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Bayelsa International Jazz Festival

BIJF: Femi Kuti, Hugh Masekela soak Yenagoa in jazz

The Sun
Kemi Yesufu

The Yuletide season couldn’t have started on a better note for Bayelsans and numerous jazz enthusiasts who stormed the Gloryland Cultural Center, Yenagoa on Saturday, December 7 for the inaugural edition of the Bayelsa International Jazz Festival.

All over Yenagoa, which is fast earning a reputation of a town that never sleeps, Christmas decorations give visitors a feel of celebration. It therefore came as no surprise that the Gloryland Center, venue of the jazz fiesta was filled to capacity. The atmosphere at the venue was carnival-like. It is doubtful that there were unoccupied seats as those who couldn’t get a place to sit, stood for the better part of the lively show which opened with a heart lifting rendition of the national anthem by Timi Dakolo.

Festival dedicated to Mandela

The Bayelsa International Jazz Festival took place two days after the death of highly revered Anti-Apartheid icon and first black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. After leading in observing a minute of silence in respect of the late African leader, Governor Dickson announced that the festival was dedicated to him. The announcement was met with loud jubilation even as the governor declared that Mandela’s legacy is indelibly etched in the hearts of millions across the world. The governor was to return to the stage for a second time to present legendary South African musician, Hugh Masekela with the honorary citizenship of Bayelsa State.

Presidential commendation

President Goodluck Jonathan, who was represented at the event by the Minister of Culture and Tourism, Chief Edem Duke, commended the Bayelsa governor for honoring the memory of Mandela. He reminded guests that the federal government had earlier declared three days of mourning in recognition of the great contributions of the late icon to the emancipation of the black race. He said the dedication of such a major event to Mandela, points to the sterling leadership qualities of Governor Dickson.

“I am extremely delighted that this government dedicated this evening of jazz to celebrate an icon, whose struggle, vision, quality, courage, passion, commitment, belief, and whose integrity is definitive of the new and emerging leaders of Africa,” he said.

South Africa High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Lulu Louis Mnguni, while expressing gratitude for the recognition given Mandela, said that the event also presented an opportunity to celebrate musicians such as Masekela and Fela Anikulapo-Kuti who fought apartheid through music. Rwandan envoy, Mr. Joseph Habineza, equally had words of praise for the people of Bayelsa as he described their state as the emerging Las Vegas of Africa.

N200m for Bayelsa musicians

It wasn’t only the South African maestro who was honored by the Bayelsa State government. Governor Dickson also announced the donation of N200 million as the initial sum for the establishment of a music school in the state and an endowment fund for Ijaw artistes. Timaya, Timi Dakolo, Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria and Honorary Special Adviser to the Governor on Tourism, Anne Banner joined him in presenting the donation to the Director General of the state’s tourism agency, Ebizi Ndomu-Brown. Dickson who stressed his commitment to youth empowerment, called on young people in the state to take advantage of the opportunities presented by his administration.

Night of scintillating jazz

It definitely wasn’t a night for speeches. Rather it was a harvest of world-class entertainment. Though, jazz super star, Earl Klugh sent his apologies via a video message, he wasn’t missed, as the artistes on the night were superb. There never was a dull moment, not even for new entrants in jazz music. Starting from Ego whose smooth jazz tunes set the standard for the night. She showed fun seekers why her voice is celebrated. Then there was African jazz groove from Ogangbe, the 7-piece Benin Republic band that has worked with big names like Femi Kuti and Lagbaja. There was also the invigorating performance from jazz vocalist and instrumentalist, Lekan Babalola. The lanky musician and his 14-member crew that included the Eko Brass Band got the crowd singing along. Then, there was the energetic drum session by South Africa-based, Delta-born drummer, Daniel Isele. He heralded the entrance of the 22-man Naijazz All-Stars Band. Highflying jazz vocalist, Somi also had a good time on stage. Her three-song set ended with her cover of Fela’s ‘Lady’.

Masekela, Femi channel Fela

Undoubtedly, South African trumpeter and vocalist, Hugh Masekela and Femi Kuti were the star attractions for the Bayelsa International Jazz festival. Their five-star performances ensured that they lived up to the hype. Masekela whose vigour and stagecraft makes it hard to believe that he is 74-years-old got a standing ovation after his performance. The music icon, who along with his band, performed in the Ijaw traditional attires, channeled late Afrobeat creator, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti with his version of ‘Lady’. He further won the hearts of guests at the show when he pronounced very well Izonkene, the name given him by Governor Dickson.

Femi Kuti and his band took their turn on stage. He promised to give Bayelsans a taste of what is enjoyed at the New Afrika Shrine and he did. Despite the semi-formal atmosphere at the show, Femi’s dancers were at their best moving their bodies like they do back in their base. Most men at the show had an eyeful of the fire dance African women are known for. Femi, who joined the girls at some point for dance sessions, as usual didn’t spare government his dosage of ‘yabis’. Though, he commended Governor Dickson for the developmental projects dotting the state, he advised that more should be done to improve the lot of Bayelsans. Songs like ‘Sorry Sorry’, ‘Truth Don Die’, ‘Dem Bobo’, ‘Bang Bang Bang’ and ‘Water’ got the 4th Grammy nominee loud cheers from the crowd.

The show lasted till the early hours of Sunday, but the happiness exhibited by fun seekers was indicative of the fact that it had what it takes to become a major event in the Nigeria’s tourism calendar.