The first ever edition of Blankets & Wine went down almost seven years ago. The event, a brainchild of Muthoni Ndonga – famously known as Muthoni The Drummer Queen – had a simple but creative concept, the first of its kind this side of the Equator. It wasn’t one of these ordinary events where chaps in Versace sweatpants and mamis in booty shots went to get stupidly inebriated and listen to loud music from Konshens and grind and twerk their butts off. It was more of a family event that, unlike most Kenyan events, happened during the day. It was an event you could take your whole family, including your kids, to. It was an event you could bring with you that sacred bottle of wine or that aged Whiskey you had been saving for a special occasion, and enjoy slow sips from. It was an event that had the concept of a picnic; folks would come with their shukas and lessos and blankets, spread them on the soft grass, unwrap their packed lunch, pop their bottles of wine, and dine and wine with loved ones, all the while listening to mature music; music you didn’t need to shake your ass to, to enjoy; music you just had to move slowly to, groove with it’s rhythm, and if you were a poor dancer like myself, all you had to do was shake your head from your seat. Nice and easy.
But last year, Blankets & Wine sort of took a sabbatical from the Kenyan events scene. We waited but it never came. We waited some more – until it almost felt like what Raila goes through before election results are announced – but still, we got nothing. Instead, they took it down to Museveni’s home turf. Sources claim the sabbatical was caused by slight disagreements between Muthoni The Drummer Queen and one of her silent partners, a well-known billionaire businessman in the region. The businessman is said to have later come up with his own event to rival Blankets & Wine. When asked for comment – early this year – by some local daily on the validity of these rumors, Muthoni is reported to have said, “Blankets & Wine is unstoppable. We’re coming back this year, bigger and better.” Well, come back they did. Bigger and better they are. I mean, while some guys are bringing in Ali Kiba and sijui Koffi Olomide, Blankets & Wine is bringing in kina Aloe Blacc. You can’t argue with that.
I’m strolling into Ngong Racecourse circa 11 a.m. this past Sunday with my usual Photographer; Sammie Andre. I’m in light blue Khaki trousers and some checked long-sleeved shirt [not the best outfit for a Sunday event but what the hell], Sam is in a white Good Vibes T-shirt, a trench coat and jeans [with a bag carrying his camera hunched to his back] I have been to Racecourse exactly twice my whole life; during Jameson Live and for some photo shoot I was invited to. Sammie says he’s been here twice as well, both times on duty. So this would make the third time for both of us. Look at that, what are the odds? We are here today for the 59th edition of Blankets & Wine. Before today, we had only heard – and read – about it. We don’t know what to expect, we’re just hoping it’ll have been worth getting off bed on a Sunday – and abandoning ‘Lucifer’ series – for.
Numbers are slowly streaming in. A few Land Cruisers and Range Rovers and Subarus can be spotted in the parking lot. An ambulance and a firetruck are parked on either side of the entrance, in case shit hits the pan, and you can even hear some chap in a blue suit howling on his iPhone, “Come straight ahead after passing the cemetery, you will see some ka-billboard inscribed Ngong Racecourse up ahead. Find a nice spot to park that Mercedes and find me inside bwana.” In all honesty, I’m beginning to feel a little out of place. Chaps here are sharply dressed and holding onto gorgeous lasses with accents; it’s kind of like being the only person who wants Chapo-Madondo in a table-full of Pizza enthusiasts. You feel like you’re not wanted; like you’re a plague. Son of Were is a very simple man, my wardrobe is pathetic, and so is my hair cut. I board matatus and drop whiskey in my coffee and watch ‘The Blacklist’. The one thing I do not do is dress sharply. Okay, and listen to Adelle. That woman nearly destroyed my life after my last break up.
And, like I’ve said a gazillion times before, I do not bring ladies to events like these, and not just because the entrance fee is 3000 baab, but because of all the other things I would have to buy after paying that entrance fee. I mean, soft drinks, whine, Pizza, chicken, popcorn, hell, even, clothes. And attitude. So I roll up alone – or with my Photographer – and I enjoy the music, then when it’s time to go back home, I hurl my ass home. No fuss.
I had heard that this was going to be Just A Band’s last show as a group. That they would be taking a two-year break after this, to focus on individual projects. So when Sam and I ran into one-third of the group – Daniel Muli – I asked him what the cause of the break up was and he just beat about the bush. He said, “It’s not really a break up, it’s more of a time out, you know, to focus on our own things.” Which is, basically, what every group that’s breaking up says, ask Camp Mulla and P-Unit. “But for two years? Isn’t that a little too long?” I push. He gives me the most vague answer anyone could ever say. Ati, “It is, but then again, it’s really not.” Is it just me or is that just the shittiest response ever? Si that is one of those break up lines you tell to a nagging woman? A woman that wants to come over all the damn time but just won’t let you smash, sindio?
Scores of people have arrived by now. There are white guys – with their families – and, you know, regular black folk, smoking Shisha and holding glasses of booze. There are groups of light skinned ladies drinking Chardonnay and eating burgers at the V.I.P section. They look like the type of ladies who buy their own drinks in a club. Those types of ladies that don’t need a man to take care of them. The kind that say a whole bunch of nothings about being Independent and call themselves Feminists even though they haven’t the slightest idea in the devils balls what that means. The kind you walk up to and say, ‘Hey, you look nice’ and they roll their eyes and say, ‘I know.’ The kind you really want to punch on the chest but you remember FIDA will come for your broke ass.
