Monday, December 24, 2007

This will not win me friends back home..

..but what I would give to be cold right now.. It’s corking hot, and until I get the scuba gear on, the outdoors is a no-go zone between mid-morning and late afternoon. I hide under my industrial-strength AC unit in my room, sipping a Dois M beer..

Perhaps the reason I’m so relaxed is that I’m avoiding the usual Xmas shopping nightmare! Sorry all those at home! Anyway, my usual haunt in the neighbourhood is Mimmo’s, an Italian / Portuguese restaurant next door to my hotel, with a large semi-open area around the edge which seems to quite effectively capture the limited breeze which stops me from passing out in the humidity. After a couple of days I work out that the menu is in English if you turn it over, which is helpful.

Irene, my friend from the Tanzanian embassy, pops over to say hello. For reasons unknown to the author, I am not allowed to show a photo of her face. Either the mafia are after her, or she has a very net-savvy boyfriend. So here are her feet instead! I think it’s the first time I’ve taken photos of a woman’s feet. Strangely exciting. Let me just use the internet, now, I’m sure there are some sites that may be of interest…

Irinah sings the Africa Bar
Yesterday evening I went out to Africa Bar with Edma. Waiting for her outside her house, I chatted with the security guard of the next building. In Portuguese. When people have zero English I do have a way of making myself understood in native speak, but this usually only works in these desperate situations, and is undoubtedly aided by alcohol.

We walk down to Africa Bar. It’s one of only three or four nightspots in Maputo. We get there shortly after 10pm, and find it’s not even open yet! When we’re in finally, we are the first customers. It’s a smart venue, popular with expats, one room with a stage at the back, bar running the length of the left-hand side, above which they’ve built a mezzanine floor which I expected to be full of sofas and chairs. It had two up there!

A couple of pints of Dois M later, and having gone through the usual British bore explanation of how unacceptable these measures would be in England “One would demand a top-up!”, some of Edma’s friends turn up, including Irinah, who is singing tonight, and who looks remarkably similar to my friend Mimi in Botswana. She appears to be moderately famous in Mozambique, as she has printed postcards of herself, for a do sponsored by mCel, the main mobile operator here.

Strangely for such a cool bar, the music is terrible! A very bad DJ, if there is one at all (perhaps not, I couldn’t see anyone), is playing easy listening stuff – Louis Armstrong’s Wonderful Life gets played *twice* in the evening. Seriously! Anyway, the bar remains relatively empty, and finally the band set up at about midnight, having lots of problems with sound which were to plague them through the rest of the night – apparently the sound technician was absent.

The band kicked off with a set before Irinah and the other vocalists joined them. The music was Afro-Jazz, a fast funky mix of keyboard, guitar and drums that frankly without the vocals I find a bit tedious. When Irinah joins them though, it picks up, with her powerful voice and cheesy but enthusiastic dancing reminding me of Sia!

Irinah on the left

For the next song two more singers head up, both very tall and thin, and apparently they’re a couple! Very sweet, to see them before the microphones singing and dancing in step. The set is good, though towards the end I can’t understand why I’m having trouble staying awake, not realising that it’s gone 3am, and is 4am by the time I’m home.

I have to say that so far (not having experienced much) I am not overly impressed with the Maputo nightlife. Considering that it’s the holiday season, and summertime, I expected the whole city to be a steaming mass of funky clubs, full of beautiful people sipping caipirinhas and dancing in ways that I as a white boy could not aspire to. Irinah says people here simply don’t have money to be going out every weekend, especially to places like this.

For the last drink, something strange happens. I buy a beer for Edma and a Red Bull for me (remember the staying awake issue I was having?). He tells me straight off it will 120 Meticals. I hand over, and I’m fairly sure of this, a 200 note. Suspiciously he runs it up on the till at the far end of the bar, the one I wouldn’t be able to see if my eyesight wasn’t so good. It comes to 90M. Hello, methinks. But then he brings me change as if I’d given him a 500 note. I frowned at the change he gave me, but he assured me in Portuguese that it was fine, and I wasn’t up to trying to explain what I suspected, given that he had overcharged me anyway. Oh well..

Other random observations around the city: Banks across the city all host enormous queues for their ATMs at the moment. Perhaps it’s payday for everyone before Xmas. Or is it always like this? Quite literally at every single bank there are never less than 15 people queuing, often many more. Supermarkets seem to stock mostly Portuguese wine, which is strange given how close we are to the South African border. I haven’t seen any panettone! How can I celebrate Xmas without light fluffy Italian cake?! Maputo is really too damn hot now the clouds have gone. And my hair is getting seriously fluffy. Am ploughing on with the delightful tome of HW Tilman’s adventures.

Irene with newly-lengthened hair

Nucleo d’Art
One block away from where I was looking for it a couple of days ago, we find the trendy art / café / bar venue Nucleo d’Art. We pay 40M each entry, and inside find Edma’s good friend Leonie, from Germany, with another German and Japanese friend. I go to the bar, which seems to be radiating heat somehow, and order beers. I ask for a caipirinha for myself, which they have on their bar menu (I always have to point it out though, they never understand me when I say it), and the guy reluctantly agrees, then proceeds to serve everyone else after me. As I can see this drink will be a long time coming, I switch to beer. I’m not standing in front of this oven of a bar for longer than I have to.

Outside, live funky music is playing, and a few people are jerking about unpredictably in some sort of dance, though given the wide berth they are being allowed, I’m not sure how much the surrounding audience appreciate the art form. The band doesn’t last much longer though, and we’re back to DJ music as we enjoy our beers and chat. These girls are all long-termers here in Mozambique – the Japanese girl has been here a year, the other German half way into six months, and Leonie a while too. She’s off to Namibia in a couple of days, much to Edma’s distress.

