An international classical pianist who is renowned for his diverse talent and eccentric personality plays his premiere concert in Nairobi tonight.
“This is my first visit to Kenya. I am excited and looking forward to the hospitality and the warm weather,” said Simon Ghraichy in an interview earlier in the week from Helsinki.
He was performing at a concert amidst temperatures of minus 100 in the Finnish capital.
Ghraichy, the son of a Lebanese father and a Mexican mother who was raised in France, says his multicultural heritage has brought diversity to his style of classical music.
“I grew interacting with all the three cultures and so I have discovered composers in the Middle East and Latin America that the rest of the world might know little of, and included their music in my performances.”
His music is a fusion of classical and popular works and the repertoire for his concert in Nairobi will include his own works and pieces by some of his favourite composers like Claude Debussy, Isaac Alberniz, and Arturo Marquez.
“All these are classical composers whose works are inspired by popular music from their own countries,” he says.
Ghraichy has gained popularity by bringing a new image to classical music that targets a much younger audience than is typically associated with the genre.
‘‘My desire is to change the demographic of the classical music audience because this is music which is very attractive to all ages as you will hear during my concert in Nairobi,” he says.
The 32-year-old pianist explains that his objective is to develop a fan base that will grow with him through his career. His long curly hair and flamboyant sense of fashion have earned him the description ‘rock star of the piano’.
“My personality is open and extravagant, I like to wear colourful outfits with my big hair, but I remain a classical pianist,” he says.
Ghraichy’s love for the piano began as a child growing up in a home that had an old piano. When he began to take an interest in the instrument, his parents enrolled him for piano lessons.
“ I always wonder if I would still have chosen the piano, had it been that I grew up with the cello or the violin, or organ,” he says. Twenty seven years since he started playing the piano, music has become an integral part of his own communication.
“I express myself when playing piano even better than all the languages that I speak,” he says.
His current tour of African cities starts in Nairobi, then to Windhoek, Namibia, and Luanda, Angola. He will return to the continent in April to play in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.
“These are four more countries that I am adding to my African experience,” says the pianist who has previously played in Mali and South Africa.
His concerts have taken place at famous concert halls around the world, like Carnegie Hall in New York, Kennedy Centre in Washington DC and Berlin Philharmoniker in Germany.
He refuses to single out any one concert as a highlight. “Every performance is unique and I can’t compare one over another, its just like life itself that offers you different experiences everyday,” says Ghraichy.
While in Nairobi, he will meet students and teachers at the Kenya Conservatoire of Music. He says he will encourage the musicians to mix elements of Kenyan rhythms with classical pieces because, in his view, that is the best way to take pride in their own heritage.
“Combine different inspirations to find the best way of expressing yourself in music, “ he says.