Makumbi Sound band strikes the right chord to keep modern jazz alive in Rwanda

Friday February 21 2020

Bill Kopper plays Brazilian Samba on his guitar. PHOTO | COURTESY

Bill Kopper plays Brazilian Samba on his guitar. The Colorado-based Kopper will be recording with Makumbi Sound in their upcoming album expected before the end of the year. PHOTO | COURTESY 

JEFFERSON RUMANYIKA
By JEFFERSON RUMANYIKA
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If you are an Afro jazz fan, Repub Lounge in Kimihurura in Kigali was the place to be on February 15.

The Makumbi Sound was headlining its first international performance with a special guest Bill Kopper, a guitarist from Brazil. The group will also perform at the city's premier jazz event, the Kigali Jazz Junction on February 28, at the Kigali Conference and Exhibition Village (Camp Kigali).

The Colorado-based Kopper, who is in Kigali for 10 days, will be recording with Makumbi Sound in their upcoming album expected before the end of the year. He is known for his expertise in American Jazz and Blues, Brazilian Samba and Choro.

Formed in 2014, Makumbi ensemble is made up of seven members from different parts of the world. The initial members were Congolese musicians Ibrahim Tanfum (lead guitarist) and Junior Kafi (keyboard), who were later joined by Andy Mold (drums) from the UK, Tony (double-bass) from New York, Jonathan (trumpet) from the UK, Gratuit (bass guitar) from Rwanda and trumpet player Tamon, who currently resides in Barcelona.

Kopper, who just released a new album called 112 will be performing a guitar duet with Tanfum and a joint piece with the Makumbi Sound band.

Mold said jazz fans can expect an electric performance as Makumbi sound will be showcasing their new recordings.

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“We are going to record it and we expect a huge number of people. We will have guests including singers. But we want it to be more instrumental,” he said.

Makumbi’s audience is largely men and women aged between 30 and 50. The band makes original music rather than sing covers of popular hits, which is common with other "jazz" groups in the country.

Although inspired by the 1960s and 1970s jazz artistes including Freddie Hubbard, Miles Davis, Bob Jam and Stan Getz, Makumbi's original composition draws from Congolese jazz with soukous elements as well as Spanish jazz featuring flamenco elements and smooth chords.

Tanfum played in some of the greatest Soukous bands at their height in the 1960s to 1980s — from Franco, Dr Nico to Samba Mapangala & Orchestra Virunga.

Despite the rise of Afrobeat and other local sounds in Rwanda, Makumbi Sound is keeping modern jazz alive and nurturing the genre through live performances which have drawn a dedicated audience.

When asked if Afro jazz has a future, Tanfum is confident that the future is not only bright in Rwanda but also around the world.

“Now, that we have started composing our own music. We expect to attract sponsors. This will enable us to secure more gigs beyond Rwanda. We will start from East Africa, then South Africa and then possibly Europe,” he said.

In future, Makumbi Sound intends to start a Jazz Club where one can go and listen to jazz and not just music in the background like they have at hotels and to inspire people to be more creative and appreciative of music in general.