The city of Nairobi finally broke its yearlong silence earlier this year, and now the city is filled with the sound of live music. When the stringent Covid-19 travel and gathering limitations were in effect, the majority of Nairobi residents had grown accustomed to the monotony of their weekend dining experiences. However, those experiences are no longer as mundane.
Bands are being invited back to perform at prominent hotels that are on the road to recovery after sustaining a severe financial hit as a result of the Covid-19 lockdowns. These hotels are catering to emotionally damaged customers.
Live music serves as a tonic for the musicians while also soothing the minds and hearts of the “clients.”
Hope Irakoze, a renowned Burundian singer currently residing in Kenya and the leader of Hope band, is grateful for the recent improvement.
At the height of the Covid-19 limitations, when cash-minting events like the Koroga Festival as well as hotel and pub bands were cancelled, it appeared as though the end had finally arrived.
A new low point in their lives was reached when they were forbidden to meet for recording sessions and rehearsals.
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“When President Uhuru Kenyatta partially reopened the country and announced that hotels can now serve guests dining indoors, I received a call from Sankara Hotel informing me that I could come back with my band. The call came shortly after President Kenyatta announced that hotels would be able to serve guests dining indoors. It was a bright spot in the cloud for me,” he says.
He compares the call-up to the proverbial light at the end of a dark tunnel, saying that it allowed him to host some of his band members who were faring worse than he was.
“It was difficult since some of the members of my band had no “money,” and I was required to make accommodations for them; in addition, several of the members had children. You can only imagine how difficult life was back then,” says the multi-instrumentalist and singer who was also crowned the champion of the sixth season of Tusker Project Fame (TPF) (2013).
On August 1, musicians Michael Okinyo on the piano (left), Lilian Njuguna as lead singer (center), and Ricky Nanjero on the bass guitar performed at the Movenpick Hotel as part of the Sunday brunch.
Every Saturday night, the Hope band can be found performing on the Sarabi Rooftop of the Sankara.
Hope chimes in and says, “Things are looking up, but we could use some additional gigs.”
Riki Na Marafiki is an additional band that often performs at the Movenpick Hotel & Residences in Nairobi on Sunday afternoons.
The three members of Riki Na Marafiki were forced to make adjustments when the going became difficult despite the fact that they had been working in the industry for more than a decade and had released five albums.
Ricky Nanjero, who plays bass, is also an electrician, while Michael Okinyo, who plays keyboards and is based in Narok, is a pharmacist. Vocalist Lilian Njuguna is also a designer. Michael Okinyo is a keyboard player.
“The bright side of things for us is that even if the epidemic took a toll on artists, we were still able to fall back on our careers. According to Ricky, “I attempted to do things that could bring me money, but it wasn’t simple, it has never been easy, and up to this day, some of us are still in debt.”
In an effort to lessen the suffering of musicians and other artists, the government developed a relief package in the previous year. The musicians, however, claim that the support was insufficient to meet even their most fundamental requirements, and that receiving it was contingent on singing the politicians’ tunes.
“It is interesting that we elect politicians who are not of good moral standing, and when they promise you anything, it is a promise so that a day can pass because they intended to get something out of you. When they promise you something, it is a promise so that a day can pass.” As artists, it is important for us to play our cards correctly; we can’t sully their reputation because we also benefit from them, he continues.
In the end, the government’s rescue package gave each of them 10,000 shillings, and the amount they received was contingent on how well they performed, despite the fact that the same government had outlawed gatherings, which limited their ability to act.
Lilian claims that for more than a year, opportunities did not come her way. Michael experienced the same thing, and he claims that the money he made through music allowed him to pay for his education in medicine before the epidemic. He is, on the other hand, grateful for his many blessings.
Can at long last take a breath
“These days, our income is far lower than what it used to be. The amount of money was decreased. Although the tariffs have changed, we understand that this is because the hotels are not in the same financial position as they were in the past. Even the purchasing power of people has decreased,” he notes, adding that he is just delighted that the group is back to doing what they enjoy doing the most again.
When we play, it is our job to provide other people experiences and recollections that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. Ricky states that the purpose of the kind of music that we make is to bring healing to our society.
Every Sunday at the Hemingways Nairobi, smooth jazz music is performed by the Jay Sax Duet, which consists of musicians James Ayugi and Moses Nyogesa. The previous year was by far their most challenging to date.
When asked what he could do during the lockdown, Moses, a piano player, said that all he could do was wait and hope. “We would receive one-off gigs, such as people proposing or birthdays, and getting that phone call meant the world to us at that time,”
James, a musician who plays the saxophone, comments that “now that we can finally breathe, it is great.”
The couple continued by saying that they are ecstatic to be performing again.
“Even though you won’t be able to dance during sit-down gigs, you shouldn’t miss out on the experience. Tables are set up across the entire hotel, from the lobby all the way out to the garden. Even though the audience is spread out, it has the atmosphere of a packed house. “We really enjoy it,” says Moses.
They mention that they enjoy playing at Hemingways so much because the venue has such a strong sense of community.
There is a consensus among all of the bands that live music is extremely important, not just for the enjoyment that attendees take away from attending concerts, but also for the money that it brings in for musicians.
They have one wish, and that is for the government to show the same level of support for the music industry that it has shown for other parts of the economy.