BY EVE CHEGE
“Festival” is one of my favourite words. It just sounds like sandals in the sunlit grass and dancing. At the most famous ones, legends are born: Woodstock, Glastonbury, Burning Man. Even experienced second hand they’re amazing. Pop culture blogs will show you clips of Beyonce or Mumford and Sons or Jimi rocking out, fashion blogs will showcase the wacky and the beautiful, and magazines do thoughtful pieces on origins and transcendence. It’s an experience – crowds upon crowds gathered with no pretext to anything but enjoyment.
At last weekend’s Blankets and Wine, the festival vibe was strong. As usual, it was preceded by snooty commentary on Kenyan Twitter. It’s a Kenyan trait to look down on something you’re not into. Live and let live isn’t really our thing; we’re more into “Why the hell would you want to do something I don’t?” So there was a full tirade: the price (3,500 itakununulia…), the accusations of being bougie, middle-class show-offs (bebeni quails…), and an ugly, unexpected taint of malicious glee when someone reported being mugged. But it’s only Twitter. I already had my ticket and outfit lined up, and dammit, I was going. And it was so worth it.
So many things in life are dependent on the crowd, and what a crowd it was. The overwhelming impression is one of attractiveness. We kept saying “Kwani Nairobi is just made of good-looking people?” So much effort was put in. By now, there’s a certain expectation of B & W, once called Nairobi’s most photographed event, and people brought it. Oh, how people brought it. Girls in shorts and cut off tees, girls on trend, girls doing their own thing. Midriffs, face-fuls of jewellery, edgy, unique outfits all over the place. Guys in fitted pants, guys with mohawks, guys in artfully grunged-up vests. One dude was just walking around draped in robes and looking like African royalty. There was flamboyance everywhere. I have to say though, some of the fashion is more madcap than maverick, but that’s the thing. It’s Blankets. It’s allowed. It works. Where else are you going to wear your favourite oversize American-flag vest and slim-fit overalls?
B & W’s raison d’etre is music, and hype aside, it does it well. Despite a general Afro-neo-soul-fusion sort of theme, the music was quite eclectic, especially the DJs’ sets from DJ Protegé. We rocked out to hip-hop, EDM, Afro-house, and general pop. I especially loved that Kriss Darlin played a set – the dancers were noticeably fewer, but his reggae/dancehall shuffle was on point. One love!
And then, the lineup. It’s very pleasing that we can draw acts like Mi Casa and Mafikizolo – who have current hits, not hits we used to love. I didn’t catch all the performances, but the ones I did were impressive, to say the least. The stage setup was great, enhanced the performers wonderfully. The sound was good, as was the lighting, strobing and pulsing over audience and performers and building the energy to awesome levels of fun. It’s something else, being part of a massive, massive crowd, all screaming and dancing and being part of one unique experience – it was electric, pure adrenaline.
Mafikizolo were amazing. They basically stole the weekend. Their set was perfectly chosen – not just their own music, but iconically South African tracks that just amped the energy to unbelievable levels. Mi Casa were also a crowd favourite, a bit less mainstream than Mafikizolo but still fabulous. It didn’t hurt that J’Something, their vocalist, is hella cute – and so friendly having interviewed him & the entire band too!
Our home performers didn’t disappoint, either. We all know that Kenyan live music has come some way from “Dj weka track 3.” B & W is one of the spaces that has helped nurture that growth, and it shows. Just about every performance was worth watching. From funky guy Antoneosoul to perennial favourites Sauti Sol, for example, were fantastic. They’re seasoned performers by now. They know their audience, they know what we like. We all just want to sing along, dance along and have fun, and they know exactly how to get us there. Their performance was almost more self-involved than the others, in a way. They looked like they were having such a good time, like we’re part of their experience instead of vice versa. Just A Band were also in top form – the Nairobi hipsters par excellence. Bill’s raspy vocals are always a delight, especially on Migingo Express, which is one of my absolute favourite tracks.
It was such an experience. One of those huge events where you can’t do a lap without meeting an old friend or a cute stranger. People are just so much friendlier at these things, and it’s always a joy. We laughed, we danced, I accidentally kicked a bottle at a guy who took it surprisingly well, and a good time was had by all. It was awesome. Consider going, if you haven’t. It takes some budgeting, let’s be honest, but if you plan ahead it’s not impossible. Gather some friends, some shukas, some bottles and your shades and rock out.
[Some photos from the event, courtesy of Eye-Con Photography]