Celebrating African Jazz being this year’s theme, the Safaricom International Jazz Day celebrations will be headlined by the International king of drums, Paco Sery and the renowned multi-instrumentalist Cheick Tidiane Seck. Joining them on stage will be South Africa’s Mandla Mlangeni and The Tune Creation Committee and Kenyan acts Nairobi Horns Project, Shamsi Music, Kato Change and the Change Experience, Jacob and Kavutha Asiyo, and the Ghetto Classics.
These remarkable artists take centre stage ready to make you dance and listen to some awesome jazz tunes.
Over 1500 children have been supported since the inception of the festival in 2014 as all the proceeds go to support the Ghetto Classics Programme. This edition of the festival will see the proceeds of the programme extend to Kisumu. Sigh, so much good news.
In the populous state of Divu in Cote d’Ivoire on the 1st of May 1956, an illustrious world renown artist was born. Among his 17 siblings, Paco Sery grew up in the small city west of Abidjan. He often took his elder sister to local dancing contests in the city and this contributed to his love for music. Seeing her win little things, a bit of money and being immersed into the music, he learnt to take joy in music. He says he wanted to be like Lucie but was mostly infatuated by the glistening Tom Tom drums.
Curiosity and fascination taking the lead, Paco decided to make his first makeshift drum. At only 9 years of age, he elaborates how he made himself a kit with boxes for the bass drum, large cans of tomatoes for tom toms and lids for cymbals. His passion was so great that he could not help himself but imitate the drummers across their street, taking keen interest in their movements and their skill.
As with typical African dads, his father was infuriated by Paco’s passion for music. This, however, did not deter the self-taught young lad who would go play at his aunt’s place every afternoon. So good was he that his aunt’s aloco’s (fried plantain) business boomed because of his art.
Trying his luck at a dance hall, the 10-year-old, Paco mesmerized all the musicians and the band leader forgot that he had sneaked into the auditions and actually hired him. Knowing he was better off not telling his father, he travelled to Dabou earning his first 30,000 CFA Francs (ksh 3,398) every month. That was a lot of money during those days.
Frequenting night clubs and concerts, he was invited to perform on television under the name Paco Solo. In 1978, Eddy Louiss crossed paths with the energetic Paco on the Ivory Coast and poached him becoming his regular drummer.
That was just the beginning of a phenomenal career journey awaiting Paco. He worked with Nina Simone successfully for 2 years. He then met and joined Jaco Pastorius in 1985 for his European Tour. Jaco requested Paco to join him for a Jam Session at the Sunset, a club in Paris where he was playing. Jaco eventually stopped everyone mid-set to ask Paco which planet he came from. He was that good! During their tour, Paco gained insight into self-destruction and drugs. This is a part of his life where he does not like talking about but just says that in the end, Jaco just wasn’t there.
Setting up his mythical fusion band Sixun in France, he set the pace for jazz music. Everything he touched became magical, inventing without claim of ownership, and he was the most instinctive drummer in his time. In the 90s he played with Joe Zawinul’s band, and went on world tours with them. The band has Grammy nominations and awards.
He might be a small man but make no mistake to doubt his prowess. Allowing like-minded people to share his stage, musicians such as Nina Simones, Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter among a tonne others, have been on the centre stage allowing a phenomenal wave of Jazz to come into fruition.
Fun fact; Paco Sery plays drums left-handed and also plays the kalimba, a South African instrument.
Cheick Tidiane Seck, a man of profound accolades, was born in the capital city of Mali, Bamako on a hot January afternoon. A composer, keyboardist, arranger and musician are some of the adjectives you might use to describe this powerhouse of a man.
Talking to Manuel Toledo of BBC Africa, we learn that Cheick’s mother was an apt lover of music and he grew up as a Christian, going for Mass diligently. He is currently a Muslim. Not only did he learn a lot of intricate values which have lit his path but he also realized his dexterity as a painter. A Jack of all trades we could say.
Learning that auditions were taking place at the City National Art of Mali, this ambitious young boy participated and scooped both categories; music and painting. The Master, simply impressed by his artistry asked him to choose between the two. Cheick’s mother had from a young age exposed him to music and he, therefore, chose painting and he followed this passion.
In an interview with dw, Cheick finds it negligent for the West to think that Africans do not know Jazz simply because our Jazz music is not monotonous and rigid sharing the same voice. His essential definition for Jazz is improvisation. He says that there’s no need for rehearsal and making music and improvising together is what makes Jazz.
He’s music is a mixture of his traditionalist and cultural heritage but also extremely open-minded to modernization. He has contributed enormously to the emancipation of Malian music and African music as a whole to where it is today.
Generosity being a huge part of this man who has lasted over six decades in the music industry, he is a prolific mentor to upcoming artists far and wide. Nothing beats how touched and moved he feels when he sees his mentee move from glory to glory and he says that not even money can come close to this feeling. He is keen on passing down education from generation to generation.
He has indulged his genius mind in writing and playing for some of the best artists of all time like Fela Kuti, Daborn Albarn, Salif Keita and a handful of other talented musicians. Watching him play is proof that he enjoys his music and simply loves sharing his talents with the world.
His album, Guerrer, which means Warrior, is what intrigues most. Cheick literally played all the instruments in open-minded single song on the album. He is an impressive multi-instrumentalist. He also added flair by singing the main and the background vocals all by himself. He terms this album as a very personal yet challenging project saying one of his favorite songs on the album is about his daughter who passed away. He opens up saying that Asetu passed away in 1979 before he could take a photo of her and this emotional song is like a portrait of his angel.
He has used his art to speak on the evils and the political state of his country Mali, visibly calling out leaders who are putting their home at stake.
Fun fact: Cheick Tidiane Seck created his own Jazz Festival in his hometown Bamako where he invites artists far and wide to come and jam together.
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