“What are you smoking?” asked the chubby, coated-up Kenyan that had suddenly appeared on the empty rooftop where Rohini and I were smoking a small joint, opposite Treehouse.
We had just wrapped up an awesome night of live Latin music provided by a Latin trio made up of Perrozompopo, Pino and Lucas, fresh off the boat in Kenya.
Chubbs grabbed my wrist and I saw flashes of when I was arrested in Zanzibar for holding a joint. It was easy to joke my way out of that one but I was warned not to get arrested in Kenya. The police aren’t as sympathetic.
“Who are you?” Rohini jumped to her feet as Chubbs grabbed my wrist and took the joint. “Let him go! Don’t you touch him!”
For a minute I thought I needed to step in but Rohini had flipped, going Kung-Fu-Hustle-meets-Chuck-Norris-on-a-bad-hair-day. And Chubbs was on the receiving end. I watched in awe as I slapped away his hand. A second, smaller man had appeared and it seemed that these two were attempting to play good-cop-bad-cop in a Police Academy kinda way.
“Who is your boss?” Rohini demanded. “Who is your employer? What is your name? Identify yourself!”
“It’s OK,” I stood, grinning. “We’re gonna go. You fellas enjoy the joint.”
“You are not going anywhere,” Chubbs grabbed my belt-loop at the base of my tailbone. One thing I hate is being told what I can’t do. The other is being grabbed by a complete stranger with a bad agenda.
Especially by my belt loop at the base of my tailbone.
“Don’t you dare touch him!” Rohini jumped on his arm. Chubbs momentarily held on to my belt loop. Realising that these guys weren’t cops, I assisted his detachment by twisting his wrist back.
“Don’t touch, mate,” I warned with a smile. “Not a good idea.”
I was worried that Rohini was about to slice some throats open. These guys needed protection from her and it appeared that I was their saviour as the second guy stood speechless, having no clue how to handle this backfiring situation.
It was a TIA moment – This is Africa. It happens a lot in crime-opportunistic cities like Nairobi. Shady people see a window and go for it. But they hadn’t counted on – as neither did I – a feisty Indian girl to be ready – and very much willing – to rip off their scrotum and plug their arses with it.
“Don’t you touch him!” she repeatedly yelled in Chubbs face, almost bumping him back with her chest when he went for a second reach.
I noticed his other hand reaching up. Sensing that he was about to earn some wings by being thrown off the rooftop if he so much as moved a hair on Rohini, I grabbed his rising hand, pressing hard on the base where it becomes the wrist, and said calmly,
“Don’t touch her or you won’t make it through the night,” staring him down.
“Come on, let’s go,” I said to Rohini, dragging her towards the stairs to the car park below.
Turns out that Chubbs has a suicidal streak when he made another attempt to grab me just as I called out to our friends piling into a car below.
“Yusuf!” I called down. “Could ya give us a hand, mate?” Chubbs grabbed my belt loop again. I twisted his wrist back to release. “We’re being harassed up here.” I pushed him away. “We’re going, mate. I suggest you do the same.”
Yusuf began to make his way over to the stairs when the two guys suddenly disappeared into the shadows.
“I’m going to find these guys!” Rohini was thirsty for blood as I practically carried her down the stairs kickin’ ‘n’ screamin’. “They took our fuckin’ joint!”
“TIA,” I grinned. “This is Africa.”
“Come on,” said Yusuf, “we’re going to Black Diamond. We’ll meet the guys there.”
The guys were the Latin trio Rohini and I had met at Ata’s place the morning after we arrived in Nairobi. Ata, a Nicaraguian based in Kenya for the last few years, is a talented musician and builder of anything. We became friends through Rohini when he had come down to Kilifi with Julio, our current host, a few weekends back.
Ata had orgainised for his brother, Ramon (Perrozompopo) and two other Latin musicians to come to Kenya for a small tour.
“His brother is a really famous musician in the Latin world,” Rohini explained.
We sat in the driveway of his house on a sunny afternoon. Julio had popped over from work and we met Ramon from Nicaragua, Pino from Cuba and Lucas from Spain. Guitars were whipped out faster than at a Mexican stand-off and the jam began.
A cahon box-drum appeared as did small bongo drums. Instruments were passed around, swapping hands. Latin songs were sung with moving emotion. Although I was surrounded by singer\songwriters at the top of their talent, I was invited to jam out some of my covers which they didn’t seem to mind.
They even jammed along with my version of Radiohead’s Streetspirit.
I leaned over to Rohini. “I can’t believe this,” I whispered. “I’m in Nairobi.
Jamming some Latin tunes with Latin musicians!”
The next day we returned for some more jams. Ata had organised a Latin night at The Bus, a dance bar in Nairobi that had an original double-decker London red bus parked in front of the bar. It had been converted into a smoking lounge and office space.
Ata placed me at the door to handle the money and tickets and promote Saturday’s big gig at Treehouse. Rohini worked the Latin food service. I figured it being a Latin night, I’d get into character.
I wore bell-bottom jeans, a purple button-up shirt and my fedora. Then came the Latino accent. I broke out of character when people asked me where I was from. Surprised at the large Latin community residing in Nairobi I played it safe and resumed my thick Aussie accent.
“You do a good Latino,” some praised, scratchin’ their heads in confusion as they headed to the bar.
“And remember to stretch if you’re gonna dance salsa,” I said in Latino. “You could break a hip bone.”
“Only if you promise to dance with me,” some ladies would giggle as they strutted off to shake some hips.
The Latin music tore me away from the door every now and again as I danced with Rohini who took time away from the kitchen. Imitating a salsa move that I never learned I managed to make it look like my hips were Brazilian. The party ended at about one in the AM. We continued the night at Havanna’s. Ro and I the only ones dancing on an improvised dance floor before heading back to Julio’s at three.
On Friday we chilled, building up energy for Saturday night. Just after ten, to an audience of about fifty punters, the Latin trio played together, individually and then together again. Rohini and I tore up the dance floor.
“You guys keep dancing cause it’s making everyone else want to dance,” Yusuf, one of the organisers, patted us on the back.
And dance we did. The crowd almost didn’t want to let the trio go. The guys invited the sound engineer, Jam, from the Philippines to play one of his songs. He blew everyone away when he hit the stage. And when DJ Kali hit the decks with classic late 90s and early noughties dance-floor hits, our feet were pumping.
“Let’s go smoke,” I suggested to Rohini once the night ended.
After she almost killed the two would-be extortioners, we stacked into the car with Yusuf and headed over to Black Diamond.
“The one place you should always say ‘no’ to if someone suggests going,” Rohini had warned the DJ, the trio and me.
The place was packed with prostitutes. The whole venue reeked of shadiness, the kind of place that even pitch black couldn’t make look good. Rohini and I danced to one song and decided it was time to go home.
“I’m still pissed off at those assholes on the roof,” she grunted. “They took our fuckin’ joint.”
I grinned, quoting Stephenwolfe. “We’ll roll another one, just like the other one.”
The next day I sat on the laptop to write up the adventure when I noticed the Distant Relatives newsletter in my newsfeed on Facebook.
Grammy- nominee Nicaraguan artist, Perrozompopo, playing July 18th.
“Er, Rohini,” I turned to her. “Says here that Ramon is a Grammy nominee.”
“Yeah,” she said. “You didn’t know?”
“Are you telling me that I’ve been jamming with a Grammy nominee, playing Latin music in Africa?”
“Yeah,” she grinned.
TIA – This Is Africa.