Ricky Na Marafiki

It is wrong for a woman to decide a man’s pleasuring prowess based on the first kiss only.

Maybe his cardboard lips were purely out of the nervousness your grace and beauty stirred. Maybe his sweaty palms were the reason he wrapped his arms too awkwardly around your waist. Maybe it was because your relationship is not just there yet that he wondered where, on your back, to place his hands; too high and you feel like his cousin, too low and you feel like a easy catch.
Whatever it may be, it is wrong for a woman to decide a man pleasuring prowess based on the first kiss only.

Everyone deserves a second chance. Everyone does. And it was with this in mind, (a second chance, not a limp first kiss), that I attended two successive evenings of afro jazz.

Let’s back up a tad here and start from the beginning.

The evening of afro jazz is put together by Patrick ‘Ricky’ Nanjero. Ricky is bassist and lead of his four-piece band, Ricky Na Marafiki. The event is held on every last Tuesday of the month, sponsored by Urban Bites. Venue is Phoenix Players Theatres.

Each event has a different line up of artists. The artists – solo or in a band, vocalists or instrumentalists – each perform two self-composed tracks. The three-hour event culminates with a performance from Ricky Na Marafiki.

the first kiss
The first time I attended a gig was for the June edition. This first attendance was marked by several unpleasant things. Things I want to quickly flush out of the way.

First, Phoenix Players is off the mark for a music event. Phoenix is a theatre. This means it has been built and optimized for stage productions; darkened walls, brown light bulbs and low ceiling. The theatre holds a capacity of less than one hundred, which means it is the size of a dispensary waiting room. This proves to be a nuisance because, during a performance, the instruments neither have sufficient room to breathe nor sound of the quality desired. The ambience itself is non-existent and the seats, worn-out and uncomfortable.
Phoenix just doesn’t cut it as a venue for afro jazz.

Second, was the MC. The MC was a slim bird dressed in a little African print dress that hugged the contours of her gamine frame, skirting fashionably between classy and cultural. She had a puffy weave, a gap in her two front teeth and a glossy bee-stung pout. She was a pretty young thing alright. Pretty until she opened her mouth to speak. Good grief. Making the introductions, you could not believe she was from the same side of the country with the artists whose names she mispronounced so guiltlessly. Goodness.
I learnt later that this girl, this MC was Miss Kenya-USA. So I let her mispronunciations slide.

Last, was this events’ crowd.  Classroom humour was their thrill; they called out to the MC and to band members on stage. Words like ‘Eish Abu!’ or ‘Donge!’ or ‘Toho, nigee hiyo marvin!’ were flung around without regard. They were ill-mannered. And they were loud.  And they were fidgety. And they were impatient. Eugh.
I elbowed my boy and hissed into his ear that his tie-less black suit seemed out of place among these youngies, “You look like one of the Urban Bites sponsors.” He chuckled. And he did – a majority of the fans in that crowd were born in 1990 and beyond. These are kids who had probably skipped lunch the previous week so they could save up enough for the gig’s entrance.
All the same, the lack of decorum was unforgivable.

Unpleasant things aside, I draw a line of the carpe here.

The music created on stage was awe-inspiring and magical. This June edition showcased four bands: Fadhili and Tetu’s band, The Trinity, Gitoho’s Quartet and Ricky Na Marafiki.

As I had mentioned earlier, each band performed two self-composed tracks. Bass guitars were the centre of their pieces accompanied by the drums, jembe, percussions, acoustic guitar, saxophone and/or keyboard. Just so we’re clear, the jembe is an African drum played using the open palms; it has a mind and spirit of its own.

Look, I am not an authority on jazz. I don’t know what makes a jazz track tick, and what makes it doesn’t. I don’t understand why it would have a title when there are no lyrics, no chorus. No bridge.

But I know talent. Young talent at that. These artists, they are young; as young as their counterparts in the crowd were. The boys’ jeans hugged their behinds at just the right spot, with just the right tightness. And they had heads full of hair and a bad boy attitude that complimented their confidence and charisma on stage. And they had a fire and passion in their eyes I envied.
They approached those instruments with the tenderness one would a virgin, but ravished us with their talent like would a hooker. And for several moments they were on stage, they played as if no one was there but themselves.

Chord after chord, beat after beat, lyric after lyric – each was created deep within their souls, oozing out from every pore of their being to carry us through the crescendos and decrescendos with as much zing as only they willed.

