The call comes in one lunch hour when I’m chowing. It’s a friend of mine. The same one who recommended the book The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. A book I reviewed here and one which failed to expose its true spirit to me.
“Do you know Kidum?”
I don’t know Kidum from Adam (ignore the pun), but I know about him as much as I know about nuclear science.
“I know he sings. Why?”
“Well this guy is phenomenal,” she cries, “I’m at the salon and they are playing his songs, I think you should review his album for the newspaper!”
Here is the rub. I frequently review movies for the dailies. Sometimes I will also review an odd play. But I have never really quite reviewed music before. The reason I have never quite picked an album to review is because I don’t find local music engaging enough. To review an album you got to listen to its twelve or so tracks. Sometimes you got to listen to it many times. There is nothing as dreadful as listening to a bad album (and many are indeed wanting) for two days in order to find its traction. Besides our local artists release an album after every lunar eclipse. So I give local artists a decent berth and stick to music that has some consistency because I love consistency.
“Well, maybe… why not,” I tell her, but just to get her off the phone.
She offers to give me Kidum’s album to listen to. I say sawa and pick the album from her the next day and picking that album is probably the best thing I’ve done this month.
For the whole of that week I listened to little else but Kidum. I was sold. The songs were indeed beautifully done. They were euphoric. They swallowed you whole. I can’t remember any time I was excited about any local artist like I was about this guy’s songs. I listened to him in traffic, I listened to him when I wrote, I uploaded him on my iPod and listened to him at 5am while I jogged. Even when I wasn’t listening to him, his tracks did a playback in my subconscious. In short, Kidum’s album is easily the best local artist I have listened to. Ever!
I had to review this album.
I called my editor and sold it to him. But that Friday some cat called Phillip beat me to the punch by doing a feature on him. What was left was to garnish his album review with his performance. He, as I was told, perfoms at Rafikiz pub, Langata, every Wednesday.
But one little thing about reviews though. I submit that you got to be pretentious to review anything; a book, a play, a movie, a performance. Pretentious because by dissecting someone’s art you basically sell yourself as an authority. By reviewing someone’s art you are saying, “I know.” So you have someone like me reviewing a play and saying it’s full of batshit yet I’ve never been a director or a producer or even an actor. It’s terribly conceited, but so much fun. Thing with reviews, though, is that they are very subjective which doesn’t really mean they are accurate. Which makes it fine I guess because opinions are personal, aren’t they? The other day I went online and someone had written something mean about something I wrote, did I feel bad? Yes, I wanted to commit suicide, but I didn’t. It was their opinion. I consoled myself that maybe they were drunk when they wrote it or maybe they had been dumped that morning, or maybe they suffer from premature ejaculation and they are sad and pathetic, who knows? People will always lash out at you when they are having a bad day. Trick is not to jump off a building.
Wednesday the missus and I rock up at Rafikiz pub. Time check 8.12pm. Rafikiz pub is all right. It might have parking for only two Toyota Vitz, but it’s all right. There is hardly ever running water in the johns, but it’s all right. I don’t know about the ladies room, but in the little boys room there is usually just enough room to swing a cat in. Rafikiz isn’t belabored by the hackneyed eurocentrism of its “sister” Bachus bar in Westlands, a pub that, although only a few minutes’ drive from my house – and so should be ideally my home pub of choice if only for its proximity – has not been able to entice me enough due to its plasticity.
Rafikiz pub has a cool enough retro décor, and it’s livelier and lighter than the dark and ominous pit that is Psys bar across the fence. But to their credit, the music at Psys always comes through. Up the road there is Rangers bar which sometimes host the Untamed party (do they still have it?) which is a nice plan if you are the kind who doesn’t mind drinking with a frozen nose because it gets damned cold up there. The food, though, is always worth the ice. To complete the night life repertoire along Langata road is Carnivore. You can’t knock Carnivore because that would be like knocking the national anthem, totally seditious. Carni – as it’s called – is a shrine, a sacred land because it’s at Carnivore that I first saw two girls kiss, a memory that still vividly linger in my mind many many years after.
