In Conversation with Swahili Jazz Band on their Journey and Safaricom International Jazz Festival
The Safaricom Jazz Kenyan All Stars Edition will be going down at the Carnivore Grounds on April 30th in celebration of International Jazz Day. Tickets are going for Ksh 2,000 and Ksh 500 for students with children under 12 getting in free and can be bought through M-Ticketing by dialling 1511. The concert, dubbed Kenyan Jazz All Stars Edition, will open the 2017-2018 season of the Safaricom International Jazz Festival and will be headlined by a stellar line-up of Kenyan jazz musicians including: Nairobi Horns Project, Shamsi Music, Mwai & The Truth, AfroSync, Edward Parseen and The Different Faces, Jacob Asiyo & Kavutha Mwanzia-Asiyo, James Gogo, Juma Tutu, Eddie Grey and Chris Bittok.
I sat down with 2 members of Swahili Jazz Band, Juma Tutu and Nafsi Huru, to find out more about their journey in music and their Safaricom Jazz experience.
1. Who is Swahili Jazz Band? What was the inspiration for the name?
Juma Tutu: I had been performing music from 1998 under the Tutu Band and had experienced some success. As I got more exposure, I realized the music I was making was jazz because of the improvisational nature of it. I branded my music Swahili Jazz and renamed the band in 2013. We are 11 members though the whole band doesn’t always perform as sometimes we perform as a quartet. My main instrument is the saxophone but I also sing and play the piano and guitar.
Nafsi Huru: I am not an original member of the band. I reached out to Juma Tutu as I wanted to join the band and he was a bit hesitant about including a hiphop artiste in a jazz band but they accepted me and we’ve been working together from 2013.
2. How did you get into music?
Juma Tutu: I was born into a family of musicians so I was exposed to music at an early age. I played with Bango Sounds in Mombasa before moving to Nairobi to form my own band.
Nafsi Huru: It started when I was young. I would sing along to music on the radio and I started composing my own. I am primarily a hiphop artiste but I do sing and love other genres of music.
3. How would you describe Swahili Jazz Band’s sound? What has been the reaction to your music?
Juma Tutu: Our music is the kind of jazz that’s familiar, friendly and easy. It’s quintessinatly Kenyan. We fuse coastal sounds with jazz elements and it works. People really love Swahili Jazz Band’s music and I appreciate the support.
Nafsi Huru: It’s a fusion of authentic Mijikenda sounds, Asian elements and jazz. I was surprised to find that people really love the music especially the hip hop and jazz fusion.
4. What is your creative process like?
Juma Tutu: My compositions are inspired by true life experiences. It’s very difficult to work without inspiration. I compose my songs over years before I perform them and so the music is not new to me but to the fans it’s new.
Nafsi Huru: It’s a pretty spontaneous process. We have great chemistry as a band which makes the creation process effortless. Juma composes majority of the music though and as I’m a good lyricist, I help sharpen the lyrics.
5. What are your thoughts on jazz in Kenya, what challenges have you faced as a jazz band and how do you think we can improve on the craft?
Juma Tutu: Jazz music is growing in Kenya. People do consume jazz but a lot of the times they are not aware that they are consuming jazz. I have been at it for the past 19 years and it has been a struggle but I can say it has been worth it. I am making a living from music and music related activities. The music industry in general needs a lot more support from a policy level. We need more airplay and structures of royalties need to be strengthened.
Nafsi Huru: Jazz is still growing in Kenya but I see it doing well as I believe good music is for everyone. Kenyans do need to appreciate our music more. There’s a lot of talented artistes that need support. We also need more platforms for exposure as sometimes artistes are simply unknown though they make good music. I would say to the artistes to love their roots and use it in their music.
6. You are currently working on an album. How is that going and when can fans expect to listen to some new music?
Juma Tutu: Most people don’t know but to make a live music recording album is a very expensive affair. Other than the money, there’s a lot of rehearsal time required. I am self sponsoring the album so it’s been quite the challenge. I want to go the route of singles and then compiling them into the album. I’m hoping we’ll be able to release two singles along with their videos this year. One of the singles is actually a collaboration with Jimmy Dludlu. We are also working on something with James Gogo of Gogo Simo Band as well.
Nafsi Huru: It is an exciting process and I’m especially excited to share the music that is a fusion between jazz and hip hop. It is though a challenge to record and master live music. Just mastering one song takes 2 to 3 months so the whole album could take almost a year to record with mastering happening along the way. Because of this, we are planning to release singles as we compile the album.
7. What goes into your rehearsals especially when you’re preparing for a big show like Safaricom Jazz?
Juma Tutu: Personally, my band members know that I am perfectionist. I could rehearse all day but due to financial and other constraints, my minimum is 3 4 hour rehearsal sessions a week. For all the bands that take part in the festival, the rigorous rehearsals elevate them, even if they don’t make it through the audition stage.
Nafsi Huru: Rehearsals are 4 hour sessions thrice a week. I would say we are able to make the most of this because we have great synergy as a band.
8. What can we expect from you at the Kenyan All Stars Edition of Safaricom Jazz?
Juma Tutu: They should expect world-class entertainment. I want the fans to see the potential we have as Kenyan jazz musicians. Our stage performances are at international standards given the right platform such as Safaricom Jazz. Also, I have been part of the team mentoring the kids from Ghetto Classics and as part of those efforts, we have a song together that we will be performing at Safaricom Jazz.
Nafsi Huru: Fire! Nothing less. It’s going to be amazing is what I can promise. Being part of Safaricom Jazz has given us a platform to grow and we have lots of new fans.
9. What work/project are you most proud of?
Juma Tutu: Performing on the Safaricom Jazz stage has been great publicity for us and it has been an amazing experience the stage with internationally renowned Jazz musicians. I’ve also been featured on Coke Studio and performed thrice at State House with Swahili Jazz Band – twice for President Uhuru Kenyatta and once for Mwai Kibaki.
Nafsi Huru: Performing on the Safaricom Jazz stage of course! Also performing for the President at State House on Jamhuri Day in 2016.
10. Who are your favourite jazz artistes and why?
Juma Tutu: Fela Kuti because he studied western music but came back home and took elements of his country’s music and created something spectacular. I am also a fan of Hugh Masekela and Joseph Ngala of Bango Sounds (my mentor) and Manu Dibango. They’ve managed to be succesful internationally without changing or sacrificing their sound.
Nafsi Huru: I am a fan of James Gogo of Gogo Simo Band, Juma Tutu, Joshua Redman and hiphop artistes who are not afraid to push boundaries like Juliani and Kendrick Lamar.
11. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Juma Tutu: Hopefully, we can achieve international recognition for our music. I would also love to collaborate with more artistes including Hugh Masekela and Kenyan jazz bands like Nairobi Horns Project.
Nafsi Huru: Be one of the biggest bands in Africa! I would aslo love to collaborate with more artistes on the continent including Hugh Masekela, Richard Bona, Oliver Mtukudzi, Fid Q, Chameleon, Wizkid and Sage.
Check out Swahili Jazz Band’s work and profile below.
Facebook: Swahili Jazz
Website: jumatutu.comhttp://www.mwendengao.com/2017/04/25/in-conversation-with-swahili-jazz-band-on-their-journey-and-safaricom-international-jazz-festival/EventsMusicCarnivore,Juma Tutu,Kenya,Nafsi Huru,Nairobi,Safaricom International Jazz Festival,Safaricom Jazz,Swahili Jazz Band