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  • Kenya Jam Sessions: Bring Your Guitar to the Watering Hole

    Musicians Dayton and Kelsie Bernardez play drums with visitors at the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
    Musicians Dayton and Kelsie Bernardez play drums with visitors at the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
    Photo by Joe Furgal, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

    Kenyan music is as diverse as its landscapes, ethnic communities, and cultures. While folk music, reflective of the nation’s various ethnic groups, has remained popular throughout the country’s history, additional contemporary music styles also influence Kenyan musical culture. Kenya’s music scene is now reflective of a vibrant medley of past and present music from around the globe.

    The Kenya: Mambo Poa program will highlight the talents of individual artists, not only on the main Ngoma performance stage but also through informal jam sessions on the stage in the Watering Hole beer garden. While each set will represent traditional Kenyan rhythms, musicians will showcase the variety present in contemporary Kenya through a range of sung languages, instruments, and styles. These jam sessions will be held throughout the day during the Festival, allowing members of the public a more casual and personal interaction with Kenyan musicians.

    Throughout the Festival, the Kenya program also invites the public to have first-hand experiences creating music with visiting artists. Visitors are encouraged to bring their own instruments—guitars or otherwise—and join our Kenyan musicians for informal jam sessions at the Watering Hole. Musicians of all styles and genres are welcome—from bluegrass, jazz, and rock ‘n’ roll to classical, reggae, or funk. Through this cross-cultural musical experience, Festival visitors will be able to take part in the types of collaborations that have made Kenyan music such a diverse blend of cultures and styles.

    Bringing further excitement to this unique opportunity, all jam sessions will be conducted in partnership with the Singing Wells project, a collaboration between record label Abubilla Music and nonprofit Ketebul Music. Singing Wells aims to celebrate the traditions and histories found in the rich musical culture of East Africa, while simultaneously documenting this musical heritage for posterity. After the Festival, the project will publish compilation CDs and audiovisual recordings of all jam sessions.

    Amanda Cordray is an intern for the Folklife Festival’s Kenya program. She studies anthropology and international development at the College of William & Mary.

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