When I saw the lineup, I literally screamed with joy. “This cannot be happening. We are not ready for all this fire on one stage in one day”, I exclaimed while looking at the event poster of the first Godown Gig of 2019.
Because of this, that first Saturday of the month became my first time to arrive early at Godown Arts Centre in South B. I could not afford to miss any performance.
It was 4.30pm with no live music, yet the gig was supposed to start at 3. Kenyans.
To kill time, I found a familiar face in the vicinity. My friend and I had an interesting discussion with Benga legend Makadem about Luo culture and history – he was doing most of the talking. He also shared his thoughts about Ayub Ogada’s tribute concert.
By the time this cultural conversation ended, the live music had started. Serro was on stage serenading her true fans huddled on the dancefloor. I caught her in the middle of her Luo song Aheri, already having missed my favourites Rongai and Mtumwa.
As always, she completely owned the Godown Gig stage with her infectious humour and charismatic stage persona. Then she introduced the next song, a soulful tribute to her mother. Mama reminded me of my own loving mother – it was her birthday that day. It almost sent me to tears.
Bidding them back, I proudly sang along to Okello, the only song I knew from this set. You always hear something new at her shows.
Approaching the end of her vibrant set, she invited the shy bystanders on the side to fill up the dancefloor for a rumba style jam. And they did, showing off their rumba dance moves while displacing us who were front row just a few minutes ago.
The climax was a Kamba style song wooing a guy called Kasyoki. Her band, The Charactaz, delivered an uptempo Benga beat while Serro declared that she doesn’t mind eating mothokoi in a heavy Kamba accent. The Afrofusion star then led the ecstatic crowd to do the kwata kawaya and other familiar Kenyan dance styles.
It was something like Sherehekea by Fadhilee. I was moved to tears by this folk charade. Authentic Kenyan music is here, and young stars like Serro have truly embraced it.
After all that laughing and dancing, it was time to stop and breathe. I stepped out of the dim hall to buy a refreshing drink outside. And a button written #KenyaReggae with the Kenyan flag and rasta colours decorating it. Nanda from the Kenyan reggae band Mighty Zionites explained it was in support of homegrown reggae music. Because yes, there is sweet reggae music made in Kenya.
The button is now a staple at all live reggae events in Nairobi.
After the short music break, it was time for Le Band baby. Ladies screams filled the air as the stage came alive once again. I stood outside reluctant to pierce through the now crowded hall. It was the sultry Number One that finally drew me in.
The stage was minus Suzziah plus a lot of eager dancers from the audience. You could feel the high energy in the air with the three lads urging their fans to sing along. But the quality of their live performance and voices was incomparable to Serro’s.
Before jumping into their last song, Bien, sorry Fidel, announced that this was their last show for a while. They are taking a break to do their own individual projects. When’s the last time we heard that?
I think it’s a good thing. They can take this time to find their authenticity as artists rather than being Sauti Sol part 2.
For the last performers of the gig, I was willing to squeeze myself between hordes of pumped up kids and risk something disappearing (no it didn’t happen). Thanks to my courageous friends, I found myself right in the heart of the dancefloor. H_art The Band in front, speakers on the side. The perfect spot for what was coming next.
You could tell everyone was here for this revolutionary Kenyan band. Walisema mapenzi ni kikohozi, that’s my favourite song – someone exclaimed. But it couldn’t be because Cool Down came next and it failed to cool us down with that hypnotizing reggae beat and psychedelic guitar riff.
By the third song we were screaming like we all just got engaged at the same time. It was a riot and they were the inciters. They said jump and we did just that.
It was like their H_art Unplugged concert at Alchemist – minus personal space.
Let me be honest. I got a little distracted from the live music thanks to wild drunk dancers jumping like Maasai men, and pushover nomads migrating from place to place. All this time H_art The Band controlled the riled up crowd with their sheer energy and heartfelt music. The Kenyan band later mellowed it down with For You and Rosella (mi najiuliza).
And then there was Uliza Kiatu.
Even before Mordecai could finish the first line we all joined him. And ended up singing the first verse and chorus together, choir style. The look of admiration and satisfaction on their faces was evident. Every musician’s dream.
They had a couple of surprises lined up for us on this special night. First, they invited another talented Kenyan band who are just as impressive with their authentic Kenyan music. It was the first time for many of us to hear P.D.A. (Pea Dem Attention) featuring Kaskazini – the urban fusion trio who recently won at the Cafe Ngoma Awards 2018. And who recently charmed us at the intimate Uani by Serro event.
And instead of inviting strangers to dance with him on stage like at Thursday Nite Live at Js, Dex opened up the floor to upcoming rappers. With this young easygoing crowd, volunteers popped up easily. They shot bars which you barely heard due to the wild cheering after the second line. It wasn’t about lyrics, it was about style. And everyone had their own. Even the shortest guy I saw that day brought a big punch.
Meanwhile, the only female rapper who showed up impressed us with her effortless flow. You could see it in everyone’s faces.
MC Cindy Ogana escorted the confident rappers off stage in case they wanted to extend their 15 seconds of fame. Time was up. However, his memo didn’t reach some freestylers who were still coming up when the last ones were leaving. After everyone got their chance to shine, H_art The Band delivered their final song. Tunaifanya tena na tena na tena. Hands waved up and down like it was a Biggie concert. We all let loose without a care of who was standing next to you.
But even after their 2018 hype anthem, we still wanted one more song. So did Cindy. They finally blessed us with their comeback single of 2019 to everyone’s joy and relief. Usiseme no no no. Thank God they didn’t.
The last part of the Godown Gig was a bit unnecessary. Cindy decided to call out Gilad in the audience who was just like any other attendee coming to have fun. And made him sing a bit of his breakout hit Unajua, acapella style.
Even after that, the crowd still wasn’t satisfied so he did another one I can’t quite remember. If it was about calling out talented musicians in the building, she could have invited plenty. But I left the hall as soon as DJ Kelv 254 took over the speakers with “geuka nikubeng”.
Outside it was almost 9pm. I reunited with all the friends I had lost during this frenzy that was Godown Gig. We exchanged notes on our favourite performances and why – we were in consensus – and how many Godown Gigs we’ve attended before.
One thing is clear: they were never as wild and highly attended as this one (Kidum’s was the closest one). Maybe it was because everyone came out to celebrate the end of Njaanuary. Plus you can’t help but H_art The Band.
Despite the unusually crazy crowd and pretty far away location, we always come back to Godown Gig tena na tena. It has become a monthly meeting place for all strains of Kenyan musicians and fans. Guitarists, percussionists, singers, managers, journalists, high school kids. And what brings us together is our love for live Kenyan music.
Plus we don’t know how long we shall have access to the Godown Arts Centre. You’ve probably heard that Godown is transforming from a rundown warehouse into a world-class public art complex with state of the art facilities. Basically a dream we always wished we had as Kenyan artists.
During the past 15 years, Godown has graciously housed visual art studios, artist workshops, music studios like Ketebul Music, and its monthly live concerts since 2012. It’s about time for this major upgrade.
As you can imagine, this requires big money and the Godown staff have raised half the amount for phase 1. All they need now is help from the public who will use this multi-disciplinary arts space in the future. 500 bob tu. Or the price of a cool Godown Transforms button designed by one of Kenya’s top visual artists.
If everyone who reads this contributes 500 shillings only, we would see this epic transformation much sooner.
In the meantime, the Godown Gig is going down once again this weekend. Soulful reggae by Zikki, tantalizing Swahili pop by Idd Aziz, and crazy benga by Ricky na Marafiki. Let us find out whether March’s music lineup will match up.
Photos courtesy of Quaint Photography