They say you never forget your first time. Whether it’s your first sloppy kiss or your first live concert as an adult. It’s kinda true. For that same reason, you might never forget your first Uani by Serro event.
Uani is Swahili for backyard or garden. As you can tell, it’s organized by Serro, the Kenyan Afrofusion singer who was blessed with a rich golden voice full of depth and emotion. You even heard it for yourself during your first Fadhilee’s Garage.
Borrowing a leaf from Fadhilee, she started her own intimate event in 2018. Uani is a cosy space for Kenyan music lovers to enjoy acoustic music performances and candid conversations. Not just from her but from her favourite Kenyan artists too.
And so in January, she featured her musical husband (as she calls him) Ayrosh at her parent’s backyard in Kariobangi South. This was the first visit, sorry edition. Their chemistry is so strong he also featured her in his Gikuyu song which is a story about a wayward guy called Karanja. Talk about urban mugithi.
Since she likes to keep things interesting, the venue for the second edition was a lush garden in Kileleshwa. Bensoul was the chosen feature for this Sunday afternoon. Before his and their joint set, they had an open conversation about romantic relationships. And it turned out the soulful serenader was the perfect guest artist for this show. After all, February is the season of love.
Just when Uani was becoming a vibe and you were planning on how to attend the next one, it went on a break. Complete silence. During this hiatus, our main protagonist Hulda Serro released her new single Okello. You still remember how the emotional music video for the Swahili-Luo ballad made you cry the first time you watched it.
Thank heavens she finally brought Uani back in September. And this time, she featured the Afro-soul songstress Ach13ng, who coincidentally had also been on a long music break. It was a major comeback season.
So when Serro announces the November edition, you know this is it. You simply have to go. After all, Kaskazini are going to be there.
And that’s how you find yourself on Riverside Drive on Sunday 25th November, while the rest of Nairobi is either doing free yoga in the park or dancing at Gondwana’s first-anniversary party. You punch no 6 on the elevator and ascend to the rooftop of Connect Coffee. After parting with 500 shillings at the entrance, you finally walk into the sundowner event at 4pm.
Here, you find an open intimate space with a stylish canvas roof, artificial grass and a huge terrace on the side. A group of about 20 people are already seated casually on these bleachers. Meanwhile, Serro is seated on the opposite side in a black dress, kitenge kimono and white sneaks. She’s on the mic talking about relationships. To be specific, friendships, and how they naturally fizzle out. You can relate: when the time is up it’s up.
Just before you can stretch your legs on your seat, she invites you (the crowd) to contribute to this relatable topic. A few ladies share stories of their toxic relationships and how they got out of them. Drop and leave seems to be the memo. Meanwhile, you try to recall the last time you were in a toxic relationship, and you can’t quite remember. Does that mean you were the toxic friend?
In conclusion, Serro becomes your teacher in the school of life. She reminds you of the 5 love languages and how your friends show you love could be their way of receiving love too. Apparently, a meaningful friendship requires three things: positivity, consistency and vulnerability. And her third lesson is one she had to learn herself too. Don’t get mad when your friends don’t fully accept you just the way you are (girl). Maybe they see the better version of yourself. The one who is actually on time to events and link ups.
Now you know Serro, she loves to talk and can do it all day long. But it’s time for the music part of Uani. Today’s set is special as she promises to perform songs mostly by African female songstresses who inspire her. She is backed up by keyboardist Sam Mkenya and percussionist Mobutu.
During her first song, she introduces you to Amanda Black. You assume she’s a white singer until Serro starts singing in Xhosa like a proper South African. She dedicates the sad song Sinazo to a childhood friend who also went too soon, replacing the title with her own friend’s name.
Hapo Zamani by Miriam Makeba touches you the most. It’s not even that it’s by an African music legend. It’s the way Serro sings the Swahili song with so much passion and zest. She’s almost falling off her seat. You can feel Mama Africa’s presence in the air. It’s as if Serro carries a part of her spirit. You also feel tears rolling down your face.
Serro also honours the Queen. Not Beyonce, but Yemi Alade with Kissing – which the crowd helps her sing. Coming home, she performs another love song Tabasamu by Mercy Myra because she had a rough time learning the lyrics to Tie Dero. But she does serve some Luo in Weche Tek by Dela. And when she forgets some of the lyrics, she invites her shy sister to sing with her on stage. Because you are free to do anything at Uani.
“This is the most honest song I have ever written,” Serro announces before performing the only original song that day. And it’s true. Ya Dunia is a true story about upcoming artists and how the online hype doesn’t translate to monetary success in real life. Not all that glitters on Instagram is gold. So be kind to everyone since you rarely see their reality behind the choreographed smiles and VSCO filters.
Interestingly, the eye-opening song has a bouncy chakacha beat you can easily dance to. Proof that it’s possible to create raw and entertaining music at the same damn time.
During the changeup, you also take a break. You walk to the deserted side of the rooftop to bask in the evening sun – it is bloody windy up there. Plus the view of the trees is amazing. By the time you’re back, Kaskazini have already started performing.
The last time you watched this urban trio live was at Blankets and Wine’s 10th anniversary. When Bien surprised everyone and invited the upcoming Kenyan band to perform during Sauti Sol’s explosive performance. Coincidentally, they remind you of a younger Sauti Sol. When they used to sing soulful songs like Lazizi and Blue Uniform.
Today you can see Kaskazini up close. Onyach in his captain hat, Chris in his usual wide brim hat and guitar, while Eugine is in a colourful mavin. Chris is the only one with shoes on, yet looks shorter than the rest. But this is not about looks, it’s about the music.
Basically, Kaskazini are three emotional guys who sing emotional songs about love and heartbreak. They even close their eyes when they sing, and it’s beautiful. Their original songs are punctuated by funny exclamations, heavenly harmonies, cheesy pickup lines, some Luo and Kamba, and sometimes really sad lines. Like Nairobi which is super sad and slow. Nairobi hakuna raha… bila weee… you cry out with them.
And have you noticed almost every cool Kenyan musician has a Nairobi song? Yup, even Mr. Fadhilee Itulya.
Anyway, Kaskazini get you in the feels and out of them too. Chris and Eugine play a surprise guitar duo battle in the middle of a song and you’re impressed. You and your new friends later stand up and dance along to Matumbo, the playful jam that made them famous. Thanks to Jamhuri Sessions.
It is said Bien knows the lyrics to the whole song – just like you. You finally understand why he called them the best band in Afrika.
They close their emotional set with Milele. The final rays of sunlight are now bouncing off the Mirage building on the opposite side of Waiyaki Way, surrounded by the looming darkness of dusk. Everyone stands up and turns on the phone torchlights for this final song. You close your eyes and wave your mulika mwizi in the air as you sing your heart out. Milele, Milele.
After wild applause, Serro – who has been the most excited throughout their whole performance – comes back and does the closing number. You don’t quite remember which one it is as you are too busy writing a note to put in the suggestion basket. Once the live music is over and reggae steps in, you sit down and finish your caramel macchiato from Connect Coffee. It’s so sweet it doesn’t even need brown sugar.
Later you take a satisfied walk around the windy rooftop checking out the bright night lights of Westlands. You silently thank yourself for doing this. For coming to Uani, albeit alone. Here you found live music that touched you, healed you, made you cry. And not only did you listen, but you also sang along with your favourite Kenyan musicians. It was so intimate you even shared a blanket with the guy next to you.
Now you can’t wait for the next edition of Uani happening next year. In fact, you’ve followed Uani by Serro on Instagram just so you know about it. You wonder which Kenyan artist Serro will feature next. And who knows? Maybe it will be your first time watching them.