Kyoka You Missed: The 9th Annual Nile Gold Jazz & Soul Safari

By Malcolm Bigyemano

October 12, 2016

In its 9th year, the Nile Gold Jazz and Soul Safari has come a long way from its origins in the parking lot of Ange Mystique with a single band of luminaries to the multi-dimensional festival of live music it has become today. According to Tshaka Mayanja, one of the founders and organisers, recalling Quincy Jones saying “Everything is Jazz”, gave them the impetus to put a diverse range of live performers on the bill, including this year’s headlining act, reggae legend Maxi Priest. What did you miss at this year’s Nile Gold Jazz and Soul Safari? For starters:

The New Digs:

Nile Gold Jazz Safari Tent

Is it too soon to declare that Ugandan live music has moved back to the Lugogo Cricket Oval? A few weeks ago, Blankets & Wine, which had made a home in the Uganda Museum’s garden threw their first party at Lugogo and it was a resounding success. Which is not to say that the Nile Gold Jazz & Soul Safari was like “Even us we want”, but they definitely saw the same benefits to the new venue. Moving from what had become its home at the Kampala Serena Hotel’s conference centre, the event now took up the much more spacious cricket oval from 3pm until midnight.

Nile Gold Jazz Safari Crowd

I know what you’re thinking. Serena to Lugogo? Isn’t this whole jazz thing usually a fancy-shmancy affair? As soon as you walked in, you were greeted by an elegant giant marquee set up by Nile Gold as a lounge of sorts that leads into the main seating area, which was split in two. VIP patrons who coughed up UGX 2.5m for a table were seated in a tastefully decorated dinner setting right in front of the stage, while the “wanainchi” seated in neat rows beside them parted with 140K each. But it was not expensive for nothing.

The Chance To Contribute To A Good Cause:

Though the Nile Gold Jazz & Soul Safari is known mainly for being a good time, it is a good time in service of an important cause. The break down of Uganda’s only radiation therapy machine at Mulago Hospital caused justified uproar earlier this year, but an alternative cancer treatment ward has been in the works thanks to the Rotary Club and other partners.

This is where the Nile Gold Jazz Safari comes in. Whereas the structure was completed and handed over in June 2015, it still has incredible outstanding needs in terms of equipment and financing, so proceeds from the jazz fete go to the ongoing fight against cancer as one of the evening’s organisers Elijah Kitaka informed us. Granted, most did not show up to be charitable, but it is reassuring that they were being charitable nonetheless.

Beer on Beer on Beer:

Nile Gold Jazz Safari Beer

The joke about more beer and whiskey being consumed at Blankets & Wine than wine have run their race and gotten tired because that is the new normal. Nile Breweries, as main sponsor of the Jazz Safari, does not play those games. Despite there being many stalls/ bars selling drinks all around the venue, they were all manned by Nile Breweries personnel, selling Nile Gold, Nile Special, Club and Castle Lager on tap. And coffee. And soft drinks. But you get my point, it was beerfest all over again.

The “Wait, What Song Is This?” Moments

Nile Gold Jazz Safari Oga

Jazz was once a new, radical force in music, but over a century or so of existence has accumulated a heavy tinge of nostalgia that is now very much part of the genre’s best known features. Before the headlining acts came on, the crowd was treated to a blast from the past and a shot from the present; Lilian Mbabazi and Afrigo Band teamed up to walk Ugandans down memory lane with local classics and jewels from their expansive catalogues. “The trumpet is a physically demanding instrument,” American jazz trumpeter Lin Rountree told press earlier in the week, and he blew the crowd away with a powerful exhibition of original compositions, visibly exerting himself for those high, sustained notes.

Nile Gold Jazz Safari Lin

Almost every member of Mr. Rountree’s band (which he shared with Joyner) showed off at least a single solo performance, showing the dynamism and individual talent that unified to deliver a great show. Lin Rountree was joined and later followed by Jackiem Joyner, a saxophonist and Virginia native who dazzled the crowd with covers of 90s ballads from Tevin Campbell to Michael Jackson. The renditions were subtly familiar but so freshly redone as to be initially elusive, before the pin dropped and the crowd began to sing along “Can I We Taa-aa-aalk For A Minute?”

A Chance To Enjoy Jazz In A Broader Sense:

Following Joyner, and a suspenseful interlude of jokes from the MC and a preview of pre-mixed songs, the headlining band appeared on stage, bathed in coloured lights and the thick plumes of a fog machine. Maxi Priest was in the building. Coming onto stage last, with dreadlocks hanging down to his knees, Mr. Priest’s set showed that time had honed his performance but had not dimmed his passion.

“Jazz is the foundation of music… I don’t want to be pigeon-holed… At the end of the day, it’s all about music, it’s all about feel,”

Maxi Priest said at a conference when we asked why a reggae star was headlining a jazz fiesta.

Nile Gold Jazz Safari Maxi Priest

Mr. Priest’s own critical acclaim came with being able to blend reggae and RnB in the late 80s and early 90s with “Wild World” and “Close To You.” He invited Lin Rountree and Jackiem Joyner back on stage for a spontaneous jam session, accompanying him on a few deep cuts and regaled the crowd with a medley of reggae classics to sing along to.

Maxi Priest gave us an exuberant live performance, with plenty of volatility and spontaneity, tinged with the nostalgia of a career that spans over 30 years of making music that defined generations. Maxi Priest gave us some good jazz. “We want to change the mindset,” Tshaka Mayanja said, of the narrow definition of jazz here at home and abroad. As the Jazz & Soul Safari, that now spans the East African region, continues on and ever upward, we look forward to another evening of unintentional philanthropy and spectacular genre-bending live acts.

Photos: Joshua Iga.

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