New Orleans meets the Far East

By Trista di Genova
The China Post

The Kenyatta Trio will be turning Taipei into their very own jazz island Saturday night, at Sappho de Base Lounge Bar, where they’ve been performing once a month.

“My work is an expression of life,” said Nbugu Kenyatta, a New Orleans native and self-described “engine of the band.”

“It’s what I experience through life, and experiencing through life with the band. Most of all it’s spiritual,” he said. “I go through a lot of hardships in Taipei and in life period. But I won’t talk about that. I love music. It’s what god gave me, it’s a god-given talent and I have to use my talent to make peace in the world.”

And they’ve been “using it,” sharing their talents around the island for the past 15 years. They’ve performed at the Formosa Regent Hotel, TU, The Shannon, and the annual Blues Bash among others. Kenyatta even had a hand in importing New Orleans musicians to play at the jazz club Brown Sugar when it first opened, and named it, “because sugar is brown in its raw form before they bleach it.”

The group has raised a lot of money for charity, too, playing a series of benefit performances that raised NT$100,000 to help victims of Hurricane Katrina in his hometown.

In 2002, the original Trio came together: Kenyatta on drums and vocals, L.A. native Rick Taira on fiery bass, and Malaysian-born Remy Chen on guitar.

“Remy’s known in Asian musical circles as the ‘hit man’ and you’ll know why after listening to his axe,” Kenyatta laughed. “And our piano player Andrew Page — he arrived two months ago. He plays so well, he became a member of our group the first time he played with me.”

The Kenyatta Trio produced, recorded and engineered their first CD “Peace and Love” in 2003, an exciting mix with guest musicians Jeremy Leber on keyboards, Danny Deysher on trumpet, and Daniel Perkins on tenor sax.

The Trio marks an evolution of music in Taiwan, Kenyatta says, as the island is becoming increasingly open to foreign musical influences. But their following mainly consists of expats and Americans.

“Here in Taiwan, they think music is loud and fast. No, music has an expression. It’s many different types of music. Very few people know about blues, folk, or jazz. They’ve only been exposed to rock and classical,” he says. “But our experience has shown that the Taiwanese audience is hungry for some good down-home funk and that is exactly what we deliver here,” he added.

He regretted, however, that “musicians in Taiwan are struggling, because club owners don’t want to pay professional musicians what they’re worth.”

Kenyatta’s smooth, groove rhythm and soulful vocals really drive the band’s performance; they aim to keep audiences on their feet for hours.

“There are times when the crowd is there and everyone is in the groove and the song lasts for a heart-pounding ten or fifteen minutes,” Kenyatta says of performing. “Each member of the Trio is showing what they got and never leaving them disappointed.”

A list of his musical accomplishments could fill a meaty tome. He’s played with such legendary jazz greats as Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Cannonball Aderley and the Marsalis Family — as well as funked it up with the best New Orleans musicians has to offer.

“The title of the album explains exactly where we are today. If you listen closely you might be able to feel the melodies of our struggle, the soberness of our defeats and the elation of our accomplishments. It’s all in there; it’s all K. Trio.”

WHAT: Kenyatta Trio, a Jazz/Blues/Funk/Reggae ensemble
WHEN: Saturday Sept. 29, 10:30 p.m.
WHERE: Sappho de Base Lounge Bar
Anho Rd., Sect. 1, Lane 102, B-1
COST: No cover charge