An Afternoon at Sofar Sounds

The way that we listen to music is just as important as the music we listen to.  Music is a living breathing thing with varying effect and changing forms, even when it comes to a single song. Hozier’s ‘Cherry Wine’ is beautiful enough with headphones on but imagine experiencing it from a rooftop. His windswept hair accompanying that delicately strummed guitar and quiet for miles around. This is the experience Sofar Sounds brings to your city.

In 2009, Rafe Offer invited some friends to his flat in London for a gig. Eight people and one performer were in attendance. They sat on the floor, shared a drink and listened to their friend perform. Ten years and 433 cities later, Sofar is still the intimate experience it started as.

sofar 3

Sofar Sounds exists as an attempt to redefine the music experience through regression and not innovation. Instead of an elaborate stage and speakers the collective height of the NBA All-Stars, there’s a carpet and an acoustic guitar. Instead of a blinding light show and hundreds of roaring attendees, there’s the bulb above you and 10 other people just chilling.

In one word, Sofar is unique. Even acquiring a ticket is unconventional. You first apply online, subscribe to the newsletter and if you’re lucky enough, win a ticket. Considering that they purposefully host a small number of people, the chances of that are slim. Chia can tell you that for herself lol.

(Chia’s Note: I  am personally salty because I applied for a ticket twice and never got an invite.)

Another reason people are drawn to the concept of Sofar is the anti-concert experience of it all. It’s BYOB so there’s no cash bar queue blocking your way. Attendance is small and controlled so you aren’t forced to clamor to the front to see. The best part is, you know how every concert-goer is doing the most to record every performance like it’s a contractual obligation? Well, Sofar has a no video policy. Imagine attending a concert without dozens of phones in the air? Strange, I know.

sofar 1

I had the privilege of attending a Sofar gig this past Sunday. The setting was intimate. It was hosted inside a music store, guitars hung from the walls around the room. There was enough floor space for two dozen or so people. At the center of the stage, there was a mic and drum set right behind it. For a moment, I felt like I was in high school again, waiting to hear (and enthusiastically clap for) a classmate fumbling their way through ‘Wonderwall’. Instead, I witnessed a host of talented musicians who one by one blew me away.

Another interesting characteristic of the Sofar experience is that the lineup is secret. You only know who is performing when they are right in front of you. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t make sense because the purpose of going to the concert is to see the acts. But this is no ordinary concert.

sofar 2

The performances felt natural and unrehearsed. It felt like a bunch of musicians who happen to know each other and found themselves in the same room. In fact, many of the artists joined each other’s performances. No one seemed to be performing because they had been paid too.

Bensoul performed everyone’s favorite song, Tito Monako showed us what it means to be talented, YUBU music gave us a lesson on the connection between Blues and Reggae while Red Acapella entertained us with a profanity-laced performance that had many of us laughing long and belly-deep.

Sofar is doing the most to redefine what it means to see an artist live. From promoting artists that deserve more credit than they’re not receiving from the industry, to creating a space where everyone feels and is, comfortable. I hope my next invite application succeeds. I hope this isn’t the last Sofar I get to attend.

hedgehog 1

(Thank you to Sofar Nairobi for providing us with the opportunity to experience live performances in a whole new way)

(Also, thank you to Hedgehog Creative for hosting the event)

 

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.

BENEATH THE BAOBABS: NEW YEARS IN KILIFI

It’s funny. When you think of the Coast, one often conjures up visuals of palm trees and ocean. Not baobabs and forest; the coast less traveled.

Once a year in this little pocket of the earth, a 3-day festival occurs. One filled with sun, water, music, and magic. Over 3000 bodies on 30 acres of land, vibrating various energies and sweet release.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, night and wedding

Image courtesy of James Patrick

Nothing is as it seems.

Every structure on site: the 3 stages (Main Stage, Umojah Stage, Hidden Valley Stage) to the unicorns and shower swings- each a product of tireless human labour.

Image may contain: one or more people, plant, tree, sky, outdoor and nature

Image courtesy of James Patrick

Imagine a group of friends decided to throw a New Year’s party but instead, they threw the biggest festival Kilifi’s ever seen. No corporate sponsorship – just regular folk, sharing their corner of paradise with the rest of the world.

I went as a volunteer- partly because I’m underpaid, shit at saving and I don’t have Ksh.9,000 begging to burn a hole in my wallet.

Partly because I wanted the experience of contributing to this massive thing. Of camping in the bush in my little tent big enough for only one. Of being part of a community of people from different walks and spaces of the world – finding ourselves in the same place for the same purpose.

I spent 8 days in Kilifi. A baby, compared to the volunteers who had been there for 20 days by the time I arrived.

