Archive for April, 2011

Night out

April 15, 2011

Cold beers! A delight in a place without electricity. Few consumables are more repelling than tepid (or worse: warm) beers.

And so the evening begins in the one restaurant in town that actually serves not only cold beers but also beef and potatoes and various other local and French delights.

And it is here that I meet Mahmoud. He enters with another colleague and immediately zeroes in on me with a story about a lost relative somewhere in Europe and that I should be the one to find that relative.

Sure. Have another beer.

He then tells me that he knows a place that is by far (by far!) the best place in town. Money is not a problem he says. Of course not – I will be paying. He insists, almost violently. So we agree to go to the best place in town – for one drink.

But not after a wild and unstable ride across the sand roads of his town, on his motorbike. It is indeed a miracle he manages to keep the thing from straying into a garden, a house or an animal. But we do arrive at the very best place in town. Where he will continue his drinking spree.

The best place in town is a low-ceiling den next to a rather grandiosely named “Night Club”, where the beer is (you guessed it!) warm. But Mahmoud has a solution to this problem: he switches to whisky. The television is belting out Ivorian happy-go-lucky music: the conflict there is reaching a decisive phase and a bunch of artists has decided to record a song entitled ‘Ca va aller’ – Ivory Coast’s national catchphrase.

Mahmoud is engrossed in his whiskey and he does not see me leave. This town is small and the next port of call is a smallish bar, run almost entirely for the benefit of the students and lecturers of “The Institute”. It is a training centre for vets with a fairly large and vibrant student populaton. We have a lovely little time sitting around a plastic table, talking about the imminent downfall of Laurent Gbagbo in next door Ivory Coast, The Institute, The Netherlands “where you have so much good cattle” and Life After The Institute – which, quite frankly, worries them. Where are the jobs?

It’s a question left hanging in the air when I make my way back to the hotel but before getting there, a sound catches my ear. It comes from the Bar Manding. Fiery percussion, high-pitched singing and a frenzied keyboard that mostly reminds me of the organ frequently used by legendary rock band The Doors. But then on steroids. The band does manage to drown out the sound of the generator. I enter a big square hangar where they are  playing next to a motorbike and assorted industrial debris. Over a royally disgusting warm beer one of the band helpfully explains that this is a general repetition for a Big Launch tomorrow and I am heartily invited. With ringing ears and slightly nauseous I leave the hangar half an our later, on my way, finally, to the hotel.

Which is half-lit. No, actually, just a quarter lit. In the cavernous dining hall, there is an island of light and here I find myself discussing life, politics and the universe with the manager, over a few bottles of not exactly cold but still acceptable beer. A tiny generator outside struggles to light up even that small space. Ah, the melancholy of once-great hotels that still try and keep up past grandeur…Africa is littered with them. And I love them.

One final stop. Next door to the hotel is another night club and since I just got to know the owner from a business exchange earlier this afternoon, it would be nice to pay him a visit.  

“Entry 10,000 Francs,” I am told. That’s a euro and a half for one, maybe two final drinks as I do begin to discover a slight and rather disconcerting wobbliness. It’s after midnight and really really dark. But inside there is upbeat popular Guinean music. It’s produced by the bucketload and I like it: they basically have one band in a studio somewhere in Conakry, which plays two or three standard tunes. They then put different singers in front of the band – and a new hit is born.

The barman comes from Cameroon. And yes, he studies…at The Institute. He likes it here. There is not much conversation as the music is very loud. Hey – this is a nightclub. You’re supposed to watch, be watched, drink and….

‘You must dance with me,’ she says. She is pretty and copiously blessed by Nature. I am reminded of the old Shakespearean punchline about drinks provoking the desire but taking away the performance. Time to make my way towards the exit.

Now I stroll with great calm and dignity towards the hotel, meanwhile feverishly hoping that I am not going to be chased after by the she-person who just accosted me at the bar. Or Mahmoud on his motorbike.

The hotel door is invitingly open. In a few hour’s time, the’ sun will once again shine its light on a dazzling display of mountains and valleys. I only have to open my bedroom curtains. Meanwhile, Dalaba, Fouta Djalon, Guinea, will most certainly party on without me.

