the fake bourgeois
That fake. It started at Uchumi supermarket, the one off Lang’ata Road. At the liquor store to be precise. I met a handful of them as we stood in the queue at this liquor store that seemed to get smaller the louder they spoke and the more they spilled in. I snorted as I paid for my ‘wine’. Then we – me and my kid sister – made our way to Carnivore. It is three minutes drive away from Uchumi.
Blankets and wine is a picnic styled music festival designed to showcase genres of Afrocentric music. It is held on every first Sunday of the month. Sometimes it is at the Mamba Village grounds. Sometimes, like this time, at the Carnivore’s. This forty-fourth edition was the first I was attending.
Anyway, we get past the security check, to the entrance and wait for our host. And then they spilled in one after another. Give way ye people, they seemed to announce, Nairobi’s middle-class has arrived! Girls, in their denim hot-pants. Tank tops and shapeless cottons tees. African print bustier maxis with a belt pulled tight enough to accentuate the bust and the trim waist line. It was a sea of cleavage, legs and thighs. Sundresses in modern and bold mosaics. I spotted a tattoo on several female backs of a red rose. Or a dolphin. Or a letter from the Japanese alphabet. Or a sentence that gives a defiant middle-finger to the partiality of life. If not on the back, then on the side of the arm or the lower back. The ones at the ankle were the most sexy because of their subtlety. The guys were not modest either: T-shirts not long enough to cover their boxers or belts. Denim shirts in various shades of blue buttoned all the way to the top. Skinny jeans in all colors but ordinary black. A snug pair of knee-length shorts revealing hairy legs that ended in red or blue or white loafers. Fake gold jewelry. Sunglasses. Uchumi paperbags, or a kikapu carrying the blanket and wine. They talked loud, and laughed even louder.
I was disgusted. Eugh. Despite my disgust, everyone was happy with each other. Everyone was having fun. I realized quickly that the only way this fake and manufactured milieu I had found myself in would become acceptable, is if it was taken as it were: a laughable dismissible scene.
I checked in at 3PM. Dela – the third artist for the day – was on stage. Dela is a talented diva. I had not listened to Dela much before today, which means I am in no position to give an opinion about her music. But it had this mellow afro-fusion melody to it that was easy to get accustomed to. The crowd went wild when Sauti Sol joined her to perform the song they featured her from their debut album. The song was ‘Mama papa’.
I chatted up the screaming fans beside me, you know, to get a personal feel of this whole gig. Angie, a regular, told me she comes here for the artists. Ruby, a Sudanese, said she has never missed a single event. “I have lived in Kenya for 10 years and such events make it the more memorable.” She pushed aside the fringe of her weave as she spoke, her red lips twisting in excitement. Tony told me freelance photographers have a field day at such gigs, “There are countless moments to capture on film.” Waceke and her pal are members of a small acapella outfit. “We are inspired by Zahara’s music,” she said.
Zahara – the final artist for the day – took the stage at 6.30pm. She looked lovely in her orange sleeveless chiffon top. A white ruffles skirt and suede pink peep-toe wedges. Plus this digital white watch I suspect is her good-luck charm because she wears it constantly despite its clash with her outfits. Her affability told in her smile, her simplicity in the braided corn-rows. The backup artists – Zulu-brown skin with their fresh faces and braids swept up in a simple do – took their place at her far left of the stage.
Zahara is a multi-award winner from South Africa. She is 25years old. She has one studio album to her name, Loliwe (2011). The hit single with a similar title catapulted her to fame locally and abroad. She won eight South African music awards following this platinum album.
In the hour Zahara was on stage, we crooned to ‘Ndiza’, snapped our fingers to ‘Lengoma’, nodded our heads to ‘Destiny’, waved our hands to ‘Umthwalo’ and swayed in unison to ‘Loliwe’. All the while, singing along word for word as if Xhosa is our first language. Enjoyable stuff. In the middle of performing ‘Umthwalo’, Zahara breaks into tears and our hearts melted. It was telling that right there – right there – we loved her even more. She performed other tracks in Shona, plus two, three other renditions. All performances were accompanied by her acoustic guitar.
