Shows are the place of ultimate ritual in a rocker’s journey. It is something that a fan would look forward to. Shows were carry with them some of my happiest memories.
But there’s another side to shows that we can only see from an artist’s perspective. There’s a lot of pain that goes into making music. That’s something most people can live with. Love for the music more than covers for that.
Even though as a fan I had attended countless shows, that never prepared me for the emotional burden that comes with playing live. Gigs would normally end with me retreating to brood; those moments have felt like the lowest points of my life.
In early 2017 we got on the bill of one of the biggest rock shows in East Africa featuring great local bands as well as an international act. I remember that on one occasion around April 2017 we were getting ready to play in front of an imposing line-up. Many will remember the events of “This is Africa Fest”.
I took leave from work just prior to the Easter Weekend. I would board a white rickety jallopy at Khoja bus termini with the destination set to Tigoni . A friend of ours had studio there called Realm of Mist. It was smack in the middle of the tea plantations, nestled in one of the most beautiful highland regions in the country. It is within the wooden walls of the studio’s cabin that I would then link up with the members of the “The Seeds of Datura” for a two week practice session.
It had never occured to me how difficult the show business is. For one we were paying to be housed at Realms and none of us had a stable source of income. But we struggled on.
Our setlist was now teeming with new material and one cover here and there. We did three sessions each day. Two were together in the morning and evening. The one at midday was separated into groups.
Mordecai did bass and drums with Lawrence. Rauf and Wilson did theirs on guitars as Martin and me went over vocals. Out of the three sets I always considered that bass and drums was the most aligned and rarely had problems. We also used this time to record some demos.
Chores were divided amongst ourselves based on proficiency. Rauf and Wilson were the best cooks. After dishes were done and in between practice sessions we found time to chat.
We could rarely control our excitement at this time with the show dominating most of the discussion. While the rest of us were almost definitely sure things would go well, it was Mordecai and sometimes Lawrence to a small degree that would suggest things going the wrong direction.
In such times memories of past shows always assured me otherwise. I noticed they weren’t many. However we had played few shows in contrast so there was a lot yet to be learned. But no matter how much I tried to keep myself and the band motivated, there was always an odd feeling lingering.It was like you’d left home with the iron box still on.
The nights in Tigoni were bitter cold. We slept huddled infront of heaters with Lawrence in a hammock above us. The anticipation was gnawing.
Life now was nothing like it was when I would just attend a show as part of the audience. I couldn’t drink myself blind and spend all the time moshing in preparation. There was a lot more to it.
We got ready early in the morning of that long awaited Saturday. We arrived well ahead of every other band that was to play the day. The Alchemist Bar in Westlands was still bare and under the harsh light of the sun. You could still see the painted banners and outcrops, the rustic outdoor furniture. It is like a small amusement park in the middle of a jungle. I made a visit to the comic book store to while away the time.
Soundcheck was the next most important thing before the show. This was the time we looked forward to most. It would help with boosting your confidence. You could get used to the stage and check if everything was working properly. The drummers soundcheck was what I looked forward to most. Lawrence had an uncanny character at this moment because his drumming always seemed to motivate us. He took this time to beat the drum as heavily and precisely as he could. You could almost feel destiny calling.
But something didn’t feel quite right. The sound engineer had curled his forehead. His team had disengaged look about them. It also began to show in our body language. We could sense the tension. When tried out the microphone I found that there was a delay in the output, such that it sounded that my intentions traveled faster than the microphone could put out.
But it is the lineup change that brought a lot of confusion in our camp. We would be the first ones to play. We realized then that we would play only in front of a handful of people. The audience never shows up on time and the crowd will usually swell up from 9pm onwards.
Having looked forward to the day so much, these events had began to sour things up. We had prepared a long set list that only a handful would enjoy, It felt like a kick in the stomach.
Naturally things just gradually worsened from then on. When we played the songs sounded like parodies of what we had intended them to be. They felt nothing like the roaring tunes we hammered out day and night in the hills of Tigoni. The speakers i turn only amplified the discord. It was like waking up to a nightmare. We tried everything to salvage the quality of the performance but nothing could be done.
I felt dejected and walked off the podium with my head in my hand. I wanted it to roll out of the gate and head home. My heart felt impaled and I wished it would bleed out quicker. Mordecai gave endless commentary on the state of things. I tried to laugh it off only stopping to realise that I was laughing at myself.
We missed much of Seismic’s performance as we headed down to Okolea to binge on some cheap vodka with Ericko Juve, Trix and Dennis (Irony). I quickly hammered on the misery nerve and returned having purged temporarily the worst half hour of my life. I faded quickly but managed to catch Murfy’s fLaw performance before losing my phone and twisting my ankle during the “Stick To Your Guns” performance.
But as bad as things felt after that show, it could not compare to the many other times that my life felt like this after a performance. The fine memories of our show at Tree House and Daas Ethiopian Restaurant almost felt like someone else’s dream. My waking moments are now haunted by the ghost of Nyege Nyege’s past. This was the last show I ever played with Seeds. We were set to play infront our biggest audience. But looking at how things turned out then it seems more like a curse than a blessing. We couldn’t put our best foot forward when it counted. The performance of was a pale shadow of what we had intended.
I returned to the confines of our hotel room immediately after the show not wanting to look back at the place of that desecration. The other guys consoled their hearts at the bottom of a bottle of Uganda Waragi which “Solomon Dust” of Vale of Ammonition supplied in plenty. The memory still gives me chills to this day. I slept on the return journey to Kenya never wanting to play another show in my life.