The Rift Valley Festival was hosted at Lake Naivasha in the Rift Valley, the Cradle of Mankind, where rhythm originated. It provided the perfect occasion to celebrate culture and diversity. A little bit of chocolate here mixed with vanilla there and the environment had the feeling of a nice cold sundae on a warm afternoon.
The three day event staged at the shores of Lake Naivasha grew even bigger this year, attracting a respectably huge crowd. Established acts from the country (Suzanna Owiyo, Yunasi) as well as the USA (Joe Driscoll, Denise Gordon), UK (DJ Sofrito), Guinea (Sekou Kouyate) and even a Congo/Japan mash-up (Rumba Japan) were on the lineup. A host of B-List and niche artists including The Beathogs, Maia Von Lekow and Olith Ratego also appealed to the audience that seemed to enjoy the creativity of the singer-songwriters and instrumentalists. More performers included Owiny Sigoma Band, Yam Yam, DJ Racubah (UK), DJ Mr Sean, JimBish, Reggae/Ska/Root Sound System and many others.
The pattern of the event days was more or less the same. The afternoon sessions were laid back with the revelers spreading their shukas on the grass and swaying back and forth as they got serenaded by the performers. The tempo would pick up as the evening transitioned into night time as crowds gathered around the stage and dance to every tune.
The Saturday session was nothing short of epic. The afternoon begun with the Afro-Ohangla sounds of Olith Ratego on the main stage. Despite the music being in his native Luo tongue, he still managed to get the sitting crowd on their feet. The Beathogs, featuring the phenomenal Denise Gordon, were up next on stage. The outstanding percussionist already had everyone grooving even before a single vocal was uttered. When Denise and her backup vocalist stepped on stage, everyone knew they were in for a treat. And they didn’t disappoint, belting one classic after another from the 70’s. They covered everything from Jazz to Funk and Soul. The notables were Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, Diana King’s Shy Guy and the crowd-pleasing classic, Celebration by Kool and the Gang.
They set the stage well for the anticipated mashup between Joe Driscoll and Sekou Kouyate. It was an interesting juxtaposition of cultures and their performance embodied the true spirit of the festival- the fusion of traditional African roots and global styles. Driscoll from New York, with his modern guitar and beat-box inspired hip hop connected amazingly well with Kouyate from Guinea, with his Kora and sounds heavy on the Western Africa genres.
But the performance of the evening had to be reserved for the ever-thrilling Suzanna Owiyo. Under the glare of the full moon, she moved the crowd to a rousing climax leaving them calling for an encore which she duly obliged. Her eclectic performance incorporated traditional folk music, Chakacha and some elements of Salsa.
The mellow Maia Von Lekow kicked off the Sunday session. Her sing-along friendly songs struck a chord with the listeners as she took them on a musical journey. Her easy performance was enhanced by the cool early afternoon ambience. She was followed by an impressive DJ set by DJ J Star of the UK. The melodious sounds of Winyo were up next on the stage. The composer, vocalist and guitarist along with his 4 piece band were nothing but blissful. The Afro Fusion tunes of Abbi and a mash-up of Davey Ska-face and POP of Ukoo Flani later took to the stage as the curtain fell on the unforgettable festival.
Landscape: Few festival venues can match the lakeside location of the Rift Valley Festival. The grounds are fully covered with lush grass and you can virtually lie down anywhere tiredness kicks in. The canopy trees create a sense of safe enclosure and provide beautiful filters of sunlight during the day.
Crowd: Largely cosmopolitan and friendly. Ranged from families, friends and tourists. Everyone seemed familiar with each other despite the fact that most had just met. The warm environment brought out the best in dressing and everyone looked beautiful. Quick to applaud the artists and everyone was well behaved.
Stages: Rift Valley Festival has a main stage and a smaller, more interactive stage. The lighting was extra-ordinary and it seemed to be in tune with the music, the sound was crispy clear except for the few occasions where there were little hitches.
Organization: Everyone from the ticket takers at the gate to the people on the ground was helpful. Food stands and fully-stocked bars were available all night. The bathrooms were kept clean and were adequate. Security was tight and they even had the police deployed. Paramedics were also on stand-by all through. Enough tents and camping areas were provided. It is pretty impressive how quickly they managed to clean up the grounds for the next day.
Overall: The event is a musical rabbit hole that leads to three days in wonderland. It looks a sure shot to keep growing and become an established world-class international extravaganza.
By Tim Mworia
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