For a hundred shillings, a bouncer gets us seats at the very front, so close to the stage onto which Kidum performs. My boy Moose is holding court here as well, so he drags a chair and joins us. Kidum’s band- the Boda Boda band – consists of a pouty pianist, two guitarists and two female singers. One of the singers stands out, not only because she sings more than the other, but because she is pretty. She has on spectacles which I suspect are meant to hide her eyes. She blushes throughout the perfomnce because I suspect men wink at her and blow her drunken kisses. Moose (who had been ogling at her) at some point during the night will lean into my ear and ask, “What’s the Richter scale on her?”
Now the Richter scale is our own language that we use when we have female company and we don’t want them to catch on to what we are saying. It’s basically a sliding scale of beauty, where ten is gorgeous and zero is an ongongo.
“6.7” I mutter from the corner of my mouth.
“I think a 7.8.” he says as a matter-of-fact.
The band starts with mellow songs, renditions from the past. They do Brandy’s I wonna get down, Mel C’s never be the same
again, some rock track by an old band whose name evades me now, but the song is about the singer asking, “if God had a name would you call him to his name”, and even Madilu System’s Nzomo. Then for the next two hours, and with only one break, he launches into his songs. He sings number Moja, I believe, that gospelly number. Everybody sings along. He sings Haturudi nyuma, a truly beautiful song. Everybody sings along.
He is a drummer, so he sits inconspicuously behind his band, pelting his drums. You can easily miss him, but you won’t because his voice comes through, robust and rich. His voice sucks blood from the room leaving everyone pale but giddy with admiration. He sings some of his songs in his native Burundian language and they melt the room. Drinks are temporarily forgotten. Everybody is on their feet, even the ones with three left feet like yours truly.
Kidum is great because he sings to the soul. He is great because his songs – even though the lyrics might sometimes sound cheesy – offers a new dimension to love, because indeed they are love songs. They aren’t bleeding heart mushy but they have a groove that straddles that club pop beat. Haturudi Nyuma for instance is one of those songs that I want to believe was composed in a rocking boat off the coast of Lamu at sunset. I want to think it’s a song that mirrors a new hope.
During his break I Interviewed him at the darkened parking lot because at the entrance drunks kept staggering into our chat, patting him on the back and telling him how great he was. He remained gracious through all this admiration even though I could tell he relished all that attention. At some point a Caucasian lady showed up with a skinny chick with a mouth on her. She kept jabbering on how her buddy who was visiting from SA loved his music and how he was “the coolest!” She was stars struck, euphoric and very drunk as well. When Kidum told her that I was a journalist and that she had budged in the interview she turned to me for the first time and I was sure she was about to ask me for my opinion on his music but instead she says, “ I have a thing for hats, can you sell me that hat?” I would have, but I was sure that with the copious amount she had drunk she would confuse my hat for a saucer and use it to feed her cat. So I grinned and said, “I can’t, a gift from my gramps.” She didn’t miss a beat, turned back and went on chatting Kidum. Anyway, one of the most memorable quotes Kidum unleashed during the interview was, “My songs are about love because I want to understand love, but to understand love y0u have to experiment with love.” Now that’s a sound bite!
At around midnight he winds up with a slow but amazing song called mapenzi or something. That song took it home. That song wrung out any emotion that was left of the evening. He sings that song like he just discovered love, or like he has come to a realization that he is not worthy of it. His voice is
escorted with a lingering guitar, a guitar tone that drifts through the club like an erotic spasm through the backbone. When he is done, he thanks everyone but there is a mini revolt, people want an encore. He obliges and rises up from his drums where he is seated at the back. He steps up to the microphone and there, this virtuoso sings this track again like a man who is drowning in his own emotion “Kama unanipenda jaribu kunipa raha” he sings.
A chick from the audience walks up to him and holds his left hand with both of her hands. She actually clings onto him. Since Kidum is standing on a slightly raised platform this chick has to then look up to him like he is the messiah. She looks up to him like she has been a bad bad girl and she seeks redemption. The imagery is powerful. She searches his eyes, but Kidum is not looking into her eyes even though he lets her cling onto his hands.
I loved this image because in my mind it illustrated the power of music, the power of lyrics, the power of that guitar. At that precise moment I was confident that woman was in love with him completely and insanely if only for those few moments. The alcohol also helped of course.
When the song crawls to a reluctant end there is ruckus of clapping and cheering. He makes small bow. Then he is gone.