“Africa has given a lot to the world of music,” Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo said in the middle of her performance in Kampala. This was the first time many people in the audience were seeing her perform and her, glad to be in the country, ready to entertain, educate but above all, carry an activism flag with messages of the girl child and identity.
“Poverty is something I cannot accept. I wonder why Africa is so rich, yet it has some of the poorest people,” she would say in the other performance. It was as though each performance had a message as a payoff.
But it was the annual Johnnie Walker World Jazz celebrations organized by Isaiah Katumwa, the kind of music festivities whose audience must now be used to all sorts of activism. From Manu Dibangu in 2018 to Hugh Masekela and Mama Miriam Makeba back in the earlier years of jazz music celebrations, Kidjo was not different. With a six-man band piece that comprised a lead guitar, bass, pianist, drummer and percussionist, she strolled through in her signature African fabric look, and a head gear that she would later lose before finishing the second song.
A performer she is, Kidjo wanted a busy audience, thus made enough bold decisions while creating her set list. For instance, she avoided many of her slower songs such as Loloye or the Lion King soundtrack, We are One, opting for higher tempo songs such as Once in a Lifetime, Batonga and Agolo.
Of course, while performing her newer music, it was not only her vocals that stood strong, it was her physique. At 58, she came all out dancing, twisting and locking to percussions.
Bits of funk and pop
Her latest material, which is made of funk and pop, celebrates African great acts and it was not surprising that at the climax of one of the songs, we ended up celebrating Fela Kuti’s Lady or dancing to Makeba’s Pata-Pata.
Her biggest challenge was supposed to be Uganda’s perceived jazz music audience, a group that shows up to things they may not understand but want to tweet about being there. Half of the audience sat throughout the performances while others seemed to wonder what was going on from the time Darren Rahn had stepped onto the stage earlier. Kidjo had to leave the confines of her set to look out for them, singing and trying to dance with them, but as you could imagine, many of them cared about one thing; getting that selfie with her.
The show had started earlier with the host Isaiah Katumwa setting the mood with the Swahili Breeze and Welcome. With songs punctuated with gyendi, khodeyo and other African chants, it is clear he has slowly taken the path of his great friend Masekela, one that does African music with specific jazz elements as spices. He celebrated Blu3 and Radio, doing their Nsanyuka Nawe and Tambula Nange.
The most jazz thing about the concert though, was Rahn and his tenor saxophone, his ability to play rough and smooth in split seconds to the chemistry he had with a band that had some Ugandans such as Joshua Mutebi on the bass, Charmant Mushaga on the lead guitar and Enoch Tugume on the bed keys.