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Terrace, veranda, music

April 11, 2011

Outside terrace, Hotel SIB, Dalaba, Guines

This place is divine. Even better when the two schmoozing students have taken their leave from “my” terrace. Well, not so much because they are young but rather because when they leave, their mobile phone leaves too. And not even because it is a mobile phone but because it has a small metallic-sounding loudspeaker that has been incessantly emitting a steady stream of US-made R&B. R&B is a disease that has covered the world in a thick, slimy, rancid layer of audio vomit. It has even reached this part of the planet, which produces vastly superior sounds of its own.

The metallic noise retreats and I am left with the sound of birds and miles and miles and miles of mountains and valleys below and beyond.

***

‘This is where she used to sit and rehearse with the musicians.’ A broad veranda, same view as the hotel terrace: mountains, alleys, trees, flowers. Birdsong all the time, insects zoom. This idyllic setting is the place where Miriam Makeba decided to settle, late 1960s, away from the ineptly named “government” of her own South Africa. The apartheid regime of the day refused her entry to the country, so she could go and bury her mother. So she may be forgiven for overlooking the rank cruelty of her new host, Guinea’s first president Ahmed Sékou Touré; after all: that cruelty was not directed at her but at Guinean citizens who had the temerity to disagree with the Visionary Guide and Leader.

Ever since I entered Dalaba, music has been buzzing in my head. A large orchestra in an echo chamber, yes, recording facilities were rather primitive. But then also: the distinct, crystal sound of a kora cutting the air above the orchestra. Punctuating percussion, sounding a bit hollow – yes, recording facilities and all that. And then an old Manding melody sung in that voice, instantly recognisable. No “Click Song” or “Pata Pata”. This is altogether different: “La Guinée Horoya”. You can hear that the South African vocal chords need adaptation to follow the broad flow of West Africa’s songlines but she handles it admirably. And now I am standing in the place where that music was created. Next to Mr Bah Mamadou Alpha, who was charged with welcoming the world-famous singer, when she came driving up from Conakry to the mountain resort she chose to stay. ‘She didn’t like protocol,’ he recalls. ‘She would just come into my house, sit and talk, and then go home and cook her own meals…’

***

Makeba describes life in Dalaba and her reasons for not returning there in her autobiography. If you haven’t read it, get yourself to a library or a bookstore. Her musicians have gone and we must rush back to our original terrace where there is a bit of a din going on. Let’s see…a big boombox on the terrace floor. Local flute (Peul flute it’s called, very beautiful distinct sound, the player sometimes sings and breathes into the instrument at the same time), stop-start syncope rhythm, gravel-like but clear voice…there is some serious Fouta roots music happening here. And they have come here, singer, dancers, to record the video clip. It will be almost indistinguishable from all the other Guinea clips: flailing limbs, flowing boubous, swift and subtle hand movements and always against beautiful decors: the sea, Conakry’s landmark hotels or indeed: SIB’s terrace.

The boombox belts, the singer and dancers go through the motions and an hour later, this bit of the video has been done. It will be mixed and mashed with similar dancing routines against different decors. But hey – thank Christ, the stars and whatever else you believe in: R&B it ain’t. Phew!

The view.

April 6, 2011

 

The man who runs this place after his uncle passed away last year keeps calling it “The Switzerland of Africa”. Now, I could be following the Swiss founding father of Dutch Protestantism and provide you with a fine demonstration of tight-arsed guilt. This I would achieve by showing you this pic over a caption containing some back-handed remark, as in: ‘…I shouldn’t really be enjoying this but yea, I suppose the view was not bad…’.

But I will do the opposite and tell you this: for four beautiful days, this is what I saw when I drew the curtains of room 5 at the SIB Hotel, in Dalaba, Guinea. Glorious. And that’s not even mentioning the fresh mountain air when opening the windows…

Here’s another one…

The hotel terrace, as seen from my window

Thought you’d like them! More on this nostalgia-filled town in another installment.