Saturday, June 21, 2008

kinshasa has a jazz festival

this weekend is the 2nd international jazz festival in kinshasa, part of the fete de la musique. last year's was pretty cool, so we went back with a bunch of people from the office. they blocked off a street in front of some bars and restaurants, and have laid out a whole shipment of brand new plastic tables and chairs with skol written all over them - one of the beer companies sponsoring the event. the interesting thing to note is whenever skol sponsors something, you cannot buy primus (the other beer) or coke or sprite or anything, only skol or temba (the dark beer with the cool elephant logo) and their own disgusting versions of soft drinks. brussels airlines is the other sponsor and every table has a booklet of all the brussels air flight timetables. because knowing when the tokyo flight lands is crucial info to keep in your back pocket. i'm asking people to guess how long it takes to get to atlanta from dakar.
to order drinks you have to go buy tickets from the lady with the tupperware bucket of cash.

she'll give you these raffle ticket things, and if you need change, she'll dig through her bucket, making sure to give you the dirtiest, grimiest, smelliest bills she can find. the tickets came in groups of 3. for some insanely stupid reason, one dollar is actually 3 tickets. and the price structure is as follows:
draft beer = $1 (3 tickets)
soft drink = $3 (9 tickets) yes, 3 times the cost of a beer
big bottle of beer (33 export) = $5 (15 tickets)
coffee = free
crepes, food = $4 (12 tickets)
water was not an option.
so then you would take your tickets back to your table and order from these ladies in uniforms and they would have to do this really complicated math to figure out how many tickets you owed, it was ridiculous. oh, and then they would deliver your beers one by one, so ordering drinks for each of the 7 people at our table took forever. why do they have this stupid ticket system? you'll find out.
towards the end, bruno says, why don't we just buy tickets directly from the waitress and save ourselves a trip to the ticket booth? waitress says no problem. bruno orders 7 beers and gives her a crisp 20 dollar bill. she never comes back, totally disappears. probably ran off with her friends, woohooo! 20 bucks! bruno's wife is all, i can't believe we've been living here for 3 years and you still get ripped off like this.
at one point i went into one of the restaurants to pee, and i meet these belgian guys in white linen shirts. turns out they're the next band to go on. so what type of music? blues. well, blues jazz. more like afro blues jazz. laurent, don't tell her that. oh, it's a surprise. ok. laurent has a trumpet and the second guy an accordion on his back. i've never heard jazz accordion. it's turns out it's more like a romanian polka klezmer music. at one point laurent plays two trumpets at once. the documentary film maker sitting at our table who shares the same name as my uncle david leans over, "this is our music!" referring to our jewish heritage.
anyway, in the middle of one of their songs, some fireworks went off. first it was a few roman candles lighting up a big "temba" sign above a parking garage a mere 150 feet away. everyone goes ahhhhhh! tembaaaaa! then, full on insane fireworks for almost 30 minutes. at first we're like, eh, cool, and everyone is laughing. the fireworks are shooting straight at this apartment building, people who were out on their balconies are running for cover, closing their windows. the stairwell of the building doesn't have windows, it's a cement wall with those small square holes. fireworks are going inside these holes and security guards are stomping on the flames. this is precariously close to a crowded downtown, not nearly high or far enough away for anyone's safety. sparks are raining down on the crowd who is still in shock/awe. the fireworks get louder, closer, bigger. the screaming ones, the big ones with smaller explosions inside. it goes on and on and on. this is insane! people are screaming, laughing, taking pictures. we're presuming a container full of fireworks destined for capetown must have been hijacked or something, this must cost a fortune. one of the buildings that appear to be the fireworks main target still has pock marks from last year's violent outbreak after the elections. this town is not ready for fireworks.

"there is nothing right about those fireworks"
they are pretty
"still, nothing right about those fireworks"
the fireworks stop, the klezmer band resumes, we cannot stop talking about the i thought this was a jazz festival? later on i see the belgian musicians and was all, nice jazz. and they were all, we brought an upright bass all the way from brussels, so eat me.
at the end of the night we go back to bruno's car. we try to remember which guy we had entrusted the security of our vehihcle with. junior or something? he had a ripped t shirt and a hat. we pile into the truck and there are about 25 angry guys surrounding us, banging on the windows. bruno is scanning the crowd like it's a police line up. they all have ripped t-shirts and hats.
was it that guy?
i don't know, usually, there are only 3 guys to choose from.
which one of you is junior?
i am! i am! no i am! monsieur, you don't remember me?
we can't decide. they are getting angrier and angrier. the police are intervening, but end up just knocking on the door, asking for their own share. four of us each open our windows a tiny crack and slide some bills through and tell them to work it out. they are still banging, climbing on the hood. brigitte remarks that they are not that agressive this evening. you mean it's worse?
next time we'll park over there. over there are a bunch of mercedes surrounded by a linear patrol of guys in the homemade wheelchairs, forming a perfect calm fence. yeah, those guys are organized.
just as we lose the crowd of banshees a composed friendly guy comes up, hello i am joseph, your car guard. oh shit, that's him. well, sorry buddy, we don't have any more small bills. you should have been here earlier!
joseph is piiissed, he runs after the truck but we quickly lose him. we decide to go to another bar to get the 7 beers that bruno had ordered earlier. we find a place called "los latinos", that has a pervasive east african theme - masks, zebra skins. it's owned by a greek guy named george, which explains the nets, buoys and stuffed fish hanging from the ceiling (sortof like the wading river king kullen from the days of yore). there are nothing but middle aged guys sitting around in these leather club chairs, lionel richie blaring from the sound system. someone quickly changes the tv channel from porn to something else. this place isn't bad, though. george hooks us up with 2 rounds of free beers in addition to the one that was supposed to be our last. he also gives us mini quiches and mini pizzas. he likes that we brought females into his bar.

i get home at 1:30 am and have to wake up the guard to get in. he's sprawled on a couch in the reception, gun on the floor. nice. i sleep until 11, missing breakfast by an hour. the restaurant still has the usual 6 or 7 staff hanging around the bar though. i sit by the pool and ask for a coffee.
"you cannot stay here, we are working" say some dudes hanging out under an umbrella, making a general hand motion towards the pool. yeah, working, whatever. so i get shooed away into the freezing cold restaurant that is blaring tropical music that is intensifying my hang over.
breakfast is over madame
but you are still open, yes?
may i have a coffee?
breakfast is over, madame.
i just want a coffee.
lady looks extremely perplexed and comes back with the chef who repeats to me that breakfast is over.
i just want a goddamn coffee. do you have coffee?
yes. would you like milk?
milk is only served with breakfast, you cannot have milk.
fine, i'll take tea! and so i stole a spoon and retreated to my room and ate yogurt.

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