It was my first time ever attending Blankets and Wine. Which is pretty late to the party considering this was the 10th year anniversary. But this was a special occasion. Other than marking a successful decade in the music entertainment industry, the artist lineup is what pulled me in the most. 100% Kenyan. Where else do you find this at such an international music festival?
The organizers Good Times Africa, in partnership with Redbull Music, organized this November 4th party to celebrate 10 years. 10 years of showcasing both international and local musicians on one stage every 2 months. It was Blankets that first brought Mi Casa and rapper AKA from South Africa, singers Nneka and Niniola from Nigeria, and even Jamaican reggae queen Kelissa. The international stage has also given a platform to celebrated NuNairobi acts Tetu Shani, Fena, Vallerie Muthoni, Barak Jacuzzi and Ciano Maimba.
And who can forget their 50th edition in January 2014? The two-day festival boasted a diverse African lineup with names like Sarabi, Just A Band, Maurice Kirya, MDQ, Mi Casa, Sauti Sol, Harry Kimani, Anto Neosoul, Villagers Band and Mafikizolo. It still haunts me today how I missed that one.
The picnic-style family-friendly event, now popular among middle-class Nairobians, took a one-year hiatus in 2015. Good Times Africa took this time to launch the first edition of Africa Nouveau Festival. They later had a great Blankets comeback show in 2016 featuring Mayonde, Muthoni Drummer Queen, Just A Band (before their own hiatus) and US headliner Aloe Blacc of the classic hits "The Man" and "Wake Me Up".
During these 10 fantastic years, Blankets and Wine has moved locations from Uhuru Gardens to Carnivore Restaurant to Ngong Racecourse. And has even expanded outside Nairobi to Kigali, Rwanda and Kampala, Uganda. But this 10th year anniversary was special for many. It was 10 years of Blankets and Wine, organizer Muthoni Drummer Queen and soulful band Elani in the Kenyan music industry. Plus 10 years since Sauti Sol released their debut album Mwanzo on 8th November 2008. There was every reason to celebrate.
Being my first time, I arrived at Ngong Racecourse at half past noon. The walkway into the festival site was decorated with boards painted the familiar names of previous performers at Africa Nouveau and Blankets and Wine. There had been a Red Bull Music Academy artist workshop earlier in where Muthoni, Juliani, Suraj and Maureen of Elani talked about their individual music journeys and the hustle they've gone through. It was encouragement to other Kenyan musicians to keep on going.
Just like the festival schedule indicated, I found Suraj on the grand stage playing a warmup house set. It was quite mellow for the Afro-house legend who is adored in the Kenyan EDM scene and who executed one of the best sets at Boiler Room Nairobi in 2018. This calm allowed the early birds to settle down on their Masai blankets and sip wine carried from home.
Other attendees were walking through the fashion market, smaller than Africa Nouveau’s, buying flower crowns and getting their bodies painted. It was a full African fashion affair as young Nairobians slayed in African print shoulder tops, dresses, pants, even fanny packs. Kenyan fashion brands were proudly represented as well. The dress code was less quirky that Thrift Social and not as hippie as Kilifi New Year but more of fancy. Meanwhile, 1 out of 3 people had a pro camera. Ready to flex their burgeoning skills and capture these stunning outfits.
At exactly 3 pm, the live music began. It was a joy to see the duet of Chris Adwar and Atemi on stage, two Afro-fusion musicians who have been consistent in the Kenyan music game for years. Joined by the petite Wambura Mitaru on background vocals, the Villagers Band frontman performed the fan favourite Kenchic while Atemi made us sing along to Happy, Bebi Bebi and Nairobi - ironically with South African flavour. Chris then brought the house down with a cover of the Kenyan classic Sina Makosa by Les Wanyika and a Kamba benga song that made everyone let loose to the familiar Kenyan sound. And they finished their afternoon set with the heartwarming duet we love them for - you will be mine Someday.
The next acts are called the ambassadors of love. You could tell why as Elani, who have been on a music break for a while, came back with energy and chemistry. The love crooners serenaded us with Hapo Zamani and Zuzu from their debut album Barua Ya Dunia and introduced us to Jinsi and Heartbeat from their upcoming album Colors of Love.
Their finale was an unreleased song about waiting for God to intervene and bless you. The Blankets stage momentarily turned into a church as Red Fourth choir sang harmoniously at the back while one guy led the spiritual choir. Since we didn't go to church this Sunday, it came to us.
During the break, I led myself to the Onja Onja food market to sample the different cuisines on sale. MDQ’s set caught me in the middle so I decided to watch from a distance. She was dressed in an extravagant short shiny dress to match her new grey hair and surrounded by female dancers in matching outfits. Together with Swiss DJ Hook and four background vocalists, she stormed the show with songs from her empowering 2018 album SHE - which is all about women. There was an actual countdown ticking on the screen behind her during Timebomb thanks to stellar visuals by Bazil. To prove she’s a true drummer queen, she showed off her drumming skills when it wasn’t Kasiva Mutua’s turn. She dedicated the dancehall hit Suzie Noma to all the boss babes earning their money and finished her high-drama set with the Nairobi hip-hop anthem Nai ni ya Nani. Because 10 years later, she still got it.
