Shows are few and far between nowadays. The last time I was at a real concert was at Alliance Francaise, watching Rash release the video to their new single Sons of Robots. So when this was announced, around three or two weeks to the date I had to place everything else aside and find my way to the Daas Ethiopian Restaurant. Nothing gets in the way of shows as far as I’m concerned, not even football.
The streets are virtually deserted on Saturday evenings. As such, I cut a strange figure running across town never stopping to catch my breath. I’m being careful to avoid coming to a collision with individuals and having to wave off a few demands by the street kids to pay them for being in the CBD on a Sunday.
I was already late for the show, it was 7:15 pm and the jav was still taking ages to fill up. I arrive there, clothes sticking to my body but I’ve never been good with the ladies so it doesn’t matter what I look like or smell like. By the end of the night with all the head banging and the bear hugs it’ll all be the same anyway. I pay for my ticket at the door and ask the lady handing them out as she impresses a stamp on my arm what the turnout is like, she’s bent on assuring me that the event will start soon. I pick a spot among the largely empty seats, outlaid amongst ingeniously repurposed African drums that now function as tables. Rockers have an affinity for lateness, or perhaps it is I that has an affinity for gullibility. The ticket says doors open at seven and my mind sets itself to panic mode. I am constantly afraid of missing out on one of the bands performing.
The bands however are already here. All of them are wearing tags with the name of their bands inscribed. SVNL guys are seated directly opposite me, PLG to the left hand side of me and Rash are seated just next to SVNL with Max and Abedi missing from the bunch. I go over to say hi. Everyone looks cheerful. Resident maniac, Daniel “Bizzarro” Wanyeki is in position with his drinking buddy whose name I never get to catch. We exchange stories of getting robbed after shows. My last ordeal is a year old, and the others unfortunately carry much more fresh wounds. Alcohol is a despicable thing.
Meanwhile Hueskillz the rock DJ is on his spider emblazoned laptop playing a few tunes both local and international. I also get to pull out a few words from Rash’s new bassist Jonah Mwendwa, some pleasantries and a large trove of intricate details about how he joined the band. Can’t remember most of it now, to be honest, only that he was and still is a big fan of Rash. He attended most of their gigs and that is how they met him. A match made in heaven. There was no grand succession plan and no nepotism involved. Or is it nationalism? What’s the one where you pick your own country man to replace you?
There’s also a camera crew around, taking pictures and recording audio for a project called My Africa is. They’ve got fancy equipment but clumsy equipment but it’s taking all the space upfront next to the stage. And considering Daas is a small establishment this is a real dampener because there’s no space for monkey bar antics. What’s worse, they kept pushing guys back for space to shoot and I wasn’t very pleased with that. So there’s no sweating then. No kicks no pushing. No excuse for coming in drenched in perspiration. Everyone will notice that my clothes have been sticking to my body in for unexplainable reasons.
Having been here before, I hadn’t noticed the red carpet that hugs pretty much every corner of the restaurant. It makes the place real cosy and proper. The bar however is a perplexing place. There is this voodoo paraphernalia hanging from the ceiling. It’s beaded and stringy; the beads keep clanging against one another. It’s impossible to understand what sort of effect the owners were hoping to engender.
The bands on this night represent varying aspects of time and place. Parking Lot Grass are necessarily the present forces. Although they can do with a bit of improvement, they are still sufficient. Rash borrow from the strength of the forefathers like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, AC/DC and Judas Priest, reinforcing the foundations of today and bringing hope for a better tomorrow. SVNL on the other hand represent what this kind of alternative scene is. Something greater than anyone of us, unconstrained by time, notions of right or wrong and showing there is indeed no limit to ingenuity.
Parking Lot Grass are first to perform. This is the first time I’m seeing them on stage. Dun their vocalist is in this casual wear sort of the clothing that people who spend countless hours in suffocating suits and clumsy shoes don. You know that type of wear that tells you someone is about to go for a run. That kind. Alistair Gould the lead guitarist looks real menacing. And he looks like the type of guy that never misses leg day. Or traps day. Seems every day is gym day for Alistair. Nick Wathi is on drums. He wears that familiar inscrutable look on his face like he’s always smiling even when you know he’s not. PLGs performance is pretty one paced. Like an interesting topic of great songs that’s quickly undone by the tone of it’s delivery. The sound kept going haywire and Dun looked worn and weary like he’d had his soul drained out of him. Most people evidently haven’t listened to the new album, Tusk At Hand. They choose to play most of the songs from it, unfortunately playing the ones I don’t really care for and leaving out the really choice ones from the bunch.
