“My drums have taught me not to pay attention to colours or origins. With them I have crossed racial and political boundaries. They speak a universal language.” Paco Sery. Ivorian drummer.
The two-time Grammy Award winning Paco Sery will perform in Nairobi for the first time during a concert to mark the International jazz Day on May 1.
The legendary Ivorian will be the headline act in a line up that includes some of the finest African musicians joining the global community of artists and fans in celebrating this year’s Jazz Day.
This is the eighth annual International Jazz Day organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) and in Nairobi, the concert is a celebration of African Jazz.
In November 2011, Unesco officially designated April 30 as International Jazz Day to highlight the genre and its role in uniting people in all corners of the world.
It is the culmination of the Jazz Appreciation Month, which draws public attention to jazz and its heritage through concerts and outreach programmes around the world.
Safaricom Jazz Festival
In Nairobi, the event has since 2017 been co-opted into the Safaricom International Jazz Festival series and will be celebrated with a performance bringing together some of Africa’s top performers on the same stage with Kenya’s finest jazz and fusion artists.
Sery will top the bill for the show along with Cheick Tidiane Seck, the keyboardist from Mali.
The other international act for the show is Mandla Mlangeni and the Tune Recreation Committee from South Africa.
Sery is a highly regarded veteran drummer who has played for some of the world’s biggest music stars, Nina Simone, Ray Lema, Manu Dibango, Diane Reeves, and Salif Keita among others.
His musical talents took him from the little town of Divo, 250km from the Ivorian capital Abidjan to Paris, France where he landed in 1979 at the age of 23.
He earned a reputation in Parisian clubs where he also met American jazz musicians like Monty Alexander and the late American bassist Jaco Pistorious who famously asked after hearing Sery play: “From which planet are you, man!”
In 1985, Paco Sery founded the jazz, world music, funk fusion group Sixun and while with the group he met Joe Zawinul co-founder of the band Weather Report who described him “the best drummer in the world”.
Sery toured with the Zawinul Syndicate for nine years and in 2010 received the Grammy Award for his role in the last live album of the group.
Cheick Tidiane Seck is a well-known keyboard player, arranger, and composer whose skills have been heard on recordings by Fela Kuti, Salif Keita, Youssou N’Dour, Carolos Santana and Jimmy Cliff.
Popularly known as the Black Buddha, the maestro experiments with all styles, from jazz and rap (he compares rappers to the classic Malian storytellers) to gospel and traditional Malian music.
He is even taught a course at the University of Los Angeles, California, on the relationship between West African music and jazz.
Mandla Mlangeni is a South African composer and performer who has worked with some of his most acclaimed compatriots, including Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse, Hugh Masekela and Marcus Wyatt.
The trumpeter will perform in Nairobi alongside the Tune Recreation, a trio of Cape Town based musicians that takes original music and transforms them by improvising contemporary music influences like drum and bass.
The International Jazz Day highlights the power of jazz as a force for freedom and creativity, intercultural dialogue and unity between people from different parts of the world.
It is celebrated through jazz performances, jam sessions, master classes and outreach programmes taking place in more than 190 countries on all continents.
This year’s celebrations will include some of Kenya’s finest jazz acts, notably Nairobi Horns Project who released their debut album “Black in Gold” in February.
Kato Change who is one of the selected artists for this year’s Safaricom Jazz circuit and Shamsi Music, the 6-piece band that has performed at festivals in Mali and Uganda will also be part of the line up.
Others are Jacob and Kavutha Asiyo, and the young musicians from the Ghetto Classics whose project is the main beneficiary of proceeds from the concert.
What was until three years ago, a low-key occasion in Kenya has been transformed into a huge celebration of the growing influence of jazz-fusion in the country.
Last year’s headline act was the Cameroonian saxophone legend Manu Dibango who performed his trademark Makossa style alongside some of Kenya’s finest jazz performers.
Next Wednesday’s diverse repertoire will be another opportunity to see some of the very best musicians that the African continent has.