The Ad Hoc jazz band will be the youngest jazz ensemble to feature at the Safaricom Jazz Festival after they won over the judging panel with their youthful style inspired by Kenyan folk songs and popular music from around Africa. They are all under 30 years old.
On October 20, Ad Hoc will curtain-raise for American jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves, the five-time Grammy award winner.
The band will play at Hell’s Gate National Park in Naivasha, 110km northwest of Nairobi. This will be the first time that the festival is being held outside Nairobi.
“We are bringing folk music in a format and manner that can be understood and enjoyed by people in this age,” said Dan Abissi, keyboard player and band leader.
The sextet of Ad Hoc band have been friends for over a decade and musical colleagues for years now.
They are trained in classical music but enjoy different genres such as rhumba and Afro pop. They chose jazz because of its unpredictability and flexibility in creativity.
“Playing classical music is fantastic but with jazz we’re able to tell our stories naturally and we fit in into the moment,” says Abissi.
“It allows you to express yourself,” says Tunu Jumwa, the bass guitarist and the only female band member.
The others are lead guitarist John Musembi, saxophonist Samuel Mutuku, trumpeter Stephen Mutangili and Edwin Keya on the drums.
The band members received formal music training at the Kenyatta University in Nairobi.
Abissi and saxophonist Mutuku both graduated with First Class Honours in music. Trumpet player Mutangili has also earned an a diploma from the Associate of the Royal Schools of Music in the UK.
In 2016, Jumwa won a scholarship to train under renowned American bass guitarist Victor Wooten.
As to the best path for becoming a musician, she says, “Take whatever path you can. It does not hurt to learn how to read music, you don’t lose anything from gaining knowledge.”
Ad Hoc have a vibrant repertoire of remakes of Mijikenda folk melodies from the Kenyan Coast, popular tunes from central Kenya and famous Congolese songs done in Lingala.
They also have Afro-beats pieces from Nigerian and Ghanaian compositions, as well as South African township jive.
At live performances they often intersperse their tunes with some vocals or audience sing-a-longs.
For the jazz festival, the band says that guests can expect to hear familiar tunes from different communities across Kenya presented in a fresh way.
Abissi says that presenting jazz music to local audiences has been like a “getting to know you” experience between strangers.
“First minute we’re strangers, second minute we’re friends and then we start smiling at each other. That’s jazz, very intertwined with life,” says Abissi.
All band members have full-time careers as musicians but regularly come together for live performances at public venues.
Abissi explain; “When I coined the name Ad Hoc it was because we used to meet for temporary projects. Then we would go on a long break and not hear from each other.”
In 2017, they auditioned for the Safaricom Jazz Festival but did not make the cut. However, they took the feedback, worked over the next 12 months to improve and succeeded in securing a spot for the 2018-2019 festival.
Proceeds from the Safaricom festival ticket sales support Ghetto Classics, a foundation that brings music education programmes to underprivileged children living in slums of Nairobi and Mombasa. Ad Hoc feel honoured to be the supporting act for a leading jazz artist.
“We’re working 10 times harder in preparation but it has been really fun,” said Jumwa. They have composed original tunes and are also in the process of recording their music.