Chris Bittok’s horn occasionally filters through the revellers din, pierces the evening air, an atmosphere heightened with expectations, excitement, hysteria and satisfaction. It lingers, with an alternate change in intensity, moulding a personality of its own, distinct from the night, much as it is part of it. Confident. Aloof, but part of something. It moves you, emotionally. It carries you. Makes you lighter, immersed. The night’s main act slows down, probably to take it in. He then rides it, and, with the act of a seasoned performer, he summons the condensed emotions of the revellers and eases them into movements and sing alongs. Chris lowers the mournful sound and lets it fly under Aloe Blacc’s voice. It has been a non stop dance jamboree since he stepped onto the stage. A climax of an eclectic assembly of art, fashion, food, technology and sound. A befitting cap to the activities that summed the re-introduction of Blankets and Wine, returning from a year long break.
The return was a statement.The impressive, all confident lineup fronted in the April 10 edition was representative of the new outfit; an extremely confident, sassy, assured, focused and futuristic smorgasbord of art and music, fashion, style, literature, collaboration and entrepreneurship. It was a re-affirmation by the founder Muthoni that she knew what she was doing, and that she was a step ahead of the rumours doing rounds, and disapproving the doubters was part of the act, even though not the intention, as awesome always ends up making the detractors inconsequential.
It is standard for main acts to have great backups when they perform, but it is rare to assemble the kind that Blankets and Wine assembled for their main acts. Right from the first act on stage, the soulful Mayonde, to the day’s main act, Aloe Blacc, the back ups were on point, pushing and carrying the acts to surpass expectations. Aloe Blacc was backed up by the evergreen saxophonist Chris Bittok, the seasoned Joe Were, bassist Sedar Oddenyo, drummer Richie Wandati, Kato Change, who recently released an album, was on the guitar, while Christine Kamau kept it cool over the trumpet corner. Three wonderful singers who are actually a music group provided the backup vocals.
Before him, MDQ had left the stage reeling. Her performance was phenomenal. She had something to let out, and the only place she could do that was on the stage of something she holds dear, this concept she had grown . And she blazed that stage, occasionally letting others join her; Khaligraph Jones and Kagwe Mungai, energetic dancers who seemed to match her energy, and her backup band, who even performed their own soulful rendition of Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry.
Just A Band’s farewell gig was triumphal and sorrowful. Alternating between serious get downs, mournful renditions and energetic and defiant chants, the band exited to their two year hiatus in their signature style. A number of people had shown up for this and cheered and clapped as Blinky Bill listed the individual endeavours each member will be up to in the next two years.
Mayonde not only reasserted herself, she also proved she is the new afro-soul queen. She performed her new music which she debuted at the Afri-na-ladi final concert some weeks back. She even joined Just A Band in performing one of their songs.
A number of people had been curious to see how April’s edition would turn out. Comebacks can be challenging. Aloe Blacc was not also considered quite a popular number by some people. However, the team clearly demonstrated that one thing they knew best is what they were doing. Music was just half the proof of that. There was great food, art installations, and fashion stores pop-ups, live sketching and a silent disco which,occasionally, had all the cool kids in their own universes.
Initially operating as a lone entity, Blankets & Wine returns under a banner, Good Times Africa, an umbrella title for a number of music brands. On the Good Times Africa website, they write that it is a Pan-African platform for staging live events across the continent and it’s backed by a number of investors. Besides Blankets and Wine, there is Africa Nouveau Festival, an annual two day event whose first edition was held in September last year, Live In Concert, whose first act was hosting Chronixx for a live event at the KICC on June 10th, and Africa Dance Party. Blankets and Wine continues to be what it has been, only better and on a quarterly basis. The next edition is slotted to take place in July 10, and will feature Estelle as the main act.
Image: Hutchinson Murage