Nyashinski was the first artist who was a few minutes late in the very timely schedule. But the wait was worth it. Tuendelee ama Tusiendelee? He shouted to the raging crowd. This was my first time watching him live, even when he was part of Kleptomaniax trio. The comeback king showed us how live hip-hop should be done with a full band and no playbacks.
Nyash flexed his hardcore muscle in Aminia and showed his softer side in Malaika. A special moment was when he premiered another love song titled Bahari featuring Mordecai of H_art The Band and produced by Cedo. Throughout his intense set, Nyashinski preached love - you could see why he's on top. It was more than a performance, it was a spiritual connection.
I wasn’t the only one who felt that Blinky should have come after MDQ instead of Nyashinski. But then again, we might not have handled all that energy. As we waited for the cool kid to show up, a couple of us huddled at the pop-up stage behind the fashion market. It was a TKR Presents Kenyan Oldies production as Muddah, a young NuNairobi rapper and DJ, played old school Kenyan hits for us 80s and 90s kids. Tuliruka juu ba-banjuka tu. It was a fun nostalgic moment that reminded us how much we miss hearing the old Kenyan sound at events.
When the man finally appeared, we rushed back towards the main stage. This was a highly anticipated performance as it was Blinky’s first since he released his Everyone’s Just Winging It and Other Fly Tales album. It was also our introduction to his new band - The Key Cutters.
Just like MDQ, it was a half-live performance but the music arrangements were a bit messy to the keen ear. He was saved by Mungu Halali featuring the soulful songstresses Sage, Lisa Odour and the Mitaru sisters. The horn section and surprise female dancers then gave vibrant life to the crowd request Atenshun. Mtoto akililia wembe, mpe.
Blinky had one more treat for us. He was joined by his longtime friends who jumped up and down the stage during Huff+Puff and Ha-he. Yup, it was a Just A Band reunion. And a declaration that they never broke up, they’re just doing their own projects. Mbithi Masya is directing award-winning Kenyan films like Kati Kati and the brilliant music video for Mungu Halali while Dan Mulo is a fantastic graphic designer and animator in Nairobi.
While the experimental funk disco band met in Kenyatta University, Sauti Sol's music journey began in Upper Hill High School. Kenya’s biggest Afro Pop stars were ready to rock the 10th year anniversary show. They kicked off the final set with high energy in Sura Yako. And by the second song we were all jumping along to Friendzone, emojis dancing in the background.
Their legendary performance included old and new hits: Lazizi, Coming Home with a Patricia Kihoro cameo, Blue Uniform, the sexy Nishike and Shake Yo Bam Bam samba rendition that included beautiful ladies of all shapes and sizes shaking what their mamas gave them on stage. Their live music arrangements were truly unique and most songs sounded different from the studio versions - as it should be.
Just like in the music video, we collectively did the famous Short N Sweet odi dance. And I literally lost my marbles during the hypnotizing Melanin. Sauti Sol made us forget who we were for 2 whole hours as they exuded sol, style and attitude. The boy band won a few more points in my score sheet when they invited another beloved Kenyan band on stage.
After Bien called them the best band in Afrika, the young trio of Kaskazini performed their catchy hit Matumbo - you could spot the true fans in the crowd by their dance moves. It proved that Sauti Sol is willing to nurture upcoming talent just like Blinky with Sichangi. The future performers at Blankets and Wine.
With my fading voice and knees almost falling apart, I was ready to go home at midnight. One thing was clear - Blankets and Wine 10th year anniversary was completely worth it. And for the ticket purchase, we also received wine discounts on Jumia Party, free Red Bull cans and a free refillable water point - all you needed was a water bottle. Why is this not a thing at all concerts?
That Sunday was proof that we don’t need an international headlining act to fill a huge concert venue like Ngong Racecourse. We simply showed up and celebrated live Kenyan music. It was not just the main acts who shone but also the talented instrumentalists: Kasiva Mutua on percussions, Mutoriah and Victor Kimetto on keys, guitarists Benjamin Kabaseke, Eugene Masupo and Polycarp Otieno.
Good Times Africa showcased a whole new level of festival experience in East Africa with their superb organization, timeliness, stage production and of course artist choice. That is why we are all waiting for Africa Nouveau 2019. The annual music and arts festival is nothing short of innovative and futuristic as seen in the 2018 Edition. This year’s theme is a cool one: the reconnection of Africans to outer world beings. This out-of-this-world video shot in Kenya explains it all.
Curated for dope Africans at home and in the diaspora, Africa Nouveau 2019 will be 3 days and 3 nights of music, fashion, film, VR gaming and camping at Ngong Racecourse. And it will boast a majorly Kenyan star lineup of H_art The Band, Kaya Collective, Nairobi Horns Project, Cheif and The Marshalls, Karun, DJ Vidza and Suraj. African stars sharing the stage include the sassy Sho Madjozi from South Africa, Cameroonian Afrorock legend Franck Biyong and producer Ibaaku from Senegal.
The Africa Nouveau Festival will for the third year transform into a melting pot of all these creative pursuits and African music cultures. Bringing together young creatives to share their love of frivolous art. And fanny packs.
My first Blankets and Wine experience felt like a condensed version of Africa Nouveau into one day. If I never attend another one, at least I attended the 10th year anniversary. And it was all Kenyan. Almost nothing could top that.