Lagos, Nigeria’s claim to a mega city, and Kampala, Uganda’s capital, have little in common except, perhaps, for Runtown.
You can’t even get a straight flight from Lagos to Kampala for two reasons. 1. There is no commercial airport in Kampala, try Entebbe 2. No air carriers head directly from MMIA to Kampala. So you need to stop at Kigali or Addis Ababa or Nairobi to connect.
Three years ago, I came to the city to facilitate a poetry workshop at Writivism. What did I think about the city? I sensed a kinship with Ibadan. Hilly and sedate in most places for similarities. Constipated roads, muted energy and an unhurried pace. This is the kind of place where a Lagosian comes to die.
But Kampala has its own flair. It is a sprawling town bursting at its seams. Transport is hellish. So you have boda-boda (read Okadas) piloted by daring men who unlike those in Lagos wear helmets when weaving through tight spaces in a traffic gridlock.
At 5 pm Kampala’s traffic shudders as if in orgasm then becomes still. This stand-still is reminiscent of Fela’s song, Go Slow or the Nigerian speak, You Die Well. But whatever Kampala got going on in road obstipation, it pales before the Third Mainland Bridge any given Friday evening.
At 7pm, the city roads free up. The sun comes down and the night crawlers come out to play. The street under review is called Acacia Avenue. This street could easily be Adeniran Ogunsanya or Awolowo Road or Adéọlá Odeku with its strings of night clubs, pubs, lounges. The street sides are lined with vehicles. Varied sounds are afloat on the air and the body aches to move.
I follow the music. False trail leads to a tepid Irish pub where middle-aged and bearded Arab men shoot billiards. I return to my search and find the source of the music. A place called Big Mike’s. An eight piece band is jamming really hard. The audience is a mishmash of expats and locals. The expats are aging white men and young women. The locals are young office-type men and students. The aging expats gravitate to the local students. The young office-type men towards the young white women.
Big Mike’s is big in every sense of the word. There is a lounge, a basement bar with stage called The Yard and an inner night club. Each segment has its own vibe. The lounge has plush chairs and the DJ is playing old American urban hits. The inner club, decorated by Absolut, is awash with strobe lights and salsa songs. The Yard is where the party is.
The band is called Janzi Band. Tight leashed and disciplined, their good music spins popular songs into live sessions. The crowd moves languidly like a happy elephant because of space. The wafting aroma of frying potato chips and barbeque pork chops competes with nicotine smoke.
The music crawls above the room like a gecko but there is banter and small talk in close knit groups and people here, unlike in Lagos, are not pretentious. Everyone is looking to score a good time and that is all that matters.
The band finds a dancehall rhythm and the Nigerian in me leaps. It is Runtown’s Bend Down Pause. The crowd goes wild just the way they did when the Ivorien hit, Ier Gau, happened.
The time is 12 midnight in Kampala; the party is way ahead of Lagos which is two hours behind.