By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 14 October 2018)
There’s a whole wide world of percussionists in Kenya, many of whom perform under the radar and so they don’t get as much media coverage as they deserve.
Some work as back-up drummers in local bands, others perform in churches like Margaret Wanjiru’s ‘Jesus is Alive Ministry’ (JIAM). But most don’t get many chances to perform as solo entertainers, although quite a few got that opportunity this past Sunday afternoon when Drumjam Entertainment teamed up with the Banda School to stage “Drumroll’, a full percussive program at the August 7th Memorial Park.
The open-air production featured a wide range of percussionists, from seasoned professionals like Rabala Matthew Omondi and Amani Baya, who are co-founders of the Drumjam to novices Villa Simiyu who’s only been drumming professionally for the past two months to a slew of drum students, some as young as eleven years old.
Yet a student like Rani Shah, 11, has been practicing on percussive instruments since she was four. Kasiva Mutua, who also performed on Sunday, was just a wee bit older (6) when she first started banging on her grandmother’s drum. And now, a little over two decades later, Kasiva is acclaimed as an internationally-touring percussionist as well as a Global TED (Talk) Fellow and ‘trail-blazer’ who’s broken through a myriad of barriers that would have denied her the right as a woman to play percussion in Kenya or elsewhere in the world.
The students who performed came from either Hillcrest, Peponi High or Banda School and are all students (or former students) of Timothy Kaberia who currently teaches percussion at The Banda.
“It’s the first time I’ve performed in public,” says Rani who nonetheless has participated in a number of drum performances at her school. The same is true for Aman Vora, 16 who asked the Drumroll organizers if he could possibly have a little time to jam on stage with Amani Baya whose drumming he has admired for quite some time. They agreed, so Amar first performed solo, then with Amani who was happy to accommodate the young drummer and finally as part of a trio when Steve Owuor, another school percussion instructor, jumped on stage and joined in that brief but high-powered jam session.
“One reason we started Drumjam with Amani [and Carrington Muhati [who has since moved on into IT] was so we could interest more Kenyans in becoming percussionists,” says Omondi who notes that the Drumjam is now celebrating ten years since it first got off the ground.
“Now we have more than 200 members and two what’s app drum circles in which we share information about where we’re performing and where there’s a need for a drummer,” Amani adds.
“This past year we’ve paid special attention to interesting more Kenyan women in drumming,” Omondi says, noting Kasiva was coming to perform in the second half of the Drumroll. “Kasiva also co-founded the all-women drum group, MOTRA [which stands for modern and traditional rhythms],” he adds.
“Most of our members perform on drum kits [meaning a mix of drums, cymbals and wooden drum sticks],” says Amani who adds there is one notable exception. “Kasiva also performs with other kinds of drums, which she will probably drum with today,” he adds.
And indeed, when Kasiva got on stage, her face slightly hidden by a black baseball cap, she went straight for the tall conga drums. She wasn’t on the official program, but neither was Omondi who joined her on one of the drum kits on the open air stage which had been set up especially by Natasha Mbugguss, the General Manager of the August 7th Memorial Trust.
One gets the feeling that the Kasiva-Omondi duet was an impromptu jam. We don’t know if they had jammed together before. But we can assume they have since their performance was rhythmically fine-tuned, constituting what was for me the high point of the Drumroll. It was one of those improvised musical moments that one wishes would never stop.
But it did and the one consolation was in knowing that by early next year, monthly Drumjam sessions will reconvene every third Sunday at Alliance Francaise.
“When we started out, our group was small and we jammed in Muthurwa. Then we gradually grew and first went to 680 [Hotel], then to Phoenix Theatre and finally to Alliance where the public is free to come and jam along with us,” Omondi says.