26th December:

I arrive in the dark with no tent and no torch. Luck is my homegirl, the first volunteer I meet has a spare tent that he & his girlfriend were happy to get rid of. The guy who promised to buy it off them never showed up. You know who showed up though, conveniently homeless – me.

Fate. It’s convenient.

I get lost every time I try to go back to my portable house from the kitchen. Mark, a kind man with locs grazing the top of his butt and a flashlight, would lead me back to camp any time he saw me stray a bit too far into the distance.

I feel like a bougie outsider, with my ironed clothes and un-sunburnt skin. They work from 8.30 – 5 and drink mnazi every day. By evening, their spirit is one of leisure but one of exhaustion as well. But it’s worth it otherwise, they wouldn’t be there.

After half a mboko of mnazi, my body decides it’s time for us to go to bed. Mark shines the way home for me.

27th December.

Billy Blunts made a pipe from a maize cob and two hollow sticks. He’s part of the team building the Hidden Valley stage. Blunts is his real last name. How apt. I breathed in the smoothest hit I ever had, endorsed by mother earth herself.

Every now and then, I drown in my own face sweat. Jay, a lithe girl with spaghetti blonde hair and shiny obsidian skin suggests a ride on the shower swings. Her days are spent in a bikini for this purpose, this freedom to get wet anytime she wants. I take notes.

Rasta weaves through every activity on a daily. It’s in the way they do their work, in how they relate to each other. Rasta is respectful, and equally, it calls for respect.

Image may contain: one or more people, tree and outdoor

Image courtesy of James Patrick

Rasta is the art of letting it go. A verbal dispute in the morning calls for a group meditation after lunch to heal the community vibes.

Long moist days are capped with nights spent drinking mnazi and searching for weed under a light fluttering breeze. A sky pregnant with stars.

The administration house is where it’s at. Shade from the burning sun.

That was the theme of my trip: burning.

burning sun

28th December

Tuk tuks are like taxis. Expensive.

It cost me Ksh. 400 to get to town from the plantations by Tuk Tuk and Ksh. 150 to come back by boda boda. Cruising down brown sandy side streets at dusk is more fun in a boda boda anyway. You can see the baobabs waving at you from all sides.

In the morning, I break up with my boyfriend. In the afternoon, I’m sorting dreamcatchers. In the evening, I’m at Distant Relatives BackPackers and Eco-Lodge with six other volunteers. I came to see Bruce J Rooke perform but I was late and missed his husky crooning acoustic set. He wasn’t mad, he’s a good friend. I’m the bad one.

enchanted

Lucky Birdi’s set is a zig zag of electric synths under banging basslines and drums that slap harder that mvuli wood. His set merging into Lemi’s set like lost twins, reunited. Lemi had the tom-tom drums and ankara fabric weaving through the sound. In the heat of his set, I imagined me and a young Fela Kuti, rhythming the night away to this new funky electric Africa.

My break-up came at the right time. I felt like sleeping beauty, finally opening her eyes after what felt like an eternity of sleep. It felt like a weight off my shoulders. It felt free.

That was another theme: freedom.

free

29th December.

Spent shrouded underneath a fog of hangover and fabric. Still, no regrets.

The festival begins tomorrow. I go to bed early. We have a long 4 days ahead of us.

30th December. Before the Baobabs.

before tb

I was put on media liaison together with socially conscious rapper, InsectDudu, and a girl from the area called Hope*. We made press packets and got to interact with photographers, journalists and artists coming in to document the festival. Reggie and Arriana rode from South Africa to Kilifi on a motorbike. Eventually, they’ll ride to Casablanca to raise funds to support young upcoming artists in South Africa.

reggie

Hope and Insect vented about working from 8-5 without a stipend, about the Ksh.2000 deposit volunteers had to pay. Even though it would be returned to them at the expiration of their contract, they didn’t have the 2 grand to part with in the first place.

They hated that no-one cared to find out whether they had a tent to sleep in or not, or whether Hope could afford the Ksh.300 bodaboda home and still have enough to eat the next day.

Hope left at the end of the day and never came back. InsectDudu stayed. He sees the disparity but he also the opportunity. He’s trying to raise a point and he will not leave until that point has been made.

Volunteering is for the rich who want to know what it’s like to be poor, the professional savers & budgeteers, and for the broke.

Volunteering is not for the poor. It’s not for the people whose daily reality is struggling to make ends meet. You don’t earn money as a volunteer. In fact, you spend money.  The work is really all there is to it. Whether it fulfills or not, is one man’s white bread and another man’s wholemeal.

31st December. Day 1.

A group connection session led by Ronan and Gayle taught us to vomit bullshit. Any bullshit that comes your way, purge that shit. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Not that they were teaching us bulimia.

“Kilifi is a city full of hippies,” someone muses.

