Vermont Arts Council

First Person: KeruBo at BCA’s Summer Concert Series

Communications Intern Niamh Carty seen from the neck up, smiling at the camera.
First Person
By Niamh Carty

For more than a year, concerts have been put on hold as we all grappled with our changing world in the face of a pandemic. With an increase in the vaccination rate, though, venues are beginning to reopen and welcome back listeners and performers. With this exciting development, I had the pleasure of watching KeruBo perform on the Burlington City Arts Patio on Friday June 18. KeruBo’s performance was part of the BCA’s Summer Concert Series—a lunchtime show featuring a different local musician or band on the BCA Patio every Wednesday and Friday of the summer. The colorful tables, chairs, and umbrellas set up in front of the stage provide a vibrant setting for the performers and attendees. Some people even brought their own folding lawn chairs to sit and enjoy the music.

Originally from Kendu Bay, Kenya, KeruBo is now based in Vermont. Her music reflects a blending of cultures and styles, with influences from traditional African music melded with gospel, blues, and jazz. Her songs, whether an original or a cover, focus on healing through song, providing comforting adages and tidbits of advice through her lyrics and powerful voice. On Friday, KeruBo performed original music and covers, with songs originating from Kenya, the Congo, and South Africa. Many of her songs are also from her most recent album, Hali Ya Utu.

In between songs, KeruBo took time to explain to the audience the meaning of the song to her and in a larger context. These small bits of information allowed the audience to understand KeruBo and connect with her music more. After her first song of the concert, “A Child Sees,” she described the central idea of the lyrics: What your child sees influences them, and it is therefore imperative to set kind, gracious, respectful examples for them to follow. Her second song was in Swahili and titled “Faraja,” the Swahili word for a tranquil scene and the emotions associated with it. KeruBo used the scene on the BCA Patio—the beautiful blue sky, the passersby stopping to listen to her, the nearby fountain with children splashing in it—as a perfect example of the tranquility of the word faraja. The happiness I felt from the crowd around me enjoying the fresh air, live music, and company, only heightened this tranquility. In fact, there was an air of excitement through the entire city of Burlington as the regular hustle and bustle returned through a relaxing of Covid restrictions.

One of my favorite songs was her cover of “Malaika,” a Swahili word translating to “angel.” The love song has been covered countless times, and KeruBo explained before the song began that though the original writer is from Kenya, and the lyrics are all in Swahili, Cuba claims the song as its own—a somewhat confusing lineage for the song, but representative nonetheless of the range of cultures KeruBo brings into her performances.

The cover of KeruBo’s most recent album, Hali Ya Utu, which you can find on Amazon Music, Spotify, and Pandora.

I have never listened to jazz music live before, nor had I ever heard the style of jazz specific to KeruBo, but this concert really showed why jazz is a genre best listened to live. Having a crowd around me also enjoying the music and watching each musician in real time made me appreciate how talented they each were even more—an appreciation that can only be found in live music and one I had certainly been missing for the past year. KeruBo was accompanied by a substantial band, featuring a keyboard, trumpet, guitar, bass, drum set, bongos, and an electronic recorder—an instrument I had never heard before. One of my favorite parts of the concert was watching each musicians’ solos; though KeruBo is the title singer of the band, it was clear how much she loves listening to her bandmates play and encouraged them to take the spotlight. The audience was able to participate, too, through the call-and-response style of many of KeruBo’s songs.

KeruBo will be performing at the Earth Summer Series in Williston on July 11, Barnard’s Fable Farm on July 15, and the Middlebury Festival On-the-Green on August 2, and I strongly encourage all those who can to see her live. I also recommend checking out at least one of the biweekly summer concerts hosted by Burlington City Arts.

For more on KeruBo check out her feature in the Council’s series I am a Vermont Artist from November 2020.