One of Africa’s most accomplished jazz guitarists, Jimmy Dludlu, will be the star attraction at the second edition of Safaricom International Jazz festival next Friday 5 December at the Kasarani Indoor Arena.
The inaugural festival early this year at the Ngong Racecourse featured a performance by Cameroonian bassist Richard Bona. The bill also included Kenyan jazz acts like Eddie Grey, Aaron Rimbui, Jacob and Kavutha Asiyo.
In September, Nigerian guitarist Kunle Ayo headlined the Safaricom International Jazz Lounge, a build-up to the festival proper next Friday.
This second edition of the festival continues that trend of delivering a performance by an African maestro.
Dludlu has a well-earned reputation for a style that is contemporary yet reflects his diverse heritage having lived across the entire Southern Africa region. Born in Mozambique, he spent his childhood in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
The guitarist became famous in the 1980s when he played with various bands like Impandze, Kalahari and Anansi in Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and South Africa.
During his career, he has worked with virtually all of the region’s iconic musicians, including the late Miriam Makeba whom he first played for while just 19.
In 1991, Dludlu was among the founding members of the group Loading Zone together with some of his compatriots based in South Africa.
The band toured Africa, backing stars like Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Brenda Fassie, Chicco, Sipho Mabuse and even Congolese rhumba star Papa Wemba who had spotted them in Namibia and invited them to tour with him.
As a 13-year-old in 1979, Dludlu was playing at weddings with improvised guitars that were made by a cousin who was a carpenter.
By 18, he had made up his mind that music was to be his career path shaped by influences coming from diverse parts of Africa like the rhythms of Congolese rhumba giants Franco (Luambo Luanzo Makiadi) and Sam Mangwana.
Dludlu’s love for the guitar was cemented when he discovered American jazz star George Benson playing on the radio.
However, when he traveled to America, he discovered that he could not play music better than the real Benson or other idols like West Montgomery and Charlie Christian and so needed to develop a sound that was authentic to stand out in the competitive market.
This was the spark needed to revert to South African music greats like Masekela, Zacks Nkosi and the guitarist who became his mentor, Themba Mokoena.
Dludlu’s musical identity, Afro jazz was born - a sound, he says, which is progressive, drawing as it does, from the multiplicity of influences that his career has been exposed to.
It did not take long after Loading Zone for the graduate of Jazz Studies from the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town to establish his own career.
He released his first album “Echoes from the Past” in 1997 winning him Best Newcomer and Best Contemporary Jazz Album at the South Africa Music Awards. He has since enjoyed a prolific recording career with 7 albums including the latest “Tonata” released in 2012.
Some of the sweetest songs to look out for from Dludlu’s repertoire include the catchy Latin influenced groove of “The Wood That Sings of Sorrow,” the “Basil Goes to Church” and “River of Lost Dreams” from the “Afrocentric” album, “Nkateko” and “Zavaka” from his 1997 debut “Echoes from the past.”
He has worked on every single album with keyboardist co-producer and co-writer, Mark Goliath and his band, C-Bass Collective, that consists of the same friends who came together at the University of Cape Town more than 20 years ago.
Dludlu is also never coy about experimenting with other contemporary music genres like house music that is hugely popular among young South Africans. Lately, he has worked on projects with young South African house artists like DJ Kent and DJ Cleo.
A firm believer in helping young African artistes find an identity just like he did a generation ago, Dludlu teaches music in his native Mozambique and at his alma mater, the University of Cape Town. He also mentors emerging talents like the South African performer Wandi Baloyi.
While in Nairobi, he will hold a workshop for young jazz and classical artistes, especially budding musicians at the Ghetto Classics, a music education programme in Korogocho supported by Safaricom.
Auditions were held in August to choose the opening act for this year’s Safaricom Jazz Festival and the selection panel settled on the Swahili Jazz Band led by saxophonist Juma Tutu, who play a fusion of contemporary jazz and traditional coastal music.
Advance tickets for next Friday’s show are Sh1000 at all Safaricom shops while tickets at the gate will cost Sh1500. You can also dial 1511 to buy tickets via M-ticketing.