Wednesday, October 26, 2011

my first performance in Africa

"look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment
would you capture it or just let it slip?"


Well, today was a strange and eventful day. At work, I handed in my recommendations for changes to the Namibian Citizenship Act to better address the legal problem of statelessness. And then after work I left to do sound check at my very first performance in Africa.

Here’s the back story: on Friday afternoon, I decided to stop by the music store in Klein Windhoek because I really missed playing the guitar. I played basically every guitar that the store had. Then I pulled the banjo down from the rack and started playing that.

At that moment, a beautiful young woman came up to me and said, “Won’t you come play a show this Wednesday? One of our musicians dropped out so we have a spot.”

“Uh, hell yes,” is more or less the first thing I said.

Her name was Lize Ehlers and I had actually heard of her before. She’s a Namibian musician that plays MoJoe’s Lounge weekly when she’s not running the monthly Song Night series, which was what she was inviting me to play at. She’s a gorgeous larger-than-life character with her own bizarrely awesome sense of style (tonight she wore a long red one-piece with huge platform heels), who reminds me of Maylee Todd and a lot of other women I’ve come across in my life that I admire. Also, she let me use her guitar.

a newspaper article in the Namibian Sun about Song Night

So tonight was Song Night, the last one of the year before everything would be halted for the holiday. It was held at the huge 99FM Playhouse Theatre, which used to be an old brewery/warehouse now converted to a concert hall.

The event was a big fundraiser for the local College of Arts, and some of their students were playing in this fantastic six-piece marimba group, where they played covers of Waka Waka, Pachelbel’s Canon, and The Lion Sleeps Tonight. Also, the reggae musician Ten Ten whose concert I had gone to see last weekend was leading the marimba group. So. Totally. Awesome.

I showed up to the event, kind of worried that it might turn out to be one of those typical open mic nights at bars, with a lot of terrible guitar players singing terrible songs about love. It was nothing of the sort, however. There was a rich variety of types of acts: rappers, R&B singers, a jazz group, a gospel-singing family featuring the most talented eleven-year-old girl i've ever heard...tonight's theme was African music, and it felt so great to see amazing African musicians.

the other gloria, introduced by lize as an african queen

an R&B band

Pixie had an amazing voice...she could belt it out even while leaning on crutches.

a jazz group, featuring a fantastic female sax player

i really enjoyed this rapper.

two fabulous guys doing a josh groban cover

"larger than life" lize

unfortunately, when it was my turn to perform, i didn't have a single lick of african music in my repertoire. The closest was a half-finished art rock piece I'm composing on Anton Lubowski, and that was certainly not ready. Instead, i decided to play one of my band's songs, When You Come Out, which happens to be a country song. it was going to be interesting to see how the mostly black and coloured crowd that had just finished dancing along to the R&B singer before me was going to react to this little "China" girl singing a country song on a borrowed guitar.

But my performance still seemed to go over well with the audience. I got a big applause, which felt great. Karen joked that I might be the biggest thing to hit Namibia since Westlife. A bunch of the other musicians came up to me after the show and invited me to jam with them sometime, which was really sweet. And some record label folks also approached me, which was kind of unbelievable. Oh, Windhoek, I don’t know how I’m ever going to leave you.

Gloria tries to discreetly blend into the Namibian music scene (photo by Allison Lepp)

So yeah…I really need to buy a guitar soon.

"you better lose yourself in the music, the moment
you own it, you better never let it go"


artwork by William Bradford