Kenyan coastal artists to collaborate with Tunisian-born oud player

Kenyan artists representing the Swahili and Mijikenda cultures of the Kenyan coastal region are set to collaborate with Franco-Tunisian oud maestro Jean-Pierre Smadja (better known by his alias Smadj) to compose, perform and produce music that will engage audiences between 9 and 14 May at the Alliance Francaise de Nairobi.

Kenyan artist Bado who is among the artist collaborating with Smadja. Photo courtesy of Ketebul Music
Kenyan artist Bado who is among the artist collaborating with Smadja. Photo courtesy of Ketebul Music

Dubbed 'Oud meets Taarab and Mwanzere Music', the project will see mwanzere vocalist Mohammed Said Ngana, Taarab vocalist Mwanate Kibwana and harmonium player Mbarak Said Al Hadj spend a week trying to fuse their respective rhythms with that of France-based Tunisian oud player Smadj. The workshop is a collaboration between Ketebul Music and the Alliance Française de Nairobi.

Popularly known as Bado, Mohamed Said was born in the coastal town of Malindi. His music brings out the unique coastal harmonies and melodies that have clearly influenced his style of singing. Growing up, Bado was inspired by his father’s mwanzere style (mwanzere or mwanzele is a dance style originally performed during funerals by the Mijikenda tribe of the Coast Province of Kenya). Bado has also been influenced by chakacha, a traditional music and dance style (ngoma) of the Swahili people of coastal Kenya and Tanzania. Chakacha was originally associated with weddings and performed and watched by women.

Tunisian-born Jean-Pierre Smadja was influenced from an early age by an eclectic mix of oriental and Brazilian music, jazz, funk and soul. The musician has since gained international recognition as one of the greatest contemporary oud virtuosos. His albums include Equilibriste, New Deal, Take It and Drive, F*** the DJ, Il Est Fou and Etrange.


Besides the various coastal music rhythms, the upcoming creative workshop will also see Kenyan pianist Aaron Rimbui, bassist Asaph Uzele and drummer Emmanuel take part in the programme. Regarded as one of East Africa's finest pianists, Rimbui is also the founder of the All That Jazz concert series that were held in Kenya to promote jazz in the country.

This project intends to help uncover the link between the oud and Swahili rhythms. The project is supported by the local Institut Francais under their IFPROG umbrella. The week-long project will culminate with a two-hour musical concert to be held at the Alliance Francaise Gardens.

Tickets to the concert are KES 500 in advance or KES 800 at the gate.


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