Sunday, July 1, 2012

East African Music

A couple of weeks ago (yes, long overdue, but inspiration often runs dry with blogging as with every other kind of writing), I went to l’Alliance Francaise for some East African Music.

No surprise that the Alliance Francaise is one of the good cultural places in town. It always is in my experience. Yet, there’s also the Goethe Institute and the Italian Cultural Center, which I have yet to visit and enjoy some of the things they host.

Anyhow, the Alliance Francaise was hosting a night of East African Music. Nicely set in their patio, plenty of seats if you come early enough, dancing space and an elevated, well-lit stage. In the main room, a large screen for those that could not make it to the front or wanted to take a look at the special Mogadishu photography exhibit; a bar with reasonably priced drinks and some stale-looking croissants; a keg with draft beer that was somewhat mediocre, but even cheaper (to give a sense of Tusker, it’s a very light beer, both in alcohol content and in taste, so when you get it on draft it often tastes like PBR, but then again it costs as much as a PBR, so it’s all fair and just); a table selling CDs, DVDs and other merchandise.

As I waited with beer in hand, performers were warming up all dressed in their traditional attire.


The event was opened by a number of somewhat important people (the director of the Alliance Francaise, the French ambassador or consul, someone from the EU delegation, someone from some Kenyan ministry) who took way too long with their speeches and made many people unhappy. Yet, we soon started. An MC introduced every performer. Had I paid more attention and taken notes, I could have remembered where the bands come from. With my little knowledge of locations, tribal characteristics and local languages, it might have been a fruitless endeavour from the start. And as my favorite slogan says “Do or do not. There is no try”. So I just didn’t.

The night started with what we decided were some Somali performers. Quite nice, almost reggae style music.


People streamed to dance almost immediately! I remained at my seat deciding to preserve my good view of the stage for as long as I can (a surprisingly small number of tall people sat in front of me, which is a rare occasion). IMG_0559

After the more contemporary artists, more traditional groups took the stage. Unfortunately, the sound system gives little justice to their act. The video I took is even worse and hence won’t be uploaded (also because it does not comply with Youtube’s license agreements, which are something new for me). The Kenyan traditional music (I refrain from calling it Masai, because it could have easily been something else, and I will never know for the lack of Kenyans in our group. We had a Somali, so she can vouch for the first set of artists) is beautiful without a sound system and the yelling/shouting is quite powerful. It’s beyond me why they decided to perform this way, but it probably made sense in a way I don’t fully understand.

As we were exiting the venue during the last song, I noticed the diversity of the crowd. Many of the places I go to here are either entirely expatty or entirely local. With the exception of some restaurants, there seems to be an unspoken segregation. Which honestly has nothing to do with whether the people like each other or not, which they do. But the crowd at the Alliance was quite diverse in terms of the people and age. I mean if you look at our group alone: Italian, Italian-Iranian, Korean, Somali, British and moi, the Bulgarian. And then some French joined and an Italian-Canadian (as if this is a thing).

Fun night! Despite some sullen suspicion that East African music cannot match West African music (I will not talk more about this because I know NOTHING!), everyone was quite happy.

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