For the first time since its inception in 2014, Neptunez took place in the huge outdoor marquee at the Kigali Serena Hotel. Previous editions have consistently been held in the Serena Hotel ballroom.
As usual, the Neptunez Band was on hand to set the ball rolling in their usual role as the Junction’s resident band. Neptunez is organised by RG Consult, the company that stages this monthly jazz forum.
The evening’s main acts, the Kenyan Afro Jazz songbird Cece Sagini, and Rwanda’s very own Nubian Gypsies band did not disappoint. Not at all. Both were gracing the Jazz Junction stage for the first time and, going by the crowd response, it is not far-fetched to expect repeat performances at future Jazz Junction events. But more on that later.
The Neptunez Band took to the stage at 9:00 pm, an hour after the stipulated show time of 8:00 pm. Not that anybody was complaining though.
Everybody seemed to agree that taking the event out of the Serena Hotel ballroom and into the outdoors was the right move. At least it did away with some of the stiffness of the indoors, let alone the monotony, for an event that has been happening consistently on the last Friday of the month since 2014.
The beauty about the outdoor marquee is that it is not totally enclosed, so the outdoor feeling was very real, with the occasional cool breeze wafting freely into the tent. The décor and setting were refreshingly different, with the usual roundtable seating taking up the center of the tent, while the wings were dotted with executive style seating. Here is where some of the Jazz Junction’s most ardent and loyal fans savored the performances from.
Many more decided to simply stand out at bar tables dotted inside the tent. At the back, two service points ensured that there would be no long wait for reveler’s drinks orders. Outside the tent, a grill was set up, from which one could partake of roast meat and hot snacks like samosas.
Clearly there was some method to the event being staged outdoors.
The stage too was larger, much larger, more colorful and elevated than indoors, that one did not need to crane their neck from wherever they were seating or standing.
The Neptunez Band put on a lively Afro-themed set that lasted close to an hour before giving way for the Kenyan Sagini. Saxophonist Joseph Abitegeka continued to prove why he was a good replacement for Herbert Rock, who quit the band late last year to pursue a solo career.
And he was generous too, giving Saxophone lovers more than they bargained for: Not only did he invite a surprise Saxophone act, a Nigerian named Samson onto stage, he also gave a chance to Neptunez Band’s keyboardist Josh Ssemugabi for his first go at the Saxophone during a Jazz Junction gig–and the latter represented himself well, attracting cheers and applause.
When Sagini eventually came up on stage shortly after 10:00 pm, it was to make good her earlier promise to put reveler’s dancing shoes to good use. Sagini’s performance was not only high energy but also highly interactive, using her microphone to not only belt out her hits, but also to interact with and enchant the crowd. She spent a sizeable chunk of her time away from the stage, melting into the audience and urging everyone to break a leg.
Her fans responded in the affirmative and, before long, the hitherto seated crowd now slowly let go of their seats to get busy. As the dancing got ever more vigorous, people started to shove their seats aside to create larger dancing circles. As Sagini’s performance climaxed, the dancing assumed a new dimension, with people forming a long human train and dancing while circling the floor.
Sagini’s repertoire featured anything from her Afro Jazz songs, to pop and Salsa, but to get the audience really worked, she even put in one or two Lingala-style songs, prompting everyone to dust off their paka-chini dancing strokes.
If anything, Sagini’s set was proof that jazz lovers should expect more Kenyan acts at subsequent jazz junctions. Her appearance comes hot on the heels of previous sensational performances from Kenyan acts; the instrumentalist Christine Kamau who graced the jazz junction in February, and the Soul-jazz singer Mayonde Masya, who headlined the March edition.
After Sagini’s performance, Remmy Lubega, the event curator and MC, took time off to introduce some of the distinguished guests in the audience. His first stop was at the table of Egyptian ambassador to Rwanda, Namira Nabil, who was in the company of her hubby. Nabil is one of the most ardent fans who have been attending the Kigali Jazz Junction since its inception. Indeed, when she took to the microphone, she did not stop at just expressing gratitude for the event: she challenged organisers to “export” the jazz junction to Cairo, the capital of her native Egypt.
Then it was time for the night’s crowning moment; the Nubian Gypsies who Remmy Lubega aptly described as “the old school jazz rockers”.
Even before they took to stage, their towering stature on the local jazz/live music scene was made clear as a handful of mostly expatriate guests took to the microphone to shower the band with praises. It was clear that these are guys that are here to stay, and that we will be seeing more of them on the Kigali live music scene.
Their performance evoked feelings of déjà vu for people that caught them in action at the annual Mutzig Beer Fest at the Rugende Training Grounds in September 2015, where they put up a jaw-dropping performance.
In the middle of performances, I overheard Remmy Lubega explain to a reveler the reason the event had been staged outdoors unlike previous editions:
It was a sort of test-run for something new that is on the cards –a Kigali Jazz Safari that should materialise as early as the end of June.