Zahara’s performance closed the curtains to a roaring crowd thirsty for more.
the blankets and the wine
After the gig, I chatted with my knackered host. I thanked him for the invite; he says he is glad I had had a splendid time. He steps on stage to oversee the techs as they packed the stage equipment, disconnecting the cables and whatnot. I follow him there. I had been dying to get a couple of things about this event clear. Beyond us, the sea of 3,000+ elated fans stretched out into the dusk in constant motion like black ants milling around an anthill. He acknowledges the crowd with a tilt of his head. “Today’s was a decent turnout,” he says. We stroll across the stage, down the steps and take a walk around.
Snaking through the crowd on their ‘blankets’, I regarded this audience which was outright different from the music fans I had mingled with earlier: Lovers locked in a lustful entangle of limbs and lips. Teenage girls cheek to cheek to cheek, crinkly eyes outlined with kohl, rosy cheeks and exaggerated pink pouts staring spell-bound into the white light of the Galaxy SIII outstretched from the girl in the middle. A mother with her toddler’s head resting on her bosom, his legs sprawled over her sleeping body. They are covered in a red-and-blue checked Maasai blanket. Boys and girls giggling as the shisha is passed around them in the circle they had formed on their mat. A family of four jungus; dad and mum’s safari boots discarded to the side and kids snacking on cold sausages. Sozzled adults dancing barefoot, and screaming into the night as if the world is about to end.
I ask him whether the original concept of blankets and wines had been eroded after its five years in business. “No. Blankets and wine is about a Sunday afternoon of chilling and music,” he says. “Parents with their kids, youngies with their blankets and wine. Encapsulating all this is the music. So no, it has not been eroded.” Fair enough.
What about this horde of aspirational middle-class? He laughs. “They contribute to the aura of blankets and wine because here, they can be a different escapist persona. It’s all for good fun.” Mh, acceptable.
We stopped briefly to say wsup to the Google+ crew as they packed their tools then continued with the stroll.
What about the financial aspect of it; how viable is this business? “Blankets and wine is an event which sells as a music event,” he says. I ask him for figures. He eyes me with skeptic narrowed eyes before he obliges. I do some quick math; based on the turnover and operating expenses, the margins are handsome. Not bad at all.
I probe him with more questions, and he answers each one satisfactorily. By this time, we have taken a complete circle from the stage, snaked through the crowd, and are now backstage. I leave him to continue with his work.
We spent the remaining hour dancing our hearts out to the techno and pop mixes from the Homeboyz DJs. Out there under the stars, we danced until we flattened the grass beneath our feet. The cleaning crew was on site zigzagging us on the grounds, bagging the trash from the afternoon: plastic party cups in white and red, crashed beers cans of Heineken and Tusker, empty bottles of vodka and gin, wrapping foil and used serviettes, paper bags of Uchumi.
The music was muted at 9PM. The screens alongside the stage go blank. The darkness engulfs. We stopped dancing and realized then how cold it was. The crowd started to scatter.
the fake bourgeois. the music. the blankets and the wine.
Blankets and wine: on the one hand, it is about aspirational middle-class Nairobi with their fake and disgust-worthy bourgeois behavior. A group of Nairobians who flood an event they are here to not actually attend, and bring along with them the toxicity of their youthful verve. On the other hand, it is about a Sunday afternoon whiling away on a blanket with sunglasses and sundresses, shorts and kids. It is about promoting African music. It is the success story of a simple entrepreneurial idea that blossomed to become part and parcel of Nairobi’s social scene.
On the balance, it is the brilliant idea for a musical coterie that lost its all exclusivity once the masses of wannabe Nairobi got wind of it then followed to poison it with all their urban plasticity.
Blankets and wine is an event which works because of the music. Period. And that is what it is anyway: East Africa’s premier music experience.