Who will be crowned the best of them all? Annual school music fete draws 130,000

Pupils of Mtwapa Primary School rehearse their Poem entitled "I am only a Child” during preparation of National Music Festival that will be held at Kabarak University on August 2,2019. The event will take place for 10 Days. [Harun Wathari/Standard]
?More than 130,000 students from across the country converge at Kabarak University in Nakuru County to showcase their talents.

The annual Kenya Music Festival, arguably the largest music jamboree in the region, is a melting pot not only for Kenya, but also global cultures.

“I can’t wait to see our children take to the stage to show their talent to the rest of the country,” David Isindu, music teacher at Makini School, says.

Mr Isindu reckons that the Kenya Music Festival presents the best stage where budding talents can be nurtured. Among the popular celebrities to sprout from this festival are musicians Size 8, Rufftone, Joseph Hellon, Sauti Sol and the Moipei Quartet.

Good news

“The girls started off at the festival and it was always both a challenge as well as pleasure to have them perform,” says Nicholas Moipei, their father.

The quartet are currently on a tour of Mexico, charming their audiences with a rich repertoire of international and Kenyan songs.

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The festival has gone a long way in forming character and nurturing talent through a discipline regime of rehearsals and teamwork.

“It takes sheer discipline and commitment to produce a good song. The students also learn to harmonise the different voices. Team work is key,” says Philip Mbinji of Coast Chorus Academy from Mombasa.

Mr Mbiji, who has won many of the operatic classes with his pupils over the years, says the festival is crucial in offering a stage for the many elements of music.

The festival boasts 660 classes, a number that could go down through merger of some of the classes.

But critics say some of the merged classes have nothing in common and are eager to see how it plays out at the festival this year.

“The new office may be too enthusiastic to look different from its predecessor. Some of the decisions of previous years are yet to pass the test,” said a teacher.

The good news is that many classes have remained intact and regular fete goers will not have to struggle to follow their favourite performances.

One of the most popular class has been Zilizopendwa, known for its pop songs rendered in choral performance.

The class is particularly popular because it allows popular songs from across the world to be presented in beautiful vocals and dance movements with a unique touch of composers and directors.

“I love arranging Zilizopendwa because apart from the nostalgia that comes with it, the lyrics have powerful moral and educational values,” says Humprey Kisia, the foremost arranger of Zilizopendwa songs at the fete and teacher at Chavakali High School.

This class brings to life music by such legends as Daudi Kabaka, Sukuma Bin Ongaro, Them Mushrooms, Maroon Commandoes, Joseph Kamaru and Gabriel Omollo among others.

But schools can perform current music in Zilizopendwa provided the songs are popular. In fact many, a Zilopendwa Gospel category are drawn from such composers and singers like Rose Muhando, Gloria Muliro, Esther Wahome, Eunice Njeri, Joyce Omondi, Christina Shusho among others.

Other music teachers who have cut a niche for themselves at the fete include Sylvester Otieno of Kenyatta University who is known for conducting large choirs singing some of the most complex arrangements from the classical and romantic eras.

Dorothy Zalo of Kabarak High School leaves her students to conduct some her compositions and arrangements while Joseph Muyale is known to stretch the standards to new levels.

In 2011, Mr Muyale’s Pumwani Boys High School performed Fatimata by Congolese musician Sam Mangwana with accompaniment, charming the audience and received a standing ovation. But they could not get the top position because instruments were not allowed in the class.

The following year, the National Drama Committee started a new class of Zilizopendwa that allowed instruments, including the drum set and saxophone.

Folk dances

Other classes to watch include folk songs and dances from across all 43 Kenyan tribes rendered in cultural folk costumes.

Also to watch out for are folk dances from rest of Africa, with Ugandan, Rwandan, Ethiopian and South Sudanese dominating.

The annual music festivals recently allowed teams from Uganda and other neighbouring countries to perform at the fete. In turn, Kenyan schools and colleges have been participating at the East Africa Festival of Drama, Music and Dance for the past three years.

The East African anthem composed by one of the festival’s foremost composers Richard Khadambi has been popularised at the event ahead of its adoption by schools across the region.

But perhaps the most amazing phenomenon of the festival is the sheer age range where four–year-olds from pre-primary get to perform on the same stage as university students.

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National Music FestivalsKabarak UniversityMusicArts and CultureNew Curriculum