Christine Kamau  ©

Liz Kilili

Kenyan trumpeter Christine Kamau’s debut album has heavy influences of Hugh Masekela; her all-time favourite trumpeter. Like Masekela, Christine infuses rhythm, language, life, memories and great jazz into her performances. In her latest album ‘This is for you’, she dedicates the song ‘Baba Africa’ to the late jazz icon.

Christine Kamau recently travelled to Ethiopia for the first time through the Mobility East Africa Travel Grant to collaborate with Ethio-jazz musicians. Ethio-jazz is a unique fusion of traditional Ethiopian music and jazz influenced by Afro-funk, soul, and Latin rhythms… so Christine – and her passion for rhythm and life - became right at home. 

Her journey was an eye-opener; she was able to perform at a number of top spots, learn diverse new skills, and network with different artists and instrumentalists. She joined in on a performance at Hotel Jupiter alongside Bibisha & Company, a band she was introduced to by Teferi Assefa, one of Ethiopia’s most prominent drummers. She later visited the African Jazz Village; a brainchild of Mulatu Astatke, the father of Ethio-Jazz. The village was established as a means to connect East African musicians to share their experiences, learn, and make new, breath-taking music. She also had a session with Nur Elislam, a fantastic trumpeter who shared with her various Ethiopian styles in music. 

While in Addis, she performed her first reggae gig at Meskel Flower, alongside The Imperial Majestic band led by Sidney Salmon, a Jamaican who repatriated to Ethiopia. Sidney later asked her to feature on a track of his upcoming album ‘Addis Ababa’. Her networks also introduced her to Abbi Woldemariam – a pianist and the perfect teacher for certain skills in Ethio-jazz she wanted to learn. Abbi sampled a couple of songs and walked her through the basics. 

She watched Ethiocolor perform at Fendika Gallery. Ethiocolor, famously known as ‘The Keepers of Traditional Ethiopian Music’, promote, practice and ensure the traditions of music are not lost with time. Their forefathers; traditional musicians, practiced different music and dances. On her final night in Addis, she played at a jam session with local jazz musicians. Gracing the same stage with the band was her most mind-blowing experience! 

‘Ethiopia was exciting, educating and entertaining’ Christine recalls with a smile. What struck her most about the musicians in Addis was their unity and collectivism. She loved that they welcomed her and recommended amazing new opportunities and ideas for her. They taught, dined and shared their music with her. Connecting with strangers in an instant was her most humbling experience. 

Her biggest career take from the exchange has been professionalism. The outstanding authenticity, dedication, and love for music in Ethiopia is inspiring and motivating. One could mistake it for The 606 or Ronnie Scott’s in London. She is now working to collaborate, share, and network more to develop her skills. 

Kenyan trumpeter Christine Kamau is classically trained on both the piano and the alto-sax, she magically fuses African rhythms with jazz fusion. She has been playing instruments since she was 11, and has performed at various music festivals in East Africa including Blankets and Wine, Sierra Jazz Festival 2012 (opening for the UK acid-jazz group Incognito), Safaricom International Jazz festival, and Jazz with Isaiah Katumwa in Kampala. She has been featured on the BBC world service’s ‘Africa Beats’, a musical program series showcasing emerging music talents from Africa.

Words by Frank Ogallo