If anything, last weekend should be considered a metric measurement on the diverse musical taste buds of Nigerians. At the same venue, but on different dates and events, two American Grammy-nominated musicians took the big stage at the overused EKO Hotel Convention Center to thrill Lagosians.
While J. Cole’s concert was a signifier of how rich Nigeria’s underground rap culture is, Runway Jazz, which took place on Sunday, April 29, spoke truth to the global fact that jazz is a beautiful sound that isn’t a pop culture phenomenon at present. Gerald Albright, a well-regarded American jazz musician, and his band took the stage at about 10pm, playing back-to-back songs from his albums dating to the 1980s.
Perhaps the organisers overestimated the place of jazz music in the contemporary culture that they booked a huge hall for the event or maybe they had a lot of money to blow away, but the venue of the event looked considerably scanty, largely due to many empty seats. And as the evening wore on, guests, including the wife of the Vice-President, Dolapo Osinbajo, took their leave even before Albright and other headline performers took the stage – further thinning the crowd.
One wouldn’t be wrong to say that at Runway Jazz, the only people having fun were the musicians on stage. Everyone else sat tight in their chairs, staring or conversing, as if they were passive observers. An obligatory, almost perfunctory, applause comes from the disengaged audience at the end of each musician’s set. This, an argument could be made, comes from a culture of stocking concerts and music festivals with overpriced tables and VIP seats.
Dotted by the occasional speeches by sponsors, an award presentation to deserving NGOs and bridal fashion show by Elizabeth R, Runway Jazz had an amazing selection of musicians beginning from Tay Iwar, an alternative artiste, and climaxing with Tiwa Savage and Heavy Wind.
Billed as a headline performer for the night, Albright, unlike the mostly unknown performers before him, would awaken the audience just enough to sing along to some of his tunes or nod their heads while he dished out some melodious tones from the saxophone. But it was Tiwa Savage’s performance, at almost midnight, that brought the now small number of guest to their feet.
To her credit, Savage understood that her only claim to be at a jazz event was a result of her status as a former student of Berklee College of Music, one of the partners of the show. Her set was performed along with a live band – marking a departure from the usual scenario where musicians on stage function as jumping-hype-man/backup singer while a DJ plays their record in the background.
Runway Jazz, a hybrid two-day event that celebrates music and fashion, is a praiseworthy initiative that deserves more attention than it presently gets mostly because it shone a bright light on jazz music – a music genre that has influenced some of the world’s greatest musical acts from Nigeria’s Fela Kuti to America’s James Brown.
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