(Peripatetic Wallflower Dave Rinck extends the Che Underground to East Africa.)
Somebody called me on the phone … They said, “Hey! Is David home?” It was Gilbert Barthe, lead guitarist of my current band the Beathogs. “We’re all down at Dass. You wanna come down and play a show in about 45 minutes?” Well, sure, I thought. Why not? I was always under the impression that Dass was just this sort of funky Ethiopian restaurant located on the second floor of a grim concrete building on this crazy street of bars in Westlands (a part of Nairobi near where I live). But anyway, I was at this lame party, kinda bored, so I though well what the hell … it’d be more fun than staying here. So I grabbed my guitar and headed on down.
Next thing you know, I found myself climbing this narrow cement staircase up to the second floor of this dusty old building. I knew the place on the first floor was Havanas, a nightclub and restaurant that a friend of mine named Zelalem deejays at, attracting huge unruly mobs some nights that spill off the sidewalk out front and into the street until all hours. I myself had frequently held court over plates of fish almondine on linen tablecloths and huge carafes of wine in the backrooms of that place well after midnight. But I’d never made the haul up to the second floor. Well, that was all about to change …
As I reached the second-floor landing, I confronted a dangerous-looking doorman who was charging people 100 Kenyan Schillings for admission (about $1.40). Luckily he took one look at my guitar and waved me inside. I strode into Dass and — immediately it hit me! The long low ceiling, the seedy bar in the back staffed by a dubious barman in white shirt and black slacks, the garish red carpeting, the screeching PA system, the dimmer switches on the lights … Never mind that it was on the second floor, fate had spoken to me, and it said — this shall be Nairobi’s underground night club, a Kenyan CBGBs, the East African answer to Max’s Kansas City, the one and only Underground Express at Dass!
It didn’t take long to get in touch with the owner, a very cool local guy named Ashok Patel, who immediately assured me that he “liked rock and roll” when we met at another place he owned, the Crooked Cue, a pool hall just down the street. When I explained the unlikely concept of an underground music scene, centered on a weekly underground rock and roll club (his), well lo and behold he was all for it, “Cool, let’s do it! Just send me the flyers every week, and we’ll make it happen.”
I assured him that it’d be a unique addition to the usual fare in Nairobi –- possibly the only club in the world where you can eat doro wat while you hear a live band pound out New York Dolls covers. Our very own bassist Josie Achola came up with the name Underground Express, and a week later we are off and running. Underground Express is a weekly event now. We take over Dass every Thursday night. You get three bands for Ksh 200 — a great deal (of course, as I always remind people, $2.80 doesn’t get you the Rolling Stones) …
They have a crazy guitarist called Number Nine, who on a good night sounds a bit like Hendrix. They just released a CD called “Makosa,” which features a great original tune that I love, called “Been Okay.” It sounds sort of like the kind of rock music that came out of San Francisco in the ’60s.
And then there’s M2O (Music to Overdrive), a three-piece band. The guitarist/singer has a quirky style with lots of augmented chords, a bit like Robert Quine of the Voidoids. These guys have been in the studio for the last couple of months recording a couple of songs. I can’t wait to see what it sounds like!
Finally, my own band is the Beathogs. One of the tunes we play is called “Tigershark Rock.” It’s based on “Tigershark Blues” by Dave Ellison. Check it out. We bill ourselves as “Nairobi’s wildest psychoblues band,” and so far no one has dared to argue with that!
I always thought that music happens mainly in “scenes.” I think we have an original and interesting underground music scene here, but we’ll have to wait and see what it grows into. Of course we are hoping for something like the punk rock scenes of the 1970s and ’80s. So far though, we’re having a blast!
We’re playing one-off shows at various venues around town, and we hope to put together a live compilation CD soon. Sound familiar? We also have already seen an emerging flyer culture, just like we had in San Diego in the ’80s (BTW we’re gonna have a flyer competition soon, so send me any artwork you have. You might win 10 free Tusker beers!). And obviously, if anyone here is planning on passing through Nairobi anytime soon, plan on checking out the Underground Express … Taste the fury (babyface)!