Have you ever heard of Judith Njuguna? Well, neither had I until earlier this year. I first read about Judith in a Business Daily article by Bill Odidi. The story ran in mid-February 2013. Odidi stirred my excitement in the opening line: “Gone are the days when wielding the bass guitar was the ultimate macho symbol of the male musician.” The story covers Judith, a multi-instrumentalist who played with a band called the Jazz Girls back in 2008. Now, she plays with her new band – The Silk Notes – at Galileo bar every Wednesday, from 8PM.
Eager and excited, I made my way to Galileo. Off Chiromo Road. A Wednesday evening meant that the handkerchief of parking was free. A Wednesday evening also meant that the place was deserted. In fact, I was so early the band was still setting up. I killed time with a double at the bar, swiveling in my stool to regard the place. Galileo was designed with live performing bands in mind. The stage centers everything on the first floor; it sinks one level beneath the entire setting and the sound quality is excellent. Spotlights and disco lights, smoke fumes make the experience all the more memorable.
By 7.30PM, the place was still deserted with folks mushroomed across the floor. I suspect Galileo’s management has not taken to advertising the band as eagerly as other bars like Choices does. Finally, at 8.30PM, the MC made the intro, “Judith is a silk queen who never wears the same outfit twice. Ever.” Judith made her way to the stage. She was dressed in a sexy little black frock that complimented her maroon Mohawk and glittery eye make-up. She had the vibe of an accomplished pop diva. Her band was a four-man piece with Tugee (spelling?) on the bass guitar, Scott on the violin, David on the drums and Mike on the keys.
Judith opened the night with a rendition of Valerie Kimani’s ‘Nguga ii (I will say yes)’. She accompanied this with a double bass/bass violin (Google it. I had been wrong all along in thinking this was a cello).
For the next hour and a half, the band performed rendition after rendition of various genres with a flaring spirit and agility. Judith does this thing where she gives the spotlight to each member of the band; “Take it away,” she says as she signals with a wave of her hand. Tugee with his white bass guitar or Scott on the violin, steps forward. And when the spotlight beams in their face, something akin to a smoker on his cigarette break happens. Have you ever seen them, a smoker taking a yearned cigarette break? Have you seen how they shut their eyes tight when they draw in the first puff? Have you seen the slow and measured exhale, as if every sin in their life has been expunged with that single puff? Have you? Have you seen the escape, the surrender? Have you envied it? Eh? Well, it was the same case here with the artists: eyes shut in utter and pure surrender. The crowd went wild.
The thought of violins being part of a band’s ensemble at a bar will come across as peculiar but this thought is struck off once you get a feel of just how versatile these instruments are. The violin and double bass/bass violin peppered the show with a professional depth I experienced last with the Nairobi Orchestra. Come to think about it, the keyboard and drums could not match up to the elevated levels of the violins, and they would easily have been muted without our notice.
Judith – like the multi-instrumentalist she is lauded to be – switched between the bass guitar, double bass and keyboard with a deft hand. Her vocals were mildly powerful and she graced the stage with an easy yet commanding elegance. Off stage, she is inviting and lively.
Scott, the violinist, is also pleasantly enthusiastic. He tells me he does not use sheet music because it limits him, “I prefer to listen then compose the accompaniment as I go along.” He practices his craft daily, “Every single day without fail.” Listen to that dedication and commitment: every single day without fail. “I learnt to play the violin in high school then took it up seriously afterward.”
With that violin in his hands, this world is Scott’s oyster. Did I mention he has the cutest eyes? Very cute eyes.
After Judith’s performance this guy, his name is Sir Elvis, takes stage. A one-man guitar dressed in a checked plaid shirt and a cowboy hat. His voice is a cross between Kenny Rogers and Barry White. He gave country music a sultry urbanity.
Then enter stage Ruth Matete, a Tusker Project Fame (TPF) winner. Ruth performed that South African tune she has become synonymous with: Liwilo by Zahara. Her rendition is so over-performed I can tell exactly when she’ll ooh and aah. Still, Ruth is no doubt a talented bird. But all this curtain-raising and shadowing with other artists for the odd performances is no good. Neither is it enough. Rumor has it she was working on ‘something’ in late 2012. What become of that, Ruthie dear? (I shall pick up this TPF fight another day).
The curtains closed with Ruth performing a duet with Regina Re (the talk-show host); another banal and unexciting Halleluyiah. I forgave them because Judith’s prowess had already stolen the night. Otherwise, their attempt to add a sexy twist to this song all aspiring musicians reach out to was unpardonable.
I left the bar at midnight, squeezing my way through the throng which had steadily been growing through the evening. If not Judith, I wondered what else would bring these guys to Galileo on a Wednesday evening.
I returned to Galileo two more times just to make sure this first performance was not a flash in the pan. It was not. Judith and her band deliver a stellar performance every Wednesday evening.
Take a visit down there sometime. I swear on that double-bass and violin.