“There are 4 white people for every black person,” someone else muses.

“But we all found ourselves here. We’re all here for the same reason- we’re here to experience something that will change our lives.” The stranger with the shell necklace sips his baobab juice and grins.

Image may contain: night

Image courtesy of James Patrick

I get sucked into the Main Stage in the middle of my afternoon rounds by Eric K (editors note: of no relation) playing electric sunshine and flowers through the Funktion One sound system. I love having a dancefloor to myself, it’s like the moment you didn’t have to share a room with your siblings anymore.

Regardless of color or language, we are here because we are trying to liberate ourselves. It’s safe to be you on these grounds. We’re here. We’re alive. We’ve accepted it.  But most importantly, we’ve accepted ourselves.

Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, outdoor and nature

Image courtesy of James Patrick

“We are the generation of transition.” The DJ at the Umojah Sound System Stage chants into the microphone.

We love ourselves for what we are and while we know it can always get worse, it can get better too.

The countdown begins 10. 9. 8. 7. 6. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1.

Happy New Year.

1st January.

“You have started the new year on a journey. Your whole year will be a journey.”

I need to stop having these kinds of conversations.

It’s a bushman’s carnival. By day 2 (day 6 tbh), I’d danced at all the stages. Showered under all the swings and mushrooms. Climbed all the jungle gyms and wooden animals. Slept on all the decks and teepees.

Image may contain: one or more people

Image courtesy of James Patrick

 

In the admin. house, renamed ‘The University’ for the duration of the festival, there’s a forum on racism at 2pm. A discussion on feminism at 3pm. Sexual Wellness and Secrets of the Yoni at 4pm. Documentaries showing back to back for most of the night.

At 7pm, I had a micro-racist experience at the Umojah Stage aka The Reggae Stage. After two hours of gyrating and dutty whining, I was tired. I reached for my bag which I had stored in a pocket in the subwoofers. ‘Coincidentally’ at the same time, a white woman decides to adjust her bag which was sitting next to mine and move it further away. I guess it can’t lay on one side for too long lest it gets bed sores.

Flatline: She thought I was trying to steal her bag.

Flatter line: Racist.

95% of my time was spent at the Umojah Stage. Umojah was where I’d go to escape the harsh EDM boom booms and lose myself in smoke and irie.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, night and outdoor

Image courtesy of James Patrick

Flattest line: Not even racism could ruin the Umojah Stage for me.

It’s almost midnight. I join the burn procession for the sole purpose of face glitter and a bedazzled rhino horn hat. This year’s structure is a 30-meter tall man with a rhino mask on, in memory of Sudan – the last male Northern White Rhino. I name him Sudan Man.  I’m so caught up in the circus of it all, I lose my fellow rhinos.

Henry, straddling drums made from recycled plastic, and the man on the Kayamba communicate with no words- only hand gestures, facial expressions, and pure rhythm. They play perfectly in sync despite only having met 5 minutes ago. I accompany them on the shakers. Our feet digging up mini-storms of dust with every downbeat.

They set Sudan Man on fire and cinders of his body fly into the air. The sky is painted with glowing dots of burning wood and makuti. I sit down on the ground and watch Sudan Man burn until he’s nothing but a pile of ash. The fire cleanses me of all the bullshit of 2018. I reflect on all the choices I made and the ones I did not, and how they all led me here.

To this fire. To this earth.

It’s my birthday.

Image may contain: night

Image courtesy of James Patrick

2nd January. Day 3.

The music goes hard all night and all morning. Fast Pumping EDM at insane decibels. Despite this, the beauty of the Main Stage’s Funktion One Sound System is that regardless of how loud it gets, you can still have a conversation with the person next to you without having to shout in each other’s ears.

Image may contain: sky, night, plant, outdoor and nature

Image courtesy of James Patrick

7am. I’m sitting on a jungle gym specially built for hyperactive adults to climb. From up here, the stragglers walking around look like sleepless zombies, waiting for the last of their mnazi, MDMA or whatever they’re on to leave their system so that they can fall into the sweetest slumber of their life.

Image may contain: one or more people, sky and outdoor

Image courtesy of James Patrick

I take in the final hours of the festival and hold it in my lungs. I buy my last Rollex and eat it on the baobab deck, feet swinging over the forest.

Eventually, I go to sleep.

It’s 2019. I am 23 years old.

 

 

For more images, follow James Patrick here:

https://jamespatrick.net/event

https://www.facebook.com/shotbyjamespatrick/

https://www.instagram.com/shotbyjamespatrick/

For more on the Beneath The Baobabs Festival, follow Distant Relatives and Kilifi New Years here:

https://www.facebook.com/Kilifi.Backpackers/

https://www.facebook.com/KilifiNewYear/