Bongwe’s Grand Opening in Lusaka — Live music, drinks and dance

Sara Drawwater
30 June 2014
The taxi driver had a speech impediment and I was a wee bit tipsy. There was going to be much miscommunication. Giving directions to Bongwe Barn’s new location proved a little more difficult than I’d…

Popularly known as “Bongwe’s Barn,” the Bongwe’s Barn & Guest House is part of Bongwe Safaris and was opened to offer affordable accommodation to Lusaka guests, providing the same great services that Bongwe is best known for. Bongwe’s Barn also has a lively bar and restaurant that serves fantastic “pub grub”. Earlier this month, Bongwe’s Barn relocated to a new venue in Lusaka’s Roma area and to celebrate the new beginning, the Bongwe team hosted a live music event. Blogger extraordinaire Benny Blow was there to capture the fun!

The taxi driver had a speech impediment and I was a wee bit tipsy. There was going to be much miscommunication. Giving directions to Bongwe Barn’s new location proved a little more difficult than I’d thought, but I got there just before the show began…

Mirth mavens, Stacey and Alec Cole have been behind many a party and feel-good-time in the last half of the decade, including the phenomenal Kariba and Siavonga Music Festivals. Their cosy bar and lodge had become too small to contain the multiracial crowd they attracted, so they sought greener bushes. Lo and behold, Bongwe’s Big Bush; the new Bongwe Barn. It’s a lot closer to the hub of our city’s nocturnal activities and even speech impeded cabbies and their incoherent passengers can just about find it.

You could hear intermittent guitar strumming and mic checks from outside the venue’s large, white gate. Evicted, the Zimbabwean band that had wowed crowds at the Siavonga Music Festival was headlining this event. They batted a couple of jokes back and forth during their sound check and then handed over to Shadrock and the Tritones to get the party started. They would grace us later that night.

Shadrock summoned legendary Zambian rocker, Paul Ngozi’s ghost when he sang ‘Punzisani ana’ and displayed some impressive guitar skills. The same skills had made him a household name at Bongwe, earning him his alias as well. “His name is Shadreck, and Shad-rock just seemed fitting,” said Rock FM’s Jason K. “It just stuck,” Jason was playing the role of host that night.

The wind was cold and merciless, biting at both sets of everyone’s cheeks. The aroma of oven fresh bread from the bakery next door floated on and found its way to us as the Tritones continued to bake their own delicacies on stage.

Off stage I sat down with Stacey Cole to learn a little about what goes into spreading mirth and organising grand festivals. It turns out that the festivals weren’t always so grand.“Gwabi River Lodge [in Siavonga] was the first location we had for small, acoustic shows,” she said. “They became quite popular and that’s where the idea for the festival came from.”The Kariba Music Festival (which was rebranded to the Siavonga Music Festival) was the first of its kind in Zambia. “The idea was to create a multicultural Zambian event where everyone could come and no one has their handbag stolen,” she laughed.

Alec, Stacey’s eccentric brother started Bongwe Safaris, a safari tour under the Bongwe umbrella and asked Stacey to help him with some of his more elaborate ideas. He felt she had just the right experience for it, seeing as she had worked for Sir Richard Branson and Virgin on Necker Island. “Alec is a super guy,” she said, “He needed someone to take it to the next level.”

Now Bongwe boasts safaris in various parts of Zambia; a bar and lodge; and (according to Stacey) they sell the most Jägermeister in Lusaka!

Jägermeister did sound tempting at that moment, but Cactus Agony, a man well vested in the art of crowd moving rushed the stage and drew the audience closer. His heated performance had them all chanting and waving their hands to his rigorous riddims and ragga. For a while, none of us could feel the cold and Cactus even miraculously worked up a sweat.

“The only way to keep warm is to get closer,” said Derek as he and the rest of Evicted began their set. Lasers and stage lights flickered brightly as the performance began to rage on and the crowd somehow doubled in size. People emerged from the shadows and the warmth of the bar to enlist themselves in the fight against monotony; troopers in the frontlines of Bongwe’s Big Bush.

Theo got some girls screaming excitedly when he clutched his yellow guitar and played a fierce solo. Dominic replied with his own charged guitar chords while Justin beat something that could have been heard from an ancient war drum. You could almost feel the electricity jolting from the band and colliding with the crowd’s immense energy.

Derek led his bandsmen and commanded a Zambian crowd with Zimbabwean lyrics when they performed ‘Ndoita Sei’, one of their original songs. It seemed to be a crowd favourite. He spoke into the microphone and said it was a story about a man who fell in love with a lady, and she ended up stealing all his clothes. Dominic smiled sheepishly as the other band members grinned and looked at him. The song seemed to have been about him.

The weather continued to sink its icy teeth into our skin and the dry grass of Bongwe’s Big Bush floated up as we shuffled our feet to the sounds of Evicted. A man next to me (who chose to remain anonymous) told me he was having a gas. He contrasted another performance by a popular local artist and purported it had about 3000 fights but only 120 show goers. “Fight number 237 involved a man in a fisherman’s hat getting on stage and interrupting the lead singer,” he claimed.

Alec and Stacey got on stage towards the end of the show and sent out especially warm thanks to their staff and all who came out to rock with them. Nobody there seemed to want to return to their homes, so Derek invited some of them on stage to dance and mosh with the band. Eventually though, the band did run out of steam. Theo was still ecstatic. “This is the most fun part! The part where the fans get to buy us drinks!”

Benny Blow suffers from Jägermeister induced amnesia, but remembers being a champion crowd surfer in another life. Tour the safari that is his blog here, follow his rockstar rants on Twitter here and mosh pit on Facebook with him here.