My boy and I found ourselves leaning forward in our seats, hanging on to the riffs of the bass guitars as they enmeshed with the drums and with the keyboard, with the vocals, and with the spirit of the night. And each time the closing chords were struck, we stood to a lengthy ovation and nodded our heads in unified agreement. The artists bowed and curtsied in response.

I was pleased with the event, no doubt. But not pleased enough to warrant a second visit. I weighed the evening against the likes and dislikes, and was won over by the music.  Besides, doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance?

 the second kiss
Late July, my boy and I once again walked across the trafficked streets of Nairobi to the Phoenix Players. This evening of afro jazz was themed The Gentleman’s Edition.

The theatre as a venue remained. Urban Bites as sponsors remained. The beauty queen MC remained.  The artist lineup of young bloomers remained. The magic of the music remained. But the crowd this time, thank heavens, was more mature and mannered, more personal. It was more appreciative of the jazz.

The artists for this July edition were Prisca Ojwang, the only diva for the evening. H_art, a boy band, that’s a mini version of Sauti Sol (complete with the unordinary fashion sense and lyrics lamenting the longings of love.). Both of these artists – Prisca and H_art – were nurtured at the Sauti Academy, an arm of Penya Africa Records label.
The Trinity band graced the stage yet again. Other performances were solos from Steve Urban and Jack Gaitara.

Ricky Na Marafiki brought down the curtains to the evening.  Accompanying them on vocals was Anto Neosoul. Remember Antony Mwangi, from that MTV series Shuga? After two seasons of the show, Anto recreated himself as Anto Neosoul. That night, I realized it’s not because he could and so he did. No. Anto recreated himself because he can sing. His is a genre of music he dubbed world neosoul.

In the hour he was on stage with Ricky’s band, Anto sang about…well, nothing. He had on repeat a tune with the word ‘valentine’ that just went on and on and on. Then afterward, he added a tune to every sentence he spoke, instantly creating a song. Nonetheless, his sultry vocals and theatrics on stage made for a memorable performance.

Ricky Na Marafiki’s is a talented and eclectic band: the saxophonist is an engineer; on keys, is a medical doctor; the drummer and percussionist are college students by day.

Ricky’s jazz is refined for many an inexperienced ear like mine. Ricky tells me he has created the simplest form of jazz there is, “Mine is a progression of chords and improvisation of tune, with vocals. It is a blend of both the traditional and modern Kenyan music styles. It is because of this blend that it has an all-round and balanced appeal, which makes for easy listening.”

I am listening to his debut album, Tucheze (2010), and I am blown away by the quality of his music and the depth of his talent. I highly recommend you get yourself a copy.


I painted a final picture of the event as we poured out of the theatre at 10PM. The evening of afro jazz is about jazz, yes. But what truly makes it remarkable is that it gives the platform to a crop of young artists who have believed in their talent and are taking gargantuan yet silent measures to give to their heart what it desires – the sounds of music. The event is also a reminder that arts and culture isn’t as far from us as I had always imagined.

Mark the date: every last Tuesday of the month. Ricky Na Marafiki for an evening of afro jazz. Tickets of 500 bob are available at the venue.

Hunt me down should the bass guitars not work for you.

Mental. Spiritual. Physical

Comments (9)

  1. George

    “I weighed the evening against the likes and dislikes, and was won over by the music” Wow! This is an excellent article Bett.

    • fra

      Thanks George. Stick around some more.

  2. sokaylujo

    Hey Fra, your writing is easy and tugs at the hearstings, and I love it. As you keep on doing your thing so you know we love what you do. Keep on doing it.You’ve inspired many(I inclusive),that piece on you in local dailies spoke a lot. Gracious!

  3. sokaylujo

    Meant heartstrings and not ‘hearstings’.That typo up there.I hope you noticed.

  4. Hobbit

    at first i thot the artcile was going to be boy girl durama and hullabaloo..Thank God i kept reading, nice twist Fra, i will have to try that jazz.

    • fra

      Make sure to Hobbit. And thanks for the read.

  5. Ricky Nanjero

    nice article as always i have read it several times and it makes me feel like am watching the show every time i read it hope to see you on the next one

    • fra

      Thank you for the read Ricky. I am honored you passed by.

      May He bless you to continue what you are doing with Ricky Na Marafiki.
      Kenyan jazz is soon to be synonymous with your band.
      See you soon.

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