Nairobi is not a safe space for festivals: Africa Nouveau 2019

This year’s Africa Nouveau was exactly the same as last year’s. Okay, maybe not exactly the same, but it wasn’t different.

This isn’t meant as an attack on Africa Nouveau and Muthoni The Drummer Queen, the festival is merely a pawn piece in the chessboard thesis that festivals don’t thrive in sprawling congested urban cities.

But at the same time, I simply just didn’t have a good time at Africa Nouveau. Here’s why:


  1.      It Didn’t Feel Like an Adventure

Festivals must swallow you. You must enter their gates and feel as if you are in the belly of the beast, ready to be digested by life.

This was my 3rd time at Africa Nouveau. I was at the first one in 2015 and then three years later in 2018 and finally this year’s. Maybe because it was the first one in three years, last year’s felt incredible. The space themed maasai décor was immediately captivating, the cucu with the outer space shades-  and Kwesta’s performance came right in the fever of ‘Spirit’. Vallerie Muthoni performed Brown Suga and snatched all our lace-fronts. I can’t forget.

I marched back through those gates this year expecting the same. I waited to feel the heavy beast breathing down the back of my neck, goosebumps on my skin for the sole reason that I am excited to be exactly where I am. I waited and I waited some more. There was no novelty (apart from a wicked art installation by Kenya’s Basquiat, SheepGoat). The beast stood me up.

belly of the beast

The Belly of The Beast?


  1.        The Money Bracelet

They’d INSISTED at the gate that you MUST load all the money you intend on spending, onto the cash bracelet. Turned out most stalls weren’t even using it at all. That’s cool for people like me who only came with cab money , bummer for you if you got wasted and went home without getting your Ksh.5000 back now you’re stuck looking at a weekend’s worth of drinking money trapped inside a bracelet. Very fyre festival-esque.


  1.       The Police

Sometimes I forget that weed is a Class A narcotic in Kenya, punishable by 20+ years in prison or a Ksh 1 Million fine. It feels like the equivalent of calling Smirnoff Ice hard liquor. Activism for another day, perhaps. Or maybe I’ve spent too much time dancing at reggae stages where I can’t see the person next to me through the thick cloud of smoke obscuring my vision. And maybe I’ve shared too many joints with artists on stage and relished in the feeling that I’d built a connection with said artist, my heart swelling watching them take their two puffs and hand it back.

Drug culture and festival culture are like the Kenyan Government and corruption. Inextricable. So when kanjo are dressed in Alexis Nereah sunnies and bell-bottom pants so that they can arrest people for chiefing to their favourite song, the environment rapidly begins to feel unsafe.

Nobody wants to end their night or their high shivering in a cold dirty cell.


  1.       The Line-Up

The line-up was poorly planned. The itty-bitty Pyramid Stage had more action than the Main Stage for this reason. I love H-ART the Band, and on a good day- they can croon their socially conscious dreadlocked voices all the way into my soul. But placing their slow-jam romantic songs at 9pm, when most people just want to cut up at 9pm, was not a good call.

pyramid stage

Pyramid Stage

  1.       The ‘Nap-Pods’

The camping site was 100 metres opposite the Main Stage. Who can nap with a 5 foot sound system blowing the walls off their tent?


  1.       It Gets Uncomfortably Cold At Night

In another city, in another life – I would have fallen asleep under the stars by the bonfire, snuggled inside my sleeping bag with 3 blankets and a hot water bottle. 

Instead, I waited 40 minutes sitting as close as I could to the wood fire without burning my fingers and knees, as my uber driver untangled himself out of Ngong Road Traffic. I’m not blaming this one on the festival, I’m blaming this one on Nairobi. 

You can imagine that by this time, my soul was exhausted and I was fed up with Afro-Bubblegum. Especially with the extensive ‘outer beings’ visuals that came with it. It felt less like a concept created to embrace a “Fuck-It-I’ll-Do-What-I-Want” attitude and more like one created to seem avant-garde in order to receive funding from NGO’s and private investors.

maasai mama

Afro-bubblegum Shosh

In conclusion, Nairobi is not at all a conducive environment for music festivals. Unless it’s in the outskirts, Nairobi has too much wahalla and dog-eat-dog for the lackadaisical free-spirit-free-mind escapism which festivals incite. Nairobi will eat you up and spit you back out. Even within the ‘safety’ of a festival, there’s no running away from the big bad city.

Shout out to DJ Faysal Mostrixx for hypnotizing us with his bejeweled mask & shirtless glistening chest.

Shout out to Sho Madjozi for absolutely cutting it up!

And shout out to Kenyan Originals for their 8% Pineapple mint cider.

Featured Image courtesy of Mutua Matheka.

Images courtesy of Africa Nouveau’s Facebook Page.


  1. Joy Ruguru · May 7

    Weh. Let me sit by a bonfire for this cold truth. I couldn’t explain why Africa Nouveau 2019 wasn’t as thrilling as 2018. You’ve put it all into words. Thank you


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