Yo-Yo Ma ‘swings’ Bach in a Nairobi street market 

World renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma surprised people on the streets of Nairobi when he took his Bach Project tour into the heart of the city’s bustling Kenyatta market. 

Known for his mission to spread joy through the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, Ma embarked on the final leg of his five-year Bach Project tour by taking his performance beyond the concert halls. 

Against a backdrop of butchers roasting meat and hairdressers vying for customers, Ma, accompanied by Kenyan percussionist Kasiva Mutua, performed a mix of music, blending the rhythms of drums with the enchanting melodies of his cello.

Throughout his visit to Nairobi, Ma embraced the local culture, immersing himself in the reality of Kenyan artists. 

With the occasional use of sheng, Nairobi’s unique slang, and arriving at the market in one of the music-blaring buses of the city known as matatus, Ma bridged gaps and shattered stereotypes associated with classical music. 

The 19-time Grammy award-winning musician who has graced the world’s largest stages seemed totally at home in the streets.

The Bach Project, a global tour spanning six continents, served as Ma’s ambitious endeavour to connect cultures and people through the timeless beauty of Bach’s cello suites. 

Nairobi, with its vibrant art scene, was a fitting choice for the project’s grand finale. Ma’s performances of Bach’s suites, each comprising six sections, paid homage to the enduring power of music and its ability to cut through troubled times.

Reflecting on the significance of Bach’s cello suites in his own life, Ma said they provided sustenance, comfort, and joy through the years. Despite the music being composed over 300 years ago, their profound influence continues to captivate audiences and evoke powerful emotions. 

The Bach Project was a “listening and learning” tour, celebrating ordinary people and their diverse experiences.

Ma’s concert at the Kenya National Theatre attracted a classical crowd, with tickets selling out within 24 hours. On stage Ma conveyed his deep connection to culture and how it has helped him thrive. 

Beyond his performances, Ma engaged with the local community, exploring Nairobi’s streets, collaborating with local artists, and visiting the Kakuma refugee camp for music collaboration.

The Bach Project’s conclusion in Nairobi marked another significant milestone in Yo-Yo Ma’s journey, transcending boundaries and uniting people through the universal language of music.

Compiled by staff writer

Pictured above: Yo-Yo Ma


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