Ngoma Festival – Kenyan Old School Edition

You see, the way Americans have Summerfest, Coachella and much more? See Summerjam reggae festival for Europe? I’ve always wanted such, for us. Why can’t we have our own, in kind? We just wait for events to be organized and look forward to whoever will come to perform. Wouldn’t it be great to have a local music festival held annually which accommodates our musicians and we all look forward to watch them do their craft on stage? Kenyans have been treated to many concerts over the years. Great artists have come and performed in Kenya and we have given them the best reception – the likes of Chris Brown, Sean Paul, Alaine, Cecile, Ginuwine, Mi Casa – you name them. We sure do know how to turn up for these events. We come out in numbers for them. In Nairobi, barely three weeks go by without a concert. Be it Blankets & Wine, Koroga Festival or a new project by organizers to capitalize on the ever-hungry Kenyans for a party.

We all know the question – “Nani ana come?” The headlining acts go a long way in determining the turnout for any given concert. Sadly, all these concerts we’ve had have been driven by international acts mostly. Our local musicians only get to curtain raise for the foreigners. This is where they’re given a few minutes on stage – Our people, who tell our stories through music in our own language; music we easily relate to because it’s basically part of our lives. Irking, right? Kenyan music is beautiful, Kenyan music is underrated. We have great talents. The saddest part is that we don’t support them enough to buy their music. The narrative has always been to pirate their music. So how do we expect them to make a living? What if they were never invited to gigs and corporate events to perform and make a living? What if they weren’t brand ambassadors of the various brands we see on adverts? What if MCSK really put the interests of musicians first and paid them all their dues? We’ve had so many “what ifs” and less solutions.

I took to Twitter last year and made this tweet:

IMG-3829my tweet:

2 Months later..

I started seeing posters about a festival that would incorporate our local artists only. The excitement that got to me, no words can ever explain. I was over the moon for a concert I didn’t even know much about though the fact it was purely local, I was invested. Heavily. I went ahead and inquired about it from a few people and was able to communicate with a few officials but that didn’t develop further. I kept tabs on how things would go because it was in the infant stages so my only hope was for the best.

A month later, all acts had been confirmed! WOAH. I wasn’t sure how to feel. Nameless, Juakali, Nonini, Redsan, Pili Pili, Necessary Noize, Mr. Lenny and Jimwat. This had never happened before. We literally grew up listening and jamming to these artists’ songs. It was like a dream come true. Tears in my eyes. It was a Martin-Luther-I-have-a-dream moment.

Saturday 10th March

If you are a true fan of local music like me, this day will be engraved in our memories forever. A day we got to experience local music take the headlines. A day we were to attend a concert knowing what we were going to sing along to, word for word. SO. MUCH. EUPHORIA. Itinerary for the day – run errands, watch footie (a huge Manchester United versus Liverpool fixture) then head to Ngoma Festival.

Ngoma Festival!

The entry process at the gate was very smooth with people queuing as they waited to enter. Zero commotion. The set-up, marvelous to say the least. Mo Sounds had really done the most in setting the stage. Everything was top notch. The crowd was massive, people had really turned out in numbers to attend the festival and show love to our local musicians. Our legends. Our oldies. I was mind blown.

the crowd at Carnivore Grounds

You ever attended a concert and sang every song from when the first artist takes to the stage to the last? You probably haven’t but yea, that was me all night. Ngoma Festival was one of a kind.

First on stage was Pili Pili with the “Nina morale” vibes. The crowd went wild. We were just getting started. He did his thing and in between he introduced the guy with the “Under 18” vibes – our great Jimwat. I can’t think of any of his songs that wasn’t a hit. He was astonished by the huge crowd that had come out to see them perform. You could tell that he got carried away and turned emotional. Love was felt on this day.

Mr. Lenny took the stage. Within seconds I could tell why so many big artists worked with him over the years. Bloke was a professional on stage. He took it under his arm and was in charge from the word go. The best part was that he performed with a live band – something I’d questioned so many times before. Yo. It was actually possible! He did a pretty good job. We were taken all the way back to “Leo” and “Cash Money” days.

Necessary Noize!  Did this duo ever take a break? They took to stage like a group that had just hit the waves and were riding with the hype. This was a duo that had been in the industry for more than 15 years. The chemistry between them was evident. Nazizi is a national treasure – years on and she still raps like she did. The air was filled with voices of everyone singing along to her, word for word. Damn. The chemistry. It was fantastic. Wyre the Love Child, does this man age? He still looks like that boy from “Kenyan Boy Kenyan Girl”. The last surprise wasn’t even for the crowd but for Wyre. Whew! The crew surprised him with a birthday cake on stage when they were winding up. He really did enjoy his birthday if his performances were anything to go by.

Nonini? Weeks to the event he kept posting videos on his pages as he practices with a live band. Interesting, right? I was so eager for this. Nonini just knew how to sway the crowd. The band and him were so in sync you could feel all the work he had put in was finally paying off. Very dope performance.

All of the lights go out. Jua Cali. An icon. A legend. A superstar. “Kwaheri” started playing as people lit up their phone lights. Emotions were all over. It felt like we were swallowed into a religious cult singing our hearts out. He rapped as we did the chorus. It was gospel no lie.

Redsan. Our dancehall king. He has international standards and when he took to the stage it flaunted. He came in with some vibrant energy and the crowd was loving it. “Ooooh Julie my looover mbona we wanitesa…”, we sang along. Was anyone keeping track of time? Because we had been at it for long and no one seemed to call it quits. We hard energy for days and we really did enjoy ourselves.


The reason I left Nameless out in the order was because we save the best for last. He was legendary on stage. He is a star. The moment he took to the stage – that was it, it was his. His voice commanded the entire place. Here’s the thing – Nameless has been in this industry for long and like fine wine he just gets better and better. He is a man who takes his job seriously, from preparation to dressing to backups to choreography, everything is top. I always love watching him perform “Deadly” not because of the love I have for the song but how he has managed to perform it over the years. His dance routine has remained the same from days of his Safaricom Concerts, through to Ngoma Festival. Don’t believe me? YouTube is yours for the watching.

As if Nameless hadn’t totally carried us away, he introduced E-Sir’s brother, Habib, to perform E-sir’s parts in the songs they did together. Scary how he looked and sounded exactly like his brother. This was so touching. “Boomba Train” was played so many times and no one was tiring. Along with Mr. Lenny, he sang “Kamata” and the crowd went wild.

nameless on my tweet: It really did happen!

This was one of the best shows ever done in Kenya and that goes a long way to show that Kenyan music love will forever be strong.

~ thoughts as written by Kimanzi.


4 thoughts on “Ngoma Festival – Kenyan Old School Edition

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