There are tents all over the place. There is a PWC tent somewhere, there is a HelloFood tent somewhere, there is a Afri-Na-Ladi tent somewhere, there is a WhatsGood Live tent somewhere, but the sexiest of all is the Ciroc tent. They have these neat white seats in their tent, plus half a dozen or so beautiful lasses in tiny shorts walking around, that just make you weak on the knee and invite you in. But you don’t go in because maybe they might bring you a double of their vodka and Lord knows that bill would send your whole family towards bankruptcy. So you walk onward. Towards the backstage. Guys, let me tell you this first hand, like Sam puts it, there’s no greater joy than trying to get through to the backstage at a high-profile event but the bouncer holds you off and tells you you’re not allowed back there, so you just whip out your ‘All Access’ wrist band to his face and watch as he crumbles and apologizes and tries to kiss your ass. You feel like pinching his nose and telling him, “Know people,” but the last person that did that to a security personnel is now out of a job, so you just smile and pat him one the back and say, “It’s Okay Boss. It’s Okay.”
When Mayonde gets on stage, the first thing you notice is not her curves, or her figure hugging dress, or her boot [pun unintended]; it’s her smile. You can tell a lot about somebody by their smile. You can tell if someone is happy, sad, broke, or just undergoing a dry spell by how they smile. Mayonde has an amazing smile. If I were married to Mayonde, we wouldn’t even have to talk when I was sad. I’d just ask her to smile and everything would be Okay. And I’m not one to put my hands in the air for a performing act but for Mayonde I did. You just can’t resist it, her voice has such kind of power over you. It soothes your soul, and makes you feel like giving yourself up to her, so she can do as she pleases with you [hopefully something dirty, hehe]
Whatever happens to Just A Band, these guys are still the Shit. I don’t care if Sauti Sol perfoms for Obama or the Queen, they will never be as good – or even half as creative – as Just A Band. That’s all I will say about that.
Khaligraph Jones and Kagwe Mungai were supposed to join Muthoni on stage during her set. Before their time came, Sam and I are talking to Khaligraph backstage about music. I ask him why they excluded U.B from the ‘Iz Vipi’ video and he goes;
“The only thing that sets you apart in this industry is discipline, my man. The guy never showed up for the shoot. On the day of the video shoot, I was in Bondo for a show myself. And I caught the first flight back immediately the show ended and I went on set. But U.B stays hapa Nairobi West and he can’t show up for a bloody video shoot? C’mon. I don’t have a problem with drinking, as long as you do it responsibly and have your priorities correct man.”
“So you’re saying you don’t drink?”
“I don’t. And it really pisses me off to see artists mess themselves up on stage, because then whole world believes all artistes are like that. And that gets to me because there are those of us that don’t roll like that. Mimi ntaanza tu kupiga wasanii hapa Kenya waache ujinga.”
When Khaligraph says something like that, you don’t know whether he’s just joking or he’s really serious. Because he says it with a straight face, and he’s tall, burly, and dark as night. Khaligraph is the kind of guy that can diss you in the studio and still come whop your ass in your house. So you don’t really laugh, you just chuckle and move on.
“About this beef you and Octopizzo have, is that personal or it’s just business?”
“At some point it was personal, but right now it’s purely just business. He’s not on my level, I’m not even looking at the Kenyan market anymore. But, the bottom-line always is, Octopizzo and I can never be friends. Never.”
Then the mood of the conversation changes and he starts asking Sam and I the questions. He stares at us for a second and asks “So, what gossip blog do you guys work for?” and we say, “Just personal blogs, basically.” Then he asks, “How’s that going for you? These guys paying you well?” I smile and say, “Well, we get by.” And then he notices my phone charging from a power bank and he jokes, “Well, my nigga, if you can afford a power bank in Nairobi then you must be doing quite well.”
Muthoni Drummer Queen does not take her performances lightly. She shows up and she shows out. She sings and she raps and she dances, all in one set. She even had Khaligraph and Kagwe singing and dancing along to ‘Nai Ni Ya Who’ backstage for a while there. And she came with a full band, dancers, and a choir bana. No kidding, she has this choir that calls themselves ‘The Individuals’. It consists of about three ladies and two men, and those guys sing so wonderfully they make you want to repent all your sins and accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. They sang this song titled, ‘No Man, No Cry’ that ironically, only made me feel like shedding a tear. It was beautiful.
And then came the man everyone paid an arm and a leg for; Aloe Blacc. And, I swear this is not a diss, but Aloe looks like your ordinary Luo friend who comes from somewhere on the shores of Seme, except he has an accent. Like myself [ahem] he doesn’t dress sharply. He had on an official black shirt and trouser, and shoes you can fetch at Ksh. 1000 in Gikomba. And I know I’m not supposed to say this about a another man, but I love Aloe Blacc. He’s simple and cool and, shit, brother can dance. And when I say dance I don’t mean Dab, I mean really move his feet. At one point he was talking about Nairobi traffic and he was saying how L.A is cool and there’s no traffic. Then he said, “One of these days I should invite some of you guys in L.A to experience how smooth traffic goes. But we gon’ need one or two white people in the car, just in case the cops pull us over.” I thought that shit was hilarious. I even laughed just typing that statement, seriously.
Aloe Blacc is easily one of my favorite artists at the moment. Because at a time when guys are trapping and shit, he still writes and sings from the soul. Aloe Blacc is The Man, and not just because he sings it, but because he says things like, “A Hit Song is not a song that tops the charts, but a song that Hits you every time you hear it.”
PHOTOS: SAMMIE ANDRE PHOTOGRAPHY