Today’s post is brought to you by the ever charismatic, ever entertaining music junkie herself, Joy Ruguru.
Who’s that chic? I asked my events buddy as we sat in the dark auditorium listening to the bird on stage. She’s Achieng, he whispered back. Hmm, how do you know her?
“Kwani you don’t watch Jamhuri Festival?”
As soon as I settled home that night after the Mufasa poetry event, I went straight to my laptop. Typed ‘you’ and Google did the rest. There, I finally found my answer.
Since then in mid-2016, I spent a few minutes every other day on the Jamhuri Festival YouTube channel. Waiting for me were familiar Kenyan artists like H_art The Band, and Fena Gitu who was doing her thing tho. Bensoul was even singing on his own before Masheesha happened.
So this was the famous online music series called Jamhuri Jam Sessions. With already 2 ‘volumes’ and almost 20 episodes, there was a lot to see. The deal? A talented Kenyan artist performed an African song cover followed by their original song. Not on a wide stage like Achieng though, but in a tiny room that resembled a studio. Sometimes you’d also find a Sauti Sol member deftly playing his guitar with his Fancy Fingers.
I was even convinced Jamhuri Festival was his brainchild.
May the real founder please stand up. It was only this year that I met Tom Olang’o, a Nairobi-based bass player – who’s only 23! As the name suggests, he started Jamhuri Festival as an event back in August 2015. That night, both old and new Kenyan artists came together to perform to the youthful crowd at Alliance Francaise Garden. They went through a Kenyan musical journey traversing the last two decades – complete with electrifying performances from Mr. Lenny to Le Band.
I know, where were we?
But let’s go back a bit further. If you still remember your Kiswahili from school, jamhuri is the African word for republic. Tom and his friends wanted to give Kenyan artists the freedom and independence to express themselves through music. A platform to create and share their talents. So far, they’ve done this through community block parties, and even free creative clinics for upcoming artists.
Oh, and you hear about Twice Upon Yesterday – an event held by Third Hand Music that featured a host of other Nu Nairobi acts? Jamhuri Festival was there too.
Their most recent collaboration is a yummy one – with Nyama Mama restaurant at Delta Towers in Westlands, Nairobi. You may have seen a video of Steph Kapela singing with kitenge cushions lying lazily in the background. Yup, our artists have upgraded from a tiny sitting room to the open seating space of the swanky new restaurant in town. But that’s not even the best part.
Every Wednesday night, Jamhuri Festival hosts a local artist or band to perform there in what is dubbed Mama’s Jamhuri Sessions. Free event by the way. This where you meet all the cool cats you only knew of their existence from the YouTube channel, either performing or supporting a fellow artist. Basically, it’s a gathering of music lovers. For example, did you know Phy is one petite lady? Kinda like Arianna: small body, grand voice.
In the urban crowd, you will always spot the tall and dark bass player, who looks nothing like 23. He usually has this cool denim jacket on with the colorful Jamhuri Festival logo plastered on the back; you wish he could bless you with one. But since you’re humble, you sit down and enjoy a cold drink or the gourmet version of your favorite Kenyan meal. And take it down with a glass of fresh Nu Nairobi music.
Okay, enough talk from me. Since you came here to watch videos, here are 5 of the best Jamhuri Jam Sessions to satisfy your curiosity (it wasn’t easy to narrow it down by the way). These fiery voices warmed my heart, proof that Kenyan music is golden. Don’t believe me?
Wendy with the catchy songs. Slay, queen:
Introducing your next three favorite boys in town (after H_art The Band that is):
It was 2017 when the Kenyan Trapper went Spanish guitar on us:
Get your tissues ready, guys. I mean girls:
And of course, Ach13ng:
I know what you’re asking yourself… how do I get to watch these guys perform live? Well, Kemunto already slew the Nyama Mama stage and snatched my heart at the same time. I (and someone else I know here) cannot wait for Ayrosh’s turn. Yeah, Folk Fusion wasn’t enough new school mugithi for 2017.
With this post, I now give you the power to discover your new favorite Kenyan acts every week on Jamhuri Jam Sessions. Since I know all you cool cats are on Instagram, follow Jamhuri Festival to know the next Nyama Mama star. Because who knows, it might just be Achieng.
For more writing that breathes into your soul, visit The Music Junkie. You can also catch her on The Music Junkies on USIU Radio from 12-2p.m.