What began as a European tour in February for Kenyan musician Makadem ground to a halt with the artist stuck in Denmark amidst the coronavirus lockdown in Europe and not sure when he will be able to get back home.
Makadem left Nairobi on the 17 February destined for Milan, Italy, the first stop of his tour along with an ensemble of Italian musicians and DJs known as Uhuru Republic. This is a group that involves a collaboration of musicians from Italy, Tanzania, Zanzibar and Kenya and combines traditional African music styles with contemporary European rhythms.
The group had played concerts in Northern Italy in February performing in Milan, Genoa, and Torino just before the devastation of the coronavirus hit the region.
This was the second consecutive year that the group was on such a tour having successfully played in Geneva, Switzerland and Albenga Italy and then Lamu and Nairobi in Kenya in 2019. Last year, Makadem toured along with Italian vocalist Giulia Passera, Producer and DJ Filoq and other guest artists.
After the first leg of the shows, Makadem travelled from Italy on February 23 the day that the northern part of the country went on lockdown. “I had come for some downtime in Denmark before embarking on the rest of the European tour when things began to get out of control in Italy and then the rest of Europe shut its borders,” explains Makadem. Denmark was among the first European countries to introduce lockdown measures starting on 13 March
For seven weeks, he has remained in Copenhagen living with a Kenyan friend resident in the city. Meanwhile, the rest of his European tour that was to take him across several cities in Germany, Sweden, Latvia and Belgium has been cancelled.
On March 28, Makadem performed a virtual show in Copenhagen that was streamed on Instagram and Facebook as part of an online Danish series called the Corona Concerts. This is an artistic relief program offering free livestream productions to musicians affected by corona concert cancellations. The program seeks to “fight discouragement, powerlessness and restlessness with music, close contact and love.”
“When I got an opportunity to play on this show, the organizers were also delighted because I play a very unique instrument, the nyatiti” he says.
During the performance that lasted 75 minutes he interspersed the music with public health messages such as the importance of washing hands and maintaining social distancing to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“My experience as a performer has taught me to imagine an audience and so doing a show online was another opportunity to apply these skills when you are able to connect with the people watching the gig online,” he explains.
Makadem says Denmark has a relatively relaxed lock down compared to the rest of Europe. “Some pubs still open even though with social distancing rules between the customers,” he says. “The first two weeks of the lockdown had very few people on the streets but now there are more people pouring out and some businesses are open.”
For the concert, he chose a set of songs that would be performed in a solo acoustic fashion such as the haunting “Obongo Bless Me” and “Muhogo wa Jang’ombe” originally a taarab song by Zanzibar singer Bi Kidude, both of which were released in October 2019. Other songs on the repertoire included “Nyako”, “Mtoto Si Nguo” and Makadem’s rendition of Ayub Ogada’s “Kothbiro”.
How else does a musician who finds himself away from home, unable to perform or record respond to these extraordinary circumstances.
Makadem had a recording scheduled with a duo of German DJs called Africaine 808 in March which was cancelled. On a happier note, just two weeks ago he recorded a new fusion of nyatiti with electronic dance music and he is seeking a record label in Europe that can release the song and use its network for circulation across the world.
“I am currently working on four nyatiti songs to add to my live sessions,” he says.
On recent years, Makadem has explored the fusion of the eight-stringed lyre with contemporary electronic beats.
In 2017, he collaborated with the South African producer Behr to produce a successful mashup of the hit single “Nyako” that grabbed international attention for its innovation.
He has been collaborating with Uhuru Republic since meeting the Italian artists in Zanzibar in 2019 and he regrets that this year’s plans have been shatteringly brought to a halt by the coronavirus pandemic.