Nairobi Horns pianist George Nyoro, in a casual conversation, defines Jazz beautifully as “the cave you can run to when looking for complexity.” As I can attest, the process of creating any form of art is as complicated as it is beautiful. Witnessing the musicians work together ultimately became the proof I needed that music is indeed a universally spoken and beloved language.

The collaboration, made possible by the East Africa Arts Programme, featured renowned IndoJazz clarinet player and composer Arun Ghosh, acclaimed Tanzanian percussionist and vocalist Hussein Masimbi as well as celebrated Nairobi Horns members: Mackinlay Mutsembi on trumpet, Rabai Mokua on Saxophone and Victor Kinama on trombone. They were supported by George Nyoro on the keyboard, Amani Baya on drums, Newman Owor on guitar, and Moise Basinza on bass.

Ahead of their performance at the Safaricom International Jazz Festival 2017 on Sunday 26th February Nairobi Horns, Arun and Hussein had only exchanged ideas and music virtually. With only four days in the same room, they not only managed to collaborate and blend their sounds; but they also created a brand new song. In rehearsal, the musicians were as relentless as they were passionate. Their combined respect for their craft and musicianship shone through in the number of tireless hours they spent working on the music: writing, re-writing, playing, jamming, and back again.  As trombone player Kinama aptly said, “Even though people think it’s complicated, Jazz is an easy form of communication. You are able to express things beyond words.”

“Most conventional Jazz audiences that I have interacted with in the UK and elsewhere, tend to be a bit more reserved; listening to the music more and not necessarily dancing. In comparison, the audience here, particularly at the first jam session we had at the Alchemist is quite lively, interactive and ready to dance. That was exciting to see. It’s the kind of thing that really gets a band going” says Ghosh.

Their performance for school going children at Kasarani Stadium on Saturday 25th February also revealed that no matter what kind of music one is used to, if the composition and the sound resonate, the audience, irrespective of age, cultural, social or political affiliations, will appreciate, interact with, and remember it.

“You have to admire Nairobi horns as a band, adds Ghosh, “Every single element that they put in their music selections, how they play, and the way they engage, that’s why their audiences love them.  They give the audience quite a musical range –old, contemporary, jazz, soul, funk.”

 Africa  Emerges

During the very first day of rehearsal, the team created a new song they then called Africa, borrowed from one of Hussein Masimbi’s original compositions. In addition, they also developed another of Masimbis’ songs, finding new chords and structures to it.

“Out of the blue Arun asked, how do you normally write music?” and I looked at Amani and said hmm we need a rhythm, and it just grew from there with everyone in the studio just suggesting things to include and what to exclude,” Mutsembi tells us.

“My music isn’t very jazzy,” says Masimbi. “But together we chose one of my songs called Mwari which is anchored on the marimba (musical instrument mainly played by one of the ethnic groups in central Tanzania, and we just started reworking it. Originally the song had just the vocals, and percussion instruments. Now it’s a totally new sound.”

“This is why I think ours was such a beautiful collaboration. It’s not an easy thing to do group songwriting with a band you aren’t used to, but we did it. Other bands have time to figure each other out but we only had four days. We put in a lot of work in a very short amount of time. None of us had any ego hindering us. There was a shared belief among us in this song and how to make it work.” Ghosh adds. “My music brings together Indian rhythms with jazz rhythms and instruments. NHP does the same with Kenyan music, and I think that’s why we all blended so well together.”

“The lyrics are a mixture of two languages spoken in Tanzania: Swahili and Wafiga . In the song, we speak about letting go of negative situations in our countries, getting better overall; the spirit of unity. ” Masimbi informed me.  

 Watch the video and see how the collaboration came together.

 Christine Odeph - Magazine Editor and Feature writer