London-based composer, trumpeter and visual artist Sheila Maurice-Grey was invited to join a new all-female jazz band taking shape in Malawi, with members from South Africa, the UK, Kenya, Zambia and Malawi, as part of the xJazz Music Residency 

Lake of Stars Festival is an annual three-day international festival held on the shores of Lake Malawi, the third largest lake in Africa. The first festival began in 2004 and attracts over 4,000 attendees with musical acts drawn mainly from Africa and Europe. Lake of Stars promotes Malawian arts and tourism through international interaction and exposure. The project was born from a desire to raise money for a developing economy, help promote Malawi as a tourist destination and expose Malawian artists to an international audience.

From the 23rd to 30th September 2018, six young and critically acclaimed musicians from five countries assembled in Lilongwe Malawi for xJazz, an exciting jazz music residency programme. The weeklong music and creative project brought together female artists from Southern Africa and the UK working in the contemporary jazz scene. The residency created opportunities for new connections, collaborations and showcasing while providing a platform for the artists to share insights, ideas, expertise and to broaden their networks. The Residency then culminated in a live performance of collaborative material by the band at the Lake of Stars Malawi Music Festival 2018.

The first residency band “Banou Azania or Royal Africa” comprised a multi-country ensemble of the most sought after jazz talent including Isobella Burnham – Bass (UK), Marlyn Chimombo – Vocals (Malawi), Sheila Maurice-Grey – Trumpet (UK), Siya Makuzeni - Trombone (RSA), Micah Miyanda – Guitar (Zambia) and Kasiva Mutua – Drummer (Kenya). 

With multifaceted skills including composition, arrangement, improvisation, songwriting, lyrics and vocals, the band created a unique and experimental sound that infuses African music with traditional Jazz elements. The band’s residency activities include creating music, networking and external activities. This included a music workshop with young women at the Music Cross Roads centre on Thursday 27 September followed by a Creative Hustles session at 1Five Entertainment where ideas and insights about the music sector were shared. The activity-packed day ended off with a live music jam session by the band and other local artists at Area 10 Café. Banou Azania then moved to Lake of Stars Malawi Arts Festival where they showcased performances on Friday 28 and Sunday 30 September. 

The xJazz Music Residency is a project by the British Council in partnership with Lake of Stars Malawi Arts Festival, Umodzi Park, Music Cross Roads, The Presidents Hotel and 1Five Entertainment

The residency then moved to Johannesburg, South Africa from the 1st to 4th October where the band showcased a collaborative live performance at the trendy Restaurant and Gallery ‘Artivist Untitled’ in Braamfontein as well as engaging with other young women in the music sector.

“Through the xJazz music residency the aim is to bring together young and phenomenal jazz musicians who happen to be women, from five countries different countries; for them to experiment, create music together and build connections that will hopefully be beneficial to their careers going forward while inspiring other young women to pick up music instruments.” Siya Makuzeni, curator and band leader for the project


Siya Makuzeni – Trombone (South Africa)

Siya Makuzeni is a professional South African trombone player, vocalist, lyricist and songwriter who has regularly collaborated with A-list South African musicians such as Marcus Wyatt, Themba Mkhize, McCoy Mrubata, FeyaFaku, Frank Opperman, TlaleMakhene, KhayaMahlangu, Sibongile Khumalo, and many more. She is also the band leader of her own rock band, Ippyfuze. Music producer, session musician, arranger and voice-over artist when not performing live; Makuzeni has lent her songwriting skills to different albums by various artists and is the recipient of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Jazz 2016.

Sheila Maurice-Grey – Trumpet (UK)

Sheila Maurice-Grey is a London based trumpeter, vocalist and visual artist. Ms Maurice brings her melange of influences from organic grooves infused with 70s jazz and a touch of West African sonic seasoning. Central to Ms Maurice's music is stimulated by her visual art practice where she aims to question her 'identity' as well as what it means 'to misrepresent vs to be misrepresented. 'Ms Maurice has performed and worked with the likes of KANO, Little Simz, LoyleCarner, Kwes and many more. Whilst being band leader of KOKOROKO, Ms Maurice is also a core member of NÉRIJA, SEED ensemble, New Purple Celebration many others.

Kasiva Mutua – Drums & Percussion (Kenya)

Jackline KasivaMutua (Kasiva) is an internationally touring drummer and percussionist based in Nairobi, Kenya. Her performance style is influenced by afro-beat, zouk, samba, reggae and soul. As a young drummer, Kasiva learned traditional drums from her grandmother and continues to perpetuate her heritage and celebrate her community’s spirit.

Micah Miyanda – Guitar (Zambia)

Micah Miyanda is a 23-year-old Zambian guitarist and musical protégé who has been mastering her guitar since early childhood. At a young age, she has already had the privilege of performing alongside revered local and international artists such Pompi, Abel Chungu, the late Hugh Masekela, Grammy Award-winning artist Earl Klugh, Boyz II Men, OliverMthukudzi and Micasa. 

Marlyn Chimombo – Vocalist (Malawi)

Marlyn Chimombo is a Malawi born vocalist, musician and music teacher. In 2010 she joined the acclaimed Peter Mawanga and Amaravi movement, a band performing and producing Afro vibes – a fusion of traditional African rhythms, composition, vocal arrangements and modern instrumentation. She is trained in and teaches Music pedagogy, music theory, singing jazz, classical and choral styles at Music Crossroads in Malawi.

Isobella Burnham – Bass (UK)

Isobella Burnham is a vibrant 20-year-old Bassist, Vocalist and Songwriter from England. Growing up in Barbados she soaked up the rich musical culture around her and studied Jazz at the Barbados Community College. Her music can be described as a blend of soulful vocals and jazz with Caribbean rhythms. Isobella has played with Tomorrow’s Warriors at Love Supreme, Pizza Express, and Notting Hill Carnival and with Hank Band at the Labin Jazz Festival in Croatia. She is also the bassist for Connie Constance.