Music, for me, is almost synonymous with Africa. As the awesome Bushfire Festival kicks off in Swaziland this weekend – without me – I felt it fitting to reflect on the more local arts and music scene of Lusaka. I will cut to the chase and say that Lusaka’s cultural horizons have some room for improvement. This is despite early indications of a good jazz venue in Misty’s, which admittedly played nice instrumental gospel, but only to those with the funds for the required expensive dinner. However, with some digging, my Aussie friends and I have managed to track down some winning evenings of entertainment.
The first of these was a Poetry Slam night at Mulungushi Convention Centre, a monthly event coordinated by the Bitter Sweet Poetry group. Picture a room full of elite, creative University types, and then insert two white people in their mid-30s into that picture. We stood out, but were still welcomed, and wowed by the comedic MC and impromptu poetry performances about love, sex and Jesus – a fascinating combination. This was followed up by jazz numbers sung in Bemba, duets of romance, and the lead act: a supposedly-famous female pop group rounding the night out with some harmonious gospel. What a find!
The second item of artistic splendour happened in my second week in Lusaka, and this time, it came to me. My hotel accommodation at Melsim Lodge, run by Ethiopians, happens to be home to weekly Thursday night salsa parties. Naturally. The salsa night is not just four hours of great latin music danced to by hot Africans, but also offers salsa lessons to those of us who were not fortunate enough to be born with the African musical rhythm gene. In saying that, it was so nice to attend a dancing event where the number of men matched the number of women, and where the men were able to shake their hips with mesmerising finesse and frivolity.
My third artistic adventure – and the most promising for Lusaka – started with a plate of salad at Alliance Francaise. Here I was introduced to Sungai, a French-speaking, Zimbabwean, pseudo-rastafarian dude who is doing his best to instil an arts scene in Lusaka. A theatre and drama man by trade, he has made a number of short films locally and abroad, and is establishing an “Amateur Jam Night” for talented but shy Lusakans needing a confidence boost to take the leap on to the big stage. The Aussie volunteers went to one of these evenings and it did not disappoint. Young people eagerly joined in, or did their best to jostle out, whatever song was happening – from drummers, hip-hop and R&B singers, two-finger keyboardists, and our very own Aussie bass guitarist, Conroy. Australia represent! I guess it should come as no surprise, then, that at the end of that evening, our Conroy was formally recruited to Sungai’s band and two hours later had gigs booked in the local clubs.
Yes, Lusaka has a long way to go to be a cosmopolitan, cultural mecca, but its attempts certainly offer hope. Perhaps it’s time I dug out that harmonica and joined them.