There’s something going on at Kampfumo, a venue I’ve wanted to visit for a while, tonight. I talk everyone into going down there. Wilson, a chap who joined us, drives us in his car. We do four in the back, which is supposedly illegal, and a bribe to the police if there’s a check. It’s strange that alcohol is legal in public, seatbelts are not required, mobiles are fine, but squeeze four in the back? You’re nicked! It’s clear the rules are not about safety and all about squeezing people for money. When we arrive, we’re told that the entry fee for Kampfumo is 200M per person, though this gets talked down to 100 somehow.

Kampfumo, a Trainspotter’s Nightclub
Kampfumo has to be one of the coolest bars I’ve ever been to. Why? Because it’s actually in the middle of the main train station of Maputo. As in, it’s between two platforms, using the waiting room type buildings. It’s so authentic it even has trains sitting in the platforms adjacent, the bouncers stand and collect “ticket money” at the entrance to the platform, and homeless people sleeping at the far end! I actually didn’t notice it when I visited before because I didn’t realise how “in” the station it was. Normally the action goes on inside, primarily jazz, but tonight, 340ml are playing, a local band that are resident in South Africa, and are presumably back for Xmas.

Confusingly, the venue is listed as Mfumo’s in LP. When we turn up, the venue is already full of people, with a good mix of colours and plenty of attractive girls. All the girls we were with seemed to be having some sort of relationship trouble. I talked with Wilson about the imbalance, with there being plenty more girls than boys in Mozambique clubs. Or as Edma puts it, “too many beeatches”!

The band finally comes on, believe it or not, at 2:45am!!! Their music is quite good, a blend of reggae and something faster – ragga perhaps, with most of the lyrics in English. It’s not really dance music, more sway or shake a bit music. Still, it’s good.

Just as the band was launching into one of their favourite songs, with the crowd cheering as they recognised the opening bars, a power outage kicked in and the whole district, or perhaps city, went dark. It took only a minute or two though for generator power to restore action. Soon afterwards, and in some books more serious, was that they ran out of beer. Full stop. Not clever for the venue’s finances as much as anything else.

Heading out as they wound up, I presume we’re walking home. Are you crazy, says Edma? It’s so dangerous. I don’t feel so, at least not sticking to the main roads. I can see that walking down the quieter streets lower down would be stupid, but straight up and across on 24th July? I feel it would be fine. Still, better to go with local advice. A taxi home is 100M. It’s 4am now. I suggest we go on to Coconuts, the main club in Maputo. Edma doesn’t rule out the possibility, but in the end I do, thinking sleep should take priority over catching the tail end of a club night.

Had we gone, we would have bumped into Irene (pronounced Ee-ren-eh), who pops by the next day. Was a good night at Coconuts apparently, with lots of live Mozambicano music. I am surprised when Irene says she likes Marmite. When I feed her some, she and I realise this was a mistake as her pretty smile turns into a grimace! My mate, Marmite!

Chris Berry and his Mbira at Nucleo d’Art
In the evening, I meet Leonie and Chisa, and we go with Irene to Nucleo d’Art, where Chris Berry is playing.

Who? Chris is an American who spent many years in Africa learning music, in particular the djembe and Mbira (Zimbabwean thumb piano). He’s now taken this back to the US with his band and project, Panjea. The music is beautiful, uplifting African tribal music, of the kind that on hearing you cannot help but dance.

"He possesses a unique and reedy voice like Sting, a stage presence like James Brown, and lyrical content reminiscent of Bob Marley." - New York Press

Here’s the spiel from their website:
The powerful groove and socially conscious message of Panjea has its roots in the ghettos of Zimbabwe, where Berry learned to play the mbira and began commingling hip-hop and dancehall beats with traditional African rhythms. Berry's music was an instant hit in Zimbabwe (and later in Mozambique, Australia and elsewhere) though at first few Zimbabweans believed that his indigenous-sounding music was created and performed by a 23-year-old white man from America.

The music features lyrics that challenge the listener. It speaks of personal power, the ability to change one's own life and the world for the better (Are You Ready??, and admonitions to those who would try to keep people from realizing their potential (Snake In The Grass? Rock It Down?, sung in both English and Shona, the native language of Zimbabwe. The foundation for these vital themes is a combination of African and American rhythms laid down by the drummer Chris Eddleton, mandolinins/singer Michael Kang, Zimbabwean guitarist Zivanai Masango and the virtuosic djembe and Mbira (Zimbabwean thumb piano) of Chris Berry. An exclamation point to the music is provided by the electrifying horn section who complete the band's sound with precision lines and an almost psychic response to Berry's energetic singing, dancing, and playing.

Really wonderful, I strongly recommend you check them out!

Malangatana and Mousse
Next we head together over to Piri Piri for a nightcap of… chocolate mousse and tea! Marvellous! Leonie tries to fight her destiny, pretending that she didn’t want any mousse, but I notice her bowl was empty by the end too!

Leonie also pointed out that eating on the next table to us was Malangatana Ngwenya,

possibly one of the most famous artists in Africa. Hopefully I’ll get to see his work when I get round to visiting the National Art Museum (and when they decide to be open).

Last job of the night, making sure all the girls get home. Another police check on the streets, where an armed officer pours over my documents, with only a cursory glance and my local friend’s ID card. More money in foreigner bribes, right?

Anyway, again, I feel safer than everyone makes the city out to be. Strange. The girls all keep telling me to take taxis and not to walk. However, the only attacks I have suffered so far are the plagues of mosquitoes one finds. Keep taking those anti-malarial pills…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So now you what Kampfumo has in common with Reading - they *both* have pubs on the platforms (Reading's is on platform number 4, if memory serves me well). Happy new year, and keep having fun!