our lives had changed,” says Waithaka. “This album is the first chance for many people to get to hear our music and we can only compare that to our experience at an audition.”
During the jazz festival season, the group played most of the new music on the album and the songs went down very well with the fans. “We have been fortunate to have people respond so positively to our own music,” says Waithaka.
The influences of the music are diverse. The members of Shamsi trace their background as musicians in the church but along the way they have also been inspired by rock, Cuban and traditional African music, elements which they now fuse with modern jazz.
Their music has keyboard, saxophone, drums and guitars combined with drums, marimba and other percussions. They were fortunate to have two highly established percussionists, Kasiva Mutua and Tetu Shani, playing on the album.
Most of the music is carried by a horn section comprising Waithaka on tenor sax along with session musicians Joe Muthui and Victor Mukundi playing trumpet and Joseph Kibugi and Jason Rae, both on trombone.
Thirteen songs have made the cut to be on the album. Bassist Michael Munene composed “The Beginning” a lively piece that was the first single released by the band.
“Kipepeo” has been a favourite at the live performances thanks to its funky African dance groove.
Some of the songs written by Waithaka are inspired by his love for nature.
“Birds of Paradise” is a reference to a brightly coloured species of the feathered
creatures while “Dik dik” is inspired by the life-long bond between male and female members of the small antelopes found in East Africa.
“Lukenya Giraffe” with its Latin rhythm flavoured by Tetu Shani’s percussions and a muted trumpet symbolizes the sheer beauty of the world’s tallest mammals.
The story of Shamsi Music goes back to 2014 when two friends, keyboardist Paul Mbithi and saxophonist Waithaka decided to form a band with other musicians that they had played with on several occasions in the past. Today, the band is a six-piece outfit with George Nyoro on keyboards, bassist Michael Munene, drummer Ken ‘Biggie’ Njoroge and guitarist Immanuel Mohol.
The Dusk to Dawn concerts feature guest artists including Nechesa Odima who co-wrote and sang lead vocal on the song “Mighty long way”
Jazz singer Kavutha Asiyo who has mentored the group during the entire season of the Safaricom Jazz Festival will also be making a guest appearance.
The second show of the series takes place tonight at the Kenya National Theatre from 7.30pm.
Meanwhile, the album is available on various digital stores with details available on the Shamsi music website. Everyone attending tonight’s concert will get a choice between a free signed copy of the album or a digital download.