Sounds of the Intimate: B&W 9th April
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The lead up to this afternoon had many minds unsettled after hearing that there’ll be only one pro band set up to back a diverse tonality of artists for 15 minutes per set. A drastic change from the cozy hangout spot that B&W used to be. Perhaps it was also the pricey gate fee and the fact that this event has been a somewhat hit and miss since its reconstruction.
Vibrations were heavy on entry as I was admittedly late coming to a very powerful vocal performance from Ciano Maimba. I was quite frustrated to have missed Kerbie who has been one of my favorite upcoming rappers in a town where poetic artistry in our hip hop culture had long started to wade. It wasn’t hard for a fellow musician to see the instant downfalls of having these veterans accompany these younger artists who for some had to work hard to keep up with their hyped up energy. A lack of dynamics was also apparent at some parts where there seemed no change between a laid back groove, a heavy crescendo or a soft soulful moment.
Having covered the negative, the ensemble that consisted of Benjamin Kabaseke (Electric Guitar), Ted Mwangi (Bass), Victor Kimeto (Keyboard), and Marvin Maveke (drums) made up for any displeasing factors with their amazingly clean chops and tasteful neo-soul flavor. Some might have argued that their sets were too clean as artist after artist walked up on stage to deliver their music. A very memorable moment for me was Tetu Shani’s set. He came on after Prisca Ojwang who looked sexy in her golden and white outfit. She really managed to connect with the crowd with her song ‘afro love’ and was courageous when she did a mashup cover of Beyonce’s ‘Love on top’! Ted and Benjamin really seemed to carry this band with their alpha tone and fill-ins that weren’t over-compensating in between the verses.
Tetu walked in with his acoustic Cort guitar and spotting his trademark straw hat. he looked every bit the ‘troubadour’ as he has labelled himself. He started with his song ‘Samalina’ using a folk groove on his guitar adding a lot of suspense as to what was to come next. Something about starting the song on an afro percussive drop re-awakened a crowd that had been dancing to the same energy for a while. He then managed to keep the audience focused with a handful of mash-ups which included an ‘It’s your birthday’ cover that no one truly saw coming. Much more charming than people ever expected. The crowd went wild when he introduced Mayonde up for their song ‘Chemistry’. Truly to see this queen of a songstress who has been intoxicating her fans with her uniquely awe-gaping afro pop hits is always a blessing. Not to mention her irrefutably gorgeous stage presence. Tetu Shani found a way to keep the band dynamically involved up until this soulful ballad which had people swinging to its powerful lyrics. ‘Jacaranda’ of course was a hit that had people singing along as he spiced up his performance with some light rap.
A perfect outro from the local artists to the unveiling of a full moon that spread its glow on the entrance of the international and anticipated star Nnekka. She came looking as she always does; with the intent of communicating thoughts that weighed deep on her mind and soul. It has been a long time since she came to Nairobi a few years back to perform at Treehouse to what many found disappointing as she didn’t come with her full band. A disappointment maybe, but not for her true fans who would gladly watch her do an acoustic set. She accompanied Keziah Jones last year during the Africa Jazz & Roots festival which took place at the same venue, a truly humble and approachable individual who talked to me about her spiritual journey & beliefs during a press conference.
She shook up the environment by starting up her performance with clean roots reggae. Her intense, unique and striking vocal tone always instills a sense of activism towards a need for a very deep emotional experience. Her band was very involved and rose with her getting ever more comfortable and receptive to the audiences now very packed and booming energy. She silenced people with her beautiful song ‘My love, my love’ that she released last year which she extended for a touching after-effect. She got us to sing it with her with our hands up and then thanked us for the epic vibes that came back.
Her music was its consistent blend of reggae, afro soul and afro beat which makes up Nigeria’s urban sound….. at least in the less pop arena. She surprised many with her high-pitched vocal solo that pierced through the Ngong Race Course grounds. With Nneka it’s always seemed as if she’s weeping; for her own sorrows and that for her fellow Africans, a theatrical element only a very true empath and conscious being may obtain.
Needless to say, David Hunter who directed the music did an excellent job if not for some small notes. Worth the 3500 kshs? That would be arguable as B&W had once been a very localized event. A lot of the fans that attended them used to be college students who may cringe a bit at the idea and maybe settle for what may be a more ‘down to earth’ concert. Considering though that blankets and wine has risen to the rank of East African Festival that showcases talents such as Aloe Blacc & Jojo Abot keeping the exposure both international and African making it a somewhat up-to-date cultural experience. An of course a massive shoutout to MDQ and the Good Times Africa team for doing such a stunning job putting this all together.
Beyond this, B&W has also become a nurturing harbour for upcoming artists in a way that really works. Before, artists had to set up a low-budget band which would usually end in an acoustic set or working with less experienced musicians who are more interested in their exposure level. A special mention has to be added to Brian Msafiri, a stylist who has been doing very well for himself locally by getting everyone into a similar themed red photomontage which really accentuated their individual characters. All of this lead to something they could carry with them and an experience that must have been unnerving for first timers to such a big stage.
Loud, charismatic, fun! Looking forward for the next event.
Photo Credits: Quaint Photography