That dreary run, coupled with the constant bullying from the camera crew really left you feeling under weather but these guys redeemed themselves with performances of Rain Man, Naweza and the cover for P-Unit’s Kare. That really brought the crowd to their feet. Perhaps with time, promotion and with more shows people will identify more with the new set list. It’s never easy to bring out a new set list at a show of this magnitude. You get mixed reception from fans. But all in all it was great seeing these guys on stage again. It wasn’t as damp for everyone because Bizzaro ended up tearing his jeans and for consolation Dun handed him the mic and he sang along with the band providing this really gritty aspect with his gutturals, lows and screams.
SVNL call themselves “Africa’s only Rap Metal band”. I don’t know what the validity of that claim is. Maybe I’ll investigate. They’ve been off the stage for four years which is criminal in anyone’s books I don’t care what the excuse is. I knew very little about while coming for this show. I didn’t know what to expect. But once they came up to the stage, I became an instant and most impassioned adherent.
As much of the perplexity of the collection of voodoo trinkets at the bar finds its resplendent counterparts on stage in the shape of SVNL. There is thrown amidst that calm and collected flow of musical genius, an array of chaotic elements, lines of rap music not altogether concerned with matters of order or rhythm.
From the unaccustomed onlooker, or to be blunt the uninitiated, it is a sackful of noise, a collection of irritants with loud instruments and too much time on their hands and perhaps a case for the lawmakers to consider some form of regulation. But look a little more closely and pose this question to yourself, when have the most profound truths been immediately celebrated? When, I daresay have the pearls ever been cast among the pigs? It took us centuries to accept that the world was round. As such, SVNL’s performance though contrarian and oddball, is beautiful to behold, and enlightening in a way not reconcilable with words or exact phraseology.
It is a wondrous beast of fantasy, both terrifying and pleasant to look at. You stare at it and when you think you are just beginning to lay your faculties in understanding the contours and brushes of its strange manner, SVNL pulls the rug from under your feet. Just like that, with the quick wave of the hand is a change of pace, the music becomes more intense whereas it had just previously been collected and calm. The calm and calculated is the twin extreme of random and petulant chaos.A duality. The sure footed stance of confidence is exchanged with an edgy feeling of uncertainty, like in a dream, falling through a bottomless and cold abyss with every cell in your body as alive as they can ever be.
The Bass and the piano combine to bring out this sound that is exceptionally philosophical yet savage at the same time. There is a probing twang of string here and a brooding array of touches to the keys. The relentless and free spirited drumming, accentuated by odd time signatures that leaves you asking questions like what the purpose of life is, what is the nature of knowledge and other like existential questions?
The faces guys like Sultan and KMO are really saintly at this point in time. That could just be the effects of the beer but don’t take away this moment from me. Kwame Bonsu who does the rap is perhaps the most driven of the lot. By the time the performance ends I’m convinced that this cannot be anything but progressive metal or elements of it. It has a deep psychedelic effect that leaves you very aware of yourself. The blend of the Kwame’s quicksilver and Yaa B’s elegant vocals is an ingenious thing because it works so well. It is both very peacefully soothing and demanding with a mix of rap and clean vocals. There is a lot of intelligence and accomplished technicality, music that even Descartes himself would be proud of.
Rash are again the crowning spectacle of a night with lots of highlights. Memorable moments like the blue moon appearance of Reema Doshi, Murfy’s Flaw’s charming vocalist. I suspect that the effect she has is the same for everyone. The sun does seem to shine when she’s around, even in the darkness. I expected her to be much taller, but she is still as graceful and charming as she looks in the videos. On the way out my ears catch wind of another show being planned with Murfy’s Flaw involved but that’s a story for another day. Before that, I’ll relate how Rash proved themselves Kings of the Rock scene.
Mwendwa Jonah the bassist has purposed to look like R. Kelly with shades to match the neat arrangement of beaded cornrows. His bass playing skills are out of this world, it is a resplendent performance from a guy who I haven’t had the pleasure of watching in close quarters. I won’t talk about Max’s solos anymore because I’ve run out of adjectives to describe what this fellow does. He is still unmatched even when his guitar has popped a string. The Rash train takes every one through the scenic route letting you relish each spectacle that is part of their set list. Whether it’s a cover song, or the various choice pieces from Animal Man to Sons of Robots to the legendary Swahili masterpieces like Sons of Robots and Msafiri, you just can’t get enough of these guys. So much, so that if this moment couldn’t be frozen, then we have to clone these guys. Abedi seems to have been doing this all his life and Gakosh like he’d rather die than be told to leave the drum set. Unfortunately the night has to come to an end and even calls for an encore from the crowd won’t undraw the already closing curtains. I have to collect my thoughts and make some unfortunate souls feel sorry for themselves for having missed such a great show. Another great day at the office for “Heavy and the Beast”, and another day in the life rock scene.
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Photo credits to Samwel “Slammy” Karugu