11-10-2019 by Freddie del Curatolo
Which better vehicle than music to fuel the exchange of cultures, integration and collaboration between talents with different backgrounds that can be completed by sharing experiences? In Nairobi this happens between Italy and Kenya thanks to a program supported by the Italian Institute of Culture and created by the Association of Italian Jazz Musicians on the initiative of the great trumpeter Paolo Fresu.
As part of the Air program a young Italian guitarist, Matteo Di Leonardo, not only spent a month in the Kenyan capital, but had the opportunity to form a group with local musicians, return and record a record.
"A fantastic experience - comments Di Leonardo, interviewed by malindikenya.net - when I took part in the call for proposals that proposed the "artistic residence" in a foreign capital, I did not expect to be chosen, nor even that I was assigned Nairobi. It was my first Africa and I must admit that a little fear emerged".
Time to arrive in Kenya, comforted by the welcome of our Embassy and to meet the local saxophonist Juma Tutu, grey eminence of Swahili jazz, and all remorse has disappeared.
"I plunged into the rhythms of the new musical movement in Nairobi, rich in contamination with soul, rhythm and blues and the tradition of East Africa - says Di Leonardo - I joined the group of Tutu, the Swahili Jazz Band and I met important realities, such as that of the Nairobi Horn Project. Authentic characters, mostly self-taught talents because here there is no conservatory where you can study jazz music. When I proposed my compositions to play and I presented myself with the scores, everyone looked at me as if I were an alien. None of them reads the music, but by going by ear they learned the pieces perfectly".
During this experience, Di Leonardo also experienced a reality very different from the European one. Many musicians come from the harsh and poor suburbs of the capital and for them music, as in America more than half a century ago, is also a way to save themselves from the street.
"I've been to rehearsal rooms in the suburbs where misery can be felt everywhere - admits the young jazzman of Abruzzi origin - but I've never felt uneasy, on the contrary it was easy thanks to them to get into society. I slept at the musicians' house, took the guitar in my hand with dozens of children approaching curious, many of them had never seen a "mzungu", let alone the surprise of hearing it play. Unique experiences that made me fall in love with this place. So after the first month and laying the groundwork for recording a record, which we decided to produce ourselves, it was a dream to be able to come back for another two weeks. For a year and a half the sickness of Africa has never left me".
Di Leonardo presented the album "Kabisa" together with Juma Tutu and his band last week at the Michael Joseph Center run by Safaricom, a company active in feeding the Kenyan jazz scene, with the Safaricom Jazz Festival in which they participated over the years artists of international caliber.
"There are seven tracks of mine and four of Juma - explains the guitarist who has lived in Brussels for five years - recorded in three days... all by ear, of course! I hope that thanks to this collaboration and the experience I have gained, I will be able to come back every year. In addition to playing and looking for collaborations with local musicians, I'd like to travel around Kenya a bit. How do you leave without having done a safari?"
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