The second edition of Runway Jazz, the fashion and music extravaganza that birthed in 2016 was held at the Eko Hotels and Towers on Sunday, 30, April, a day set aside by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to mark World Jazz Day. Coalescing nicely with the ongoing #LagosAt50 celebrations, this year’s event was put together in collaboration with the Lagos state government. Governor Akinwunmi Ambode and his entourage were present, so was the wife of Vice President, Dolapo Osinbajo, and Minister for Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed.
But enough about the big men, the night was certainly not about them. Even though Mrs Osinbajo was made to present a speech, founder Afolabi Oke took time during his brief address to shout out governor Ambode, and Yinka Davies’ set played like a private performance for the governor.
Which is not to say that it was a bad thing, indeed there is no such thing as a bad Yinka Davies performance, she has been around long enough to know how to avoid that. Ms Davies who made her debut at last year’s event, returned with a histrionic, market woman style rearrangement of one of Ambode’s favourite tunes, Guitar Boy, composed by Sir Victor Uwaifo. Celebrating with Lagos state, Davies rightfully closed with her classic ode to Lagos, Eko Ile and once again proved to be perhaps one of the few people alive who can perform the song without crumbling.
Two talented minors, first stole the show early on. Singing the Greatest Love of All and making it as true as any of the numerous recordings was a six year old, Ajuoluwa. Her presence may have been dwarfed by the grand piano but her voice rang clear as she hit even the most troublesome notes with confidence. Backing her on drums was the 8 year old David Oke.
The event’s host band, Sweet Sounds opened the show with catchy sing along melodies powered by a display of terrific instrumentation. The performances were placed at intervals to allow for the sumptuous variety that the night promised but one has the feeling that Sweet Sounds deserves a headlining concert of their own if they can score up the audience.
Former Cross River Governor Donald Duke, though present, chose to sit this year’s edition out, a departure from last year’s where he stole the show with some deft saxophone moves. Duke gave way to the younger generation as his daughter, Xerona, proved that it isn’t too late to consider the Dukes another great Nigerian musical family. Her rendition of Free Falling, an original recording hit all the right notes and displayed her alt rock tendencies, complete with fiery guitar strumming.
British crossover superstar Joss Stone, presently on the African leg of a world tour was a vision in red and a paragon of professionalism. Her songs were not exactly familiar but she earned the respect- and cooperation,- of the audience by the time she was done. As part of her set list, the barefoot Stone ran through Music, an original recording written by her, and covers of classics originally composed by Sugar Billy (Super Duper Love (Are You Diggin’ On Me)) and Burt Bacharach (The Look of Love). She refused to take no for an answer and as reward for her efforts, succeeded in getting Lai Mohammed to sing along with her.
The night’s headliner was the American veteran performer, Najee and when he took the stage, he left no doubt as to the magnificence of his talent, or his artistry. Najee and his band took charge and rocked the night silly with tunes from his broad canvass of tune. He played the saxophone and the flute and called on instrumentalist Yomi Oyelade for a brief jam session that included the national anthem. The audience knew the words.
Smooth Jazz may be Najee’s forte but his performance was more spontaneous than smooth. It was familiar, deviant, enveloping and combustible all at once. Non jazz heads in the audience could at least appreciate the classic sounds of Anita Baker’s Sweet Love, and Thug Loving, remade for a new generation by Ja Rule and Bobby Brown.
Najee’s intoxicating performance should have closed the night but Lagos state had other plans as the Afrobeat takeover commenced in earnest. It is a close relationship that Afrobeat shares with Jazz and Adeniji Heavywind led his band to a run of songs that did him no favours because he was following Najee.
Dede Mabiaku fared better as he took his sweet time running through some of Fela’s classics. Still as energetic and vibrant as he was ten years ago, Mabiaku’s performance immediately cast doubts on the wisdom of inviting American Sahr Ngaujah to headline a Fela concert in Nigeria, as Lagos celebrates 50 years.
But there was fashion too. The music was interrupted with runway shows by Jewel by Lisa and Step Up Initiative, channelling Mrs Osinbajo.
Afolabi Oke and his team put up a worthy and fantastic display and if Jazz music begins to find a way into the mainstream, he should relax in the knowledge that he’s played his part.