If there was one thing that the organisers of the past ten editions of Johnnie Walker Jazz Safari have achieved, is showing Ugandans that the genre is way more than a wind instrument known as the saxophone.
This has seen them host players instrumental to the music but in other roles like vocalists, guitarists and bassists among others.
And the edition that took place at the Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort over the weekend wasn’t that different – in fact, if some people in the audience came expecting a battle of saxophones, Saturday could have been their awakening.
It was a show that lasted over four hours with only a few saxophone players and yet it was strictly jazz.
And since the organisers chose to split the show’s title from Jazz and Soul Safari to simply Jazz Safari, with a Soul Safari set for December, many things were expected to be different – for instance, we assumed there would be minimal singing by vocalists and indeed, guitars, a sax and trumpets made the noise at the resort’s gardens just near the shore.
With three amazing acts – Black Roots Unlimited, Kaz Kasozi and Richard Bona – taking the stage in intervals, it was clear the music shows are transforming from just another showpiece to a festival that doesn’t only take the genre serious but cares about preserving it.
Black Roots Unlimited
They took to the stage first, with a band comprising of strong individual characters in Aloysious Migadde, Tony Trumpet, Roy Kasika, Michael Kitanda and Tshaka Mayanja himself – they were amazing at many fronts.
Playing a number of individual original compositions, the band reminded us why Ssali could have been interested in performing with them – the brilliance of the trumpeter or the flawless adlibs and distortions by Migadde were some that exhibited the team’s prowess.
The way the team collaborated and complimented each other instead of outshining themselves was one that left the audience amazed.
Of course, Kitanda had a number of moments – his saxophone is hard to ignore especially as he kept on stealing moments on those old school songs.
A flag bearer of the special Fezah Hour, Kaz Kasozi, probably little known to many in the audience may have proved why he was on the line up.
A superb instrumentalist, producer, songwriter and above all entertainer, held his own as he went onto different songs from his previous projects as well as Star Shift that was released early last year.
Kasozi brought to the stage a mixture of funk, soul and jazz that he delivered with glee and thus taking us on a journey with him.
It was the first time the shows were having more than one Ugandan act perform on the shows and no one would have done many proud than a showman that knew his craft to the dot.
The highlight of his performance could have been his performance of songs like Olubuto Lwa Nalumansi and Eyalama that some people especially at the front were very familiar with.
Richard Bona was the reason a good number of people were in that audience – of course many had only checked out his music only weeks to the concert and others even at the show remained clueless.
A bass guitarist and band leader, he forms a rare bond with his band. For many playing formats, a bass guitar usually provides a bed of all the other instruments; much as it remains a vital instrument, it’s nature that lacks sharp sounds always keeps the bass guitar in the background that some can even argue they can do without it.
Thus, every time an act steps up and celebrates this amazing sound, they are not merely monumental but memorable and Bona was that with his instrument.
On his songs like Dipita, which was one of the last ones of the night, he didn’t only exploit its minimalist nature to let his bass create rhythms so good that we did not only nod but dance to, but he let us appreciate the lyrics even when we did not understand a word.
After countless editions at Serena Hotel’s Victoria Hall to Lugogo Cricket Oval last year, there was something similar at the two venues – the organisers were deliberate at creating an indoor fell with their curating.
Yet this time round, they were still deliberate with creating an outdoor feel just by the Lake Victoria shores, at one point as Black Roots Unlimited were doing their last numbers, the moon was seemingly making love with the lake – a photographers’ galore.
These are after sales product that usually come with outdoor festivals, an experience you could easily believe Johnnie Walker Jazz Safari is almost tapping into.
It was a venue that gave both the organiser plenty to work with and for most of their day part, it was clear slay queens indeed utilised it.
For the future though, it seems Munyonyo’s gardens may offer more than just a stage but an experience similar to those famed jazz festivals elsewhere especially now that jazz and soul on the organisers’ programs are set to be celebrated differently.