‘Club Afrique has been good for me,’ Eric Wainaina said. ‘Because it’s your home audience that really inspires you. It may seem a paradox – but the more specific you are in writing your songs, the more general appeal you can have. Here, for example, I’m talking about corruption in Kenya – and then someone in Russia might say, “OK, you’re singing about something in Kenya – but I know exactly what you’re on about.”’
‘For me as a musician, it just seems wrong not to be playing regularly on my home ground. It’s good that people know that every Sunday evening, if they wish, they can come and hear me and my band.’
And so it was that last Sunday Eric put on a special performance in celebration of his first anniversary at Club Afrique.
It is a good venue, too. Perhaps in daylight the place would look quite tawdry; but in the soft lights of after dark, it has quite a romantic air. And, with its double tier, its boxes and niches, it has an intimate feel. It is the kind of place that must seem fairly full when it is less than half empty.
Not that it was only half empty last Sunday. There was a good crowd, a mixed crowd and a very appreciative crowd. Eric entertained with some of his old romantic songs – and, especially, the small dance floor filled for his Ritwa Riaku. His dancing, too, is very special: with his dreadlocks hanging or shaking, he can switch from a limp rag doll to an arm punching soldier of black power.
He enticed us, too, with some of the songs that will be on the CD, Love and Protest, to be released next October.
At the turn of the year there were so many hell’s angels let loose in Kenya. Well, Eric is certainly one of the country’s good angels. And now more than ever Kenya needs his songs of protest – against the leadership of corrupt and greedy old men. Here are some of the words from one of the new songs, a call to the youth, ‘Sir, Me Sir!’
Young people are whispering
Talking in low voices
Grandmothers are praying
Old men are meeting
Who will brave the rain?
Sir, me sir!
Who will call the dawn?
Sir, me sir!
Who will climb the mountain?…..
And speaking of old men, of which I am one, Eric told me this salutary story the other day when I was interviewing him – a story of a clan whose elders, when they reached a certain age, would just go and jump off a cliff!
Leadership, of course, is the core theme of Eric’s musical Luanda – a tale of exploitation set in a Nairobi slum – which was taken up by the Uraia civic education programme, with over fifty performances across the whole country, playing in market places, community halls and schools. Now, the great news is that Eric will be taking Luanda in August to the Edinburgh Festival and on an extended tour of the UK.
So Eric will not be playing at Club Afrique for another two months. But there will still be Sunday night performances by other musicians – for those of you who would like to end the weekend with what Eric calls a ‘polite’ or ‘non-crazy’ night out. (The shows end at 11 pm, by the way – so you don’t have to worry too much about botching the Monday morning beginning of the week’s work.)
Meanwhile, look out for Love and Protest when it comes out in October with a launch at Club Afrique.