Today on Mics And Beats we feature The Limericks. Nicknamed ‘The United Nations of Jazz Bands’, Limericks combines Blues, Vintage-Soul, Gospel and Jazz with African rhythms and tonality to create innovative play and melodies that are thrillingly dense yet exceptionally fluid in their understanding of those genres to come up with their own form of AFRO-SOUL. The band was formed in October 2007. If you attended Safaricom Jazz you will have heard their beautiful music as they were one of the Kenyan bands that curtain raised for Alune Wade.
The band is made up of:
1. Ken Mwara – Pianist and Music Director
2. Fafa – Lead Vocalist
3. Danz – Bass Player
4. Brian “Buula” Mugenyi – Saxophone and Vocals
5. Richie – Drums and Percussion
The Limericks Band are working on their first album but some of the individual members have released their own albums. Radanz has released two solo albums “Afro-Gasy” in 2015 and his latest “A Point of View” both containing a fusion of jazz and traditional Malagasy rhythms. Fafa’s debut album came out in 2010 and “Take Time” by Mugenyi was released in 2013.
The Limericks who describe themselves more as a corporate Jazz band have played for numerous clients including some of the embassies in Nairobi, UNEP and at State functions. For more than 3 years (2014-2016) the Limericks played at Capital Club’s Thursday Jazz Night. They play at various Jazz Lounges in hotels and restaurants across the country, and they also perform at house parties and wedding events.
The band is made up of artists who are known both in the region and internationally, and together they are a music powerhouse.
Ken Mwara is a classically trained pianist who offers that groovy feel with genius undertones that amalgamates the whole ensemble into a rich fusion of Jazz, Blues, Vintage Soul, Afro-Fusion and RnB music.
Brian Mugenyi, aka Buula, is a virtuoso East African saxophone player, composer, singer and songwriter. Mugenyi was born in Uganda and he lives in Nairobi. He has travelled across borders sharing his God-given abilities on platforms of diverse magnitudes.
Radanz Nirina is a talented and self-taught Malagasy bass player who has been part of the East African world of music for about 8 years now. Prior to that, he has accompanied a number of famous national and international artists in Madagascar and is particularly renowned for musical arrangement, bringing a special touch on several artists’ albums in the country.
Rabodonavalona Lalanirina, easier nicknamed ‘Fafa’ is also a Madagascan born jazz singer who has vocal prowess in a myriad of musical forms as well as having mastered singing in five different languages (English, Swahili, French, Portuguese & Malagasy). Due in no small part to her vocal quality, with lucid intonation and a broad range, she has garnered a world of experience from her music tours.
Richie Rich is a Kenyan avant-garde drummer, who has become a regular feature in international circuits. Richie has the uncanny ability to completely alter the character of a song with his unquestionable dexterity and skill.
I caught up with Ken to find out more about the band.
How long have you all known each other? How did you meet? You guys are so diverse?
It is interesting because we are nicknamed the UN Jazz band. Anyway, Fafa came down from Madagascar 10 years ago in 2007 and I met her. We were introduced by a mutual friend and immediately I heard her I knew this was it. We started with her, Danz came 2 years later, then we were joined by Richie and in 2015 Brian moved from Uganda and joined us.
If you consider everything you have been together for 10 years? Did you start as a jazz band?
The Limericks was initially formed in 2007 and we have always been a jazz band. We started out as a small band.
Where did you play?
We started out here at Hotel Intercontinental, this was one of our first gigs. We also played at Sarova, but we mostly do corporate gigs. Our main clientele is corporates, embassies, and we have done a couple of state functions. That’s our typical clientele.
How did you end up auditioning for Safaricom Jazz?
Jacob Asiyo has been on my case about it for years. We were kind of involved in the first one when they handpicked the musicians. I never took it seriously (in terms of creating time to audition). Late last year is when I put it as a priority. We need more people to see us, we need to be on this platform and get people to know us and have more Kenyans to listen to our music. That’s when I considered it and we auditioned.
This was your first audition?
Absolute first. It was a lot of fun. The coming together of this band is interesting. We have two Madagascans, one Ugandan and two Kenyans. We are of different nationalities and we also have different musical backgrounds. We have diversity. It wasn’t an audition but more of a gig for us.
What genre of music do you consider your work to be?
I would say that for The Limericks we play Afro-soul. I would say that because of the diversity and different African ethnicities. Music is true stories. Music comes from where you are, what you are, where you have grown up and your upbringing. All those ethnicities amalgamate into one music form with a lot of soul. Our music is sweet and soulful. Hence the coining of Afro-soul.
What’s your music like? Do you play covers or your own music only?
We do a lot of our own music. If we do covers it would be maybe traditional jazz but even then we would change it. It would be changed into something new, something very distinct. It would have the Madagascan influence, or Ugandan and it might also have a Kenyan sound.
Is there a Kenyan sound really?
I think there are Kenyan traditional rhythms. Like if you dance to Ohangla, that has a distinct Luo rhythm. Or chakacha which is Giriama music. We put that into our music. African rhythms are syncopated rhythms and melody that are influenced by a particular group of people.
For those guys who have never listened to you before, what can they expect when they listen to you?
First music with a lot of difference from what most people would consider as our local jazz music. We have different influences. It is sweetness and soul. We have a lot of African influences. They can expect something very different, something very groovy.
Have you released an album?
We have as individuals. We are currently working on our own album and we should be releasing it early next year. It has new music as well as songs that we have reworked from our individual albums. We have completely changed the songs. We hope to just drop one solid album, and that has always been our game plan from inception. We don’t have singles – we decided let’s do it right and release an album.
Who writes your songs? What are the themes?
Our music changes over time. That is the brilliance and uniqueness of this group. There is never a dull moment during the gigs and rehearsals. Brilliance. Our music keeps changing. Each of use writes and each of us has albums of our own. There are some songs we have written together and other stuff we take from our albums and recreated into something new.
What have been your biggest challenges as a band?
Time. Time never seems enough for practice, recording and arranging and even for gigs. There is so much we need to put out there and in such constrained time limits. We practise from 8-11 or sometimes 12. That’s the only time we can practise together, Monday to Saturday.
Management of the places you have regular gigs or would like to have regular gigs. Opportunity has to meet talents. You could have talent, but the establishment doesn’t think so, or they are looking for something else, or they don’t see what they are looking for in you. Sometimes management changes and the new management comes with new ideas and you can lose your gig. This is the challenge for all artists who would like to have regular gigs. You also have to feel the gig as well as artists. So as much we are in it, we have to feel that it’s the right gig.
Is that one of the biggest challenges for bands, keeping the same gig (regular for a long time)?
Regulars are always a challenge. I give it up to Jacob Asiyo who has had a gig at Intercontinental for the last 17 years. He is the only one I know personally who has managed to do this for a long time. The only one ever. We are also thinking of doing this – You have to be willing to expand your horizons all the time. Regulars are always an issue, they have too many nitty gritties – too many dynamics.
Other challenges include how to reach out to people, how to inspire people with our music and how to get our products out there. Also how to mentor others. We spent time with the Ghetto classics kids and we want to do more of that.
Where do you guys perform?
We are all over the place. We had a gig at Capital Club from its opening, from inception 2014 to 2016. We did it until they changed things and now they have different types of bands. Now its Thursday night lights There is a benga band … There are all sorts of bands playing. That was our most consistent regular gig. We have also played at Sarova, Intercontinental and other places.
Did you all start playing from when you were young?
I started playing in high school – I touched the piano for the very first time in high school. I used to play the sax as well. I know Richie (the drummer) started to play after high school. Fafa the singer obviously started singing from when she was young. Buula started the sax seven years ago. The majority of us didn’t start from childhood. We were not raised with pianos in the house (laughs).
What advice do you have for people who want to form a band?
Number one is Practice! Practice! Practice! Practice! Practice! Like they say “if you don’t use it, you lose it” It doesn’t matter how good you are.
Stay true to your music. There was a certain passion that was ignited to doing it, maybe listening to Miles Davis or others. Don’t lose that.
There has to be balance. Practice leads to versatility, so you won’t get stuck at a gig because you are stuck to traditional jazz only yet people want to listen to some benga. Practise for everything, even what you don’t like. But at the end of the day remember what you are true to and what your passion lies in. So that you are not doing it for people, because you will get tired repeating stuff and it is not ministering to your soul. Music is a true story. If you are not feeling it then even the client can see when you’re not feeling it. We play all these pop hits, but with our own style, and we make it different. Music should minister to the soul.
Record all the time. Start early and do it all the time. When you are at gigs, rehearsals etc record because the magic of the moments can disappear and can be gone forever. Let there be an imprint of you somewhere, there is magic in off the cuff moments. There are genius moments and if you are not recording you will miss them.
How do you handle mistakes during a performance?
We ignore them and carry on. We don’t think about them. We don’t do a post-mortem. What you can do is rehearse, next rehearsal go over the song. You don’t want to kill somebody’s soul for missing one note. Don’t drag them in the dirt. The more you practise, the more you are in sync, the more you are able to come back from it without anybody noticing apart from yourself. That why you have to practise all the time.
What advice would you give to beginners? Beginners not sure whether they are ready for this journey whether for passion or making a career out of it?
Do it from the heart. It doesn’t really matter if you are making money or not. I know at the end of the day you have to pay bills. But if you are doing it from the heart it will pay off. If you are doing it for the money, people will see it eventually.
Don’t be swayed. There are a lot of temptations in music, keep to your character and be true to yourself. Know what you are about, what you want to achieve and stick to it no matter what.
Don’t give up. So many opportunities to give up on music, maybe you didn’t get a note right or management has changed at your regular gig. Keep at it.
What do you think your biggest break or greatest opportunity has been so far in your musical career?
Playing at the Capital Club because Safaricom Bob Collymore is the chairman so we got to interact. We have also played and performed with international jazz artists performing there probably without too many people knowing. It has been a learning experience. We have also gotten eyeballs from corporates from those gigs, that’s how we came across a lot of companies doing events like Mo Sound and Safaricom. Like this whole week, we have been doing Safaricom gigs.
Playing at Safaricom Jazz is a big opportunity. Are you excited about it? What was your reaction when you found out you made it?
The band is very good! We are tight, we have a good sound and we are different. I knew going in we gave them exactly what they wanted. We are a perfect match. When we got the email we were very excited that we got the gig.
What keeps you going as a band? You guys are so diverse and so different!
The creativity, the similar urge and passion to create. Also the knowledge of what would come out of it. We have fun at rehearsals, we look forward to them. Band rehearsals are normally boring and tedious, but not ours. Nobody is teaching others what to do, we already know what to do, we are just bringing it together.
Where would you like to see yourself within the next five years as a band? What are your long-term career goals?
With this platform we want to do tours, to be internationally recognised. That’s the next step for us. With the kind of sound we have, we can easily play on any international stage and fit in. By this time next year when we meet you will hopefully be seeing our videos out there.
To record. To put a lot of that sweet, soulful music out there, our strange but sweet music. To carry this music forward, to do international circuits in terms of concerts and tours. Our album will be out next year.
Last but not least, we visited the Ghetto Classics kids. There is a lot of talent out there that needs nurturing out there, motivation, and to be pointed in the right direction. I believe we can do it and we shall do it.
If you were to perform with anybody/group in the world, either dead, alive who would it be? (the band clipped in answers for this one).
That is a hard question. Herbie Hancock – fantastic jazz player, Miles Davis, Fela Kuti, Bob Marley, Musicians from the Islands – St. Dominic, Mauritius, St. Martins and all of the islands, Alune Wade, Richard Bona, Billie Holiday, Rachelle Ferrell, and Christine Aquila. Good music is good music. There are so many.
What are your up to date performance plans? New releases? Tours? News
Our album is coming out next year so watch out for it.
Christmas is at Mount Kenya Safari Club every year, from the 24th of December up to 1st January.
We do Sunday brunch at the Intercontinental so you will find us by the poolside.
We have a gig at Karura at the River Café where we do the monthly full moon dinner. We have a monthly gig at Capital Club and we also have corporate gigs